Colorado Leads in Increase of Natural Disasters This Century

Nevada was a distant second with a 733% increase, and New Mexico third, at 663%. Despite the headlines it has earned with apocalyptic megafires in recent years, California was ninth with an increase of 325%.

by Charlie Brennan, Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo. / January 6, 2020
Colorado Department of Transportation crews dump dirt and rocks into Fountain Creek to stabilize a landslide on the side of westbound US 24 near Cascade, Colo. Friday, June 12, 2015. The highway was closed for a short time so crews could work on the area. AP

(TNS) — The 2013 flood that swamped Boulder County is just one of many natural disasters that pushed Colorado into ranking at the top nationally for the rate of increase in natural disasters over the past 40 years, according to a new study culled from Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

And second place wasn’t even close.

Colorado showed a 1,350% increase in natural disasters over that span, jumping from just four during the span of 1980 to 1999, to 58 in the years 2000 to 2017.

Nevada was a distant second with a 733% increase, and New Mexico third, at 663%. Despite the headlines it has earned with apocalyptic megafires in recent years, California was ninth with an increase of 325%.

The 14 highest rates of increase occurred in states that all lie west of the Mississippi River, underscoring the degree to which wildfires helped drive some of the numbers. The data were compiled by QuoteWizard.com, an insurance comparison shopping and research tool that enables consumers to compare agent and carrier quotes locally and nationally.

Although QuoteWizard.com presented its numbers as having been derived from FEMA data, FEMA itself expressed reservations about the end product.

A spokesman for the agency in a statement noted that FEMA was not contacted for QuoteWizard’s study and does not know which data was used or how it was analyzed.

“Comparing the raw number of disaster declarations, emergency declarations and Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG) declarations is not a good method for determining insurance damage, as it is not an accurate measure of disaster severity,” the FEMA statement noted.

“FEMA responds to disasters at the respective governor’s request when their state emergency managers are unable to meet survivors’ needs — and the President declares a disaster declaration. Because states have different disaster response capabilities, FEMA response will not evenly capture event severity across the nation.”

A QuoteWizard spokesperson replied by stating that its report reflects “a sheer total and rate of increase in the frequency of natural disasters and has nothing to do with losses or severity of the disaster.”

Overall, the United States registered $485 billion in estimated property loss in natural disasters from 2000 to 2017, the QuoteWizard report stated. The years 1980-1999 had a total of 751 natural disasters, while the years 2000-2017 saw 1,997 for a 62% average national increase. The nation as a whole saw a 165% increase in natural disasters this century.

“The massive rate of increase in natural disasters in the fire prone states is due to a number of climate and man made causes,” a QuoteWizard.com news release stated.

“Wildfires in the western United States are not only becoming more frequent, but larger in size and death. California’s five largest fires on record have occurred since 2010. The Mendocino Complex fire in 2018 burned over 495,000 acres and is the largest fire in state history by a large margin. The Camp Fire in 2018 was the state’s deadliest fire on record accounting for 85 deaths.”

Boulder environmental writer Michael Kodas, author of the 2017 book “Megafire,” which predicted an increased frequency of such events, stressed the importance of knowing how data from the insurance industry has been developed.

And, Kodas said, “It would not be a disaster if we didn’t have homes and infrastructure and lives in front of something that is actually a natural phenomenon that has always occurred in this landscape. Otherwise, we would see this as just a wildfire. When we suddenly have homes and lives getting affected by all of that, then it’s a natural disaster and not just a natural phenomenon.”

Setting aside the question of QuoteWizard’s methodology, Kodas said, “I think Colorado has become very vulnerable to a variety of natural events. Certainly, the Boulder flood is a great example of that, and a lot of the fires. It really highlights to me the difference between communities that are preparing for climate change and for natural hazards that threaten communities — even if they are not necessarily driven by climate change — and those that have not.”

The largest fire by area in Colorado history, the Hayman Fire, burned over 137,000 acres in Pike National Forest in 2002, claiming the lives of five firefighters, destroying 133 homes and 600 total structures.

The most destructive Colorado wildfire also struck since 2000. That was the Black Forest Fire in 2012, which leveled 488 homes and killed two people.

Boulder County residents remember all too well the Fourmile Fire of September 2010, which scorched 6,000 acres and torched 169 homes. And it was just three years later that excessive rain was the grim story, with the September 2013 flood that killed four people in Boulder County, ruining 345 homes and damaging another 557.

Top 10 states in natural disaster rate of increase

  • Colorado: 1,350%
  • Nevada: 733%
  • New Mexico: 663%
  • Wyoming: 600%
  • Oklahoma: 578%
  • Montana: 514%
  • Arizona: 450%
  • Utah: 360%
  • California: 325%
  • Alaska: 311%

Source: QuoteWizard.com

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