• Brittany Evans

2020 in the U.S.: A Year of Disasters

The year 2020 was a disastrous year from coast to coast in the United States: massive wildfires, heatwaves, droughts, record-breaking hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes were natural disasters that took their toll on the American people. All of these disasters occurred in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they were record-breaking in cost, magnitude, and quantity. 2020 was regarded as being a year of billion-dollar disasters.

The California wildfires were one of the most notable natural disasters of 2020, if not all time. An article in the Los Angeles Times stated that in 2020 California wildfires burned over 4 million acres, which is more than double the previous record of 1.8 million acres in 2018. The fires were said to have burned an area larger than the state of Connecticut and killed 31 people, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Furthermore, these wildfires were rated as five of the six largest wildfires that ever occurred in California. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that these wildfires spread rapidly and destroyed several small towns in California, Oregon, and Washington. Colorado also had a severe wildfire season, as its three largest wildfires on record burned during 2020. The wildfires of 2020 were thought to be caused by multiple lightning strikes, increased drought, heatwaves, and human-caused climate change.

Hurricanes also broke records in 2020; the NOAA noted Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Laura as the most devastating of 2020. Unfortunately, those were not the only hurricanes to devastate the US last year. According to the Washington Post, Hurricane Isaias in early August was the first tropical storm of the season to do damage. Later in August, Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana and was said to be the most powerful hurricane in Louisiana in 150 years. Hurricane Laura caused $19 billion in damages to the state of Louisiana. The Gulf area continued to be repeatedly hit with Hurricanes such as Hurricane Delta, Sally, and Zeta, racking up the damage caused in 2020. The Alabama Media Group says that insurance forecasters are pegging Hurricane Sally’s damage to the region to be between $1 billion to $3 billion.

The NOAA says that the U.S. experienced a record-breaking number of named tropical cyclones (30) in 2020, eclipsing the previous record of 28 set in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. Of these 30 storms, 12 made landfall in the United States, and 7 of the 12 became billion-dollar disasters—also a new record.

While the majority of the flooding was caused by the massive hurricane season of 2020, on its own, flooding created a pricey bill of $151 billion, says the NOAA. Flooding causes structural damages, mass evacuations, loss of personal property, and can be responsible for deaths. With the added challenges of mass power outages, loss of businesses, loss of homes, and vast areas of standing water, it is hard for the affected residents to fully recover from such a disastrous event.

Another billion-dollar natural disaster in 2020 was a historic derecho event; a derecho is a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms and sometimes thunderstorms that move across a great distance and is characterized by damaging winds. The NOAA reported that a powerful derecho traveled from southeast South Dakota to Ohio, a distance of 770 miles in 14 hours, producing widespread winds greater than 100 miles per hour. The states most affected by this derecho included Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio. It caused extensive damage to millions of acres of corn and soybean crops across central Iowa.

Tornados also made an impact in 2020. In Tennessee, a tornado in early March killed 25 people and left a devastating $2.5 billion bill for the state. The Washington Post noted that the tornadoes in Tennessee were largely unpredicted; with 351 tornadoes, April 2020 was the second-most active April for tornadoes on record. The most substantial outbreak occurred on Easter Sunday, April 12. At least 140 tornadoes touched down during the twister swarm, which cost $3.6 billion and was responsible for 35 deaths.

The natural disasters that happened in 2020 took a toll on many people physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Thankfully, there are some resources available that could help in times like these. If you find yourself in a natural disaster there are resources that you can reach out to for assistance: FEMA, USDA, and The American Red Cross are the nationwide natural disaster support groups. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is known for providing financial assistance, clean water, shelter, and food to people suffering from a disaster. The USDA, The United States Department of Agriculture, is known to assist farmers, and rural families financially in times of disaster. and The American Red Cross is a majority volunteer service that provides food, water, shelter, emergency supplies, health services, and hygiene supplies to disaster victims. Each organization is accessible by phone, website, or by visiting your local office.


Speaking Plainly:

  • 2020 was a multi-billion dollar natural disaster year for the United States.

  • Severe hurricanes, thunderstorms, wildfires, and floods overtook much of the United States in 2020.

  • Many records were broken by these natural disasters, making 2020, the worst year of disasters for some states.

  • There are several resources you can reach out to if you require assistance during a natural disaster like FEMA, the USDA, and The American Red Cross.