Virginia: the 9th leading state for costly weather events

May 31, 2013

Frequency of being impacted by billion dollar weather disasters by state, 1980-2010. (NOAA)

You may not consider Virginia a magnet for extreme weather. Yet, according to NOAA, more of the nation’s billion dollar weather disasters afflicted the Commonwealth than all but nine  states between 1980 and 2012.

Virginia experienced 35 of the nation’s 144 billion-dollar disasters in that span.  Texas, which was affected by 54 such events, is the nation’s extreme weather leader.

The three most recent billion dollar weather disasters to affect the state were hurricane Sandy (October 2012), the June 29, 2012 derecho, and the remnants of tropical storm Lee (September 2011).

Perhaps residents should consider the following disasters that could befall them:

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes: The most common billion-dollar weather disaster affecting Virginia arises from these violent storms. As a recent example, the June 29, 2012 derecho (noted above) produced an extremely sudden, long line of violent thunderstorms, resulting in hundreds of wind damage reports and hundreds of thousands of power outages.

Hurricanes: These storms and their remnants held the top three spots on the list of costliest weather-related events in the state of Virginia from 1980 to 2010.

Chart provided by Carl Hedde of Munich Re America
The five costliest events in terms of overall losses in millions of dollars in Virginia from 1980-2010. (Chart provided by Carl Hedde of Munich Re America)

Hurricane Irene (August 2011), a mere category 1 hurricane that made landfall on adjacent N.C. coastline, caused extensive wind damage in the state and some flooding.

Droughts and heat waves: Droughts can have costly impacts, particularly on agriculture. In 2007 a sprawling drought from the Plains to the East Coast resulted in reduced crop yields and very low stream-flows and lake levels according to NOAA.  As for heat waves, these tend to make existing droughts worse. They can also lead to power outages and health issues.

Winter Storms: Those of us living in the D.C. area in 2010 cannot forget Snowmageddon and the widespread power outages it caused, not to mention the paralysis on roadways given the extended duration required for snow removal. Virginia’s location makes it susceptible to severe Nor’easter conditions and crippling snow and ice amounts events every few years. Although none of the 2010 snowstorms (including Snowmageddon) were classified as billion dollar weather disasters, the January 1996 and March 1993 snowstorms made the list as did the crippling and damaging ice storm of February 1994.

So why Virginia?

Virginia’s location along the East Coast leaves it susceptible to coastal storms, of both of the tropical and cold season variety.  Furthermore, its position in the crosshairs between the north and south places it in the volatile battleground between polar and tropical airmasses, a prime locale for storminess.

Yet neighboring Maryland seems to be affected by significantly fewer billion-dollar weather catastrophes (23 between 1980 and 2012). This can be attributed to two main factors, says Carl Hedde, senior vice president of risk accumulation for Munich Re America.

“Virginia is much larger than Maryland. With an expanse of 32,000 km² and 31 miles of coast line, Maryland is one of the smallest states in the U.S. The state area of Virginia has more than 110,000 km² and a coast line of 112 miles,” says Hedde.

Overall Virginia is approximately three times larger than its neighboring state.

Virginia also has much higher coastal building values than Maryland – about 10 times higher, in fact, according to Hedde. For the entire state, building values are 3-4 times higher, making the damage costs accumulate rather quickly.

Living in Virginia can provide local weather watchers with plenty of excitement. While it’s not exactly tornado alley, it has more than its fair share of severe weather compared to most states. Residents are wise to practice to extreme weather preparedness and carry insurance.

(The author of this post, Amanda Morgenthal, is a Capital Weather Gang summer intern. She is an atmospheric science major at the University of Virginia. More info.)

(CWG’s Jason Samenow contributed to this post)

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