Nine countries suffered their expensive weather disasters in history last year

March 25, 2016

Nine countries suffered their expensive, and often their most extensive, weather disasters in history last year.  Here are the nations that set records in 2015 for their most expensive weather-related natural disaster in history (with a notation for when the cost exceeded 1% of that nation’s GDP):

Indonesia suffered $16.1 billion in damage from its 2015 drought and fires (1.8% of GDP.) This beats the $9.3 billion cost of the 1997 – 1998 fires for most expensive disaster in Indonesia’s history.

Romania suffered $2.2 billion in damage from its drought in 2015 (1.2% of GDP.) Their previous most expensive weather-related disaster was the $1.1 billion cost (2010 dollars) of a June 21, 2010 flood.

South Africa suffered $2 billion in damage from a devastating drought in 2015. South Africa’s previous most expensive disaster was the $1 billion cost (1990 dollars) of the 1990 drought.

Ethiopia suffered $1.4 billion in damage from its drought in 2015 (2.5% of GDP.) Their previous most expensive disaster was the $76 million cost (1973 dollars) of the 1973 drought.

Malawi had two weeks of heavy rain in January that triggered rampaging floods that killed at least 176 people and cost $430 million, 10% of their $4.3 billion GDP. The previous most expensive disaster in Malawi’s history was $24 million (in 1991 dollars) from the floods of March 10, 1991.

Vanuatu was struck by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam on March 13, 2015, killing 16 people and doing $433 million in damage, about 53% of their $815 million GDP. The only comparable disaster in Vanuatu’s history occurred in January 1985 when twin Category 3 storms–Eric and Nigel–battered the nation, doing $173 million in damage.

Chile suffered $1.5 billion in damage from flooding in late March 2015. This beat out the $1 billion price tag of their previous most expensive weather-related disaster, a cold wave in 2013.

Dominica (population 72,000) experienced a catastrophic deluge on September 27 from Tropical Storm Erika that caused $300 million in damage–57% of their GDP of $524 million. Dominica’s previous most expensive disaster was the $175 million in damage from Hurricane Marilyn of 1995.

Botswana had drought that cost $44 million in 2015; the previous most expensive disaster was $5 million in flood costs from a February, 2000 flood.

U.S. sees 10 – 11 billion-dollar weather disasters
In the U.S., there were eleven billion-dollar weather disasters in 2015, according to Aon Benfield. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) gave a lower number: ten (Aon Benfeld rated the severe weather outbreak from December 23 – 26 as costing a billion dollars, while NOAA did not.) NOAA’s ten billion-dollar weather disasters of 2015 marked the 4th highest yearly total for the U.S. since 1980. The ten-year average is eight. Billion-dollar events account for roughly 80% of the total U.S. losses for all weather-related disasters.

For a record eighth consecutive year, U.S. severe weather damages in 2015 topped $10 billion, according to an analysis by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm. “In no year prior to the 2008-2015 period had insured thunderstorm losses been in excess of $10 billion,” said Mark Bove, a Munich Re research meteorologist.

Figure 1. The yearly number of billion-dollar U.S. weather disasters, adjusted for inflation, as compiled byNOAA/NCEI. The yearly cost is not plotted here, though is labeled on the right side.

Figure 2. The yearly number of billion-dollar global weather disasters, adjusted for inflation, as compiled by insurance broker Aon Benfield in their Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Reports. The increasing trend in weather disaster losses is thought to be primarily due to increases in wealth and population, and to people moving to more vulnerable areas–though the studies attempting to correct damage losses for these factors are highly uncertain. Climate change may be partly to blame for the rise in disaster losses, but we are better off looking at how the atmosphere, oceans, and glaciers are changing to find evidence that climate change is occurring–and there is plenty of evidence there. I discuss this topic in more detail in a 2012 post, Damage Losses and Climate Change.

The 29 billion-dollar weather disasters of 2015

Multi-Month Drought Disaster 1.  The El Niño event of 2015 brought devastating drought and fires to Indonesia and neighboring countries. The $16.1 billion price tag of 2015’s drought and fires was 1.9% of Indonesia’s GDP, and more than twice the cost of reconstruction in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami (this cost does not include the additional damage the smoke from the fires caused to the neighboring nations of Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.) In this photo, we see buildings blanketed with thick smog in Singapore on September 24, 2015. Singapore’s air quality reached ‘very unhealthy’ levels on September 24, forcing schools to close,  as thick smog from agricultural fires in Indonesia’s neighboring Sumatra Island choked the city-state. Image credit: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images.

Multi-Month Drought Disaster 2. The Western U.S. drought of 2015 brought damages estimated at $4.5 billion. According to the California Department of Water Resources, snow depths in the Sierras were the lowest on record in April, only 2% of average, and the Southern Sierras had no snow at all–nearly three months earlier than usual. California’s eight largest reservoirs were 30% – 83% below their historical average in April, and the portion of the state covered by the highest level of drought–“Exceptional”–peaked at 47% during the summer of 2015. The all-time record of 58% was set during the summer of 2014. In this photo from May 24, 2015, we see houseboats moored on a shrinking arm of California’s Oroville Lake reservoir, which was at 52 percent of its usual level. Image credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images.

Multi-Month Drought Disaster 3. It was an incredible summer for extreme heat in Europe, with Germany setting its all-time heat record (twice), and with hundreds of stations having long periods of record setting all-time heat records. Aon Benfield estimated that the heat caused 1,000 direct deaths in Europe in 2015. Extreme drought emerged in Romania, Poland, and the Czech Republic this summer during the heat wave, with a cost of at least $2.7 billion. This image shows historians recovering 17th century relics from the bed of the Vistula River in Warsaw, Poland on September 3, 2015. The water level of the Vistula, Poland’s largest river, was at its lowest level since measurements began in 1789 due to the drought. The treasures being excavated were looted by an invading Swedish army in the mid-17th century and got buried in the Vistula when a Swedish barge sank. Jewish tombstones and wreckage from a WWII fighter plane were also uncovered this summer from the Vistula and its tributaries due to the low water levels. Image credit: JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images.

Multi-Month Drought Disaster 4. The most expensive natural disaster in South Africa’s history began in July, when intense drought began wreaking havoc. Some of the hardest-hit areas included KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. Water shortages affected 2.7 million households, agricultural production plummeted, and economic damages were estimated at $2 billion. In this image, we see the carcass of a cow in the Black Umfolozi River,  in Nongoma district north west from Durban, South Africa on November 9, 2015. Image credit: MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images.

Multi-Month Drought Disaster 5. Drought in east China cost an estimated $1.8 billion in 2015. This picture taken on June 22, 2015 shows a man walking on the riverbed of a dry reservoir in Weifang, east China’s Shandong province. Lack of precipitation dried up at least three big reservoirs in Weifang in 2015, affecting 440,000 people and more than 2.5 million acres of farmland, local media reported. Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Multi-Month Drought Disaster 6. The Ethiopian National Risk Management Coordination Commission announced that it was seeking $1.4 billion to deal with 2015 drought. The United Nations called it the worst drought to affect the country in 30 years; 10 million of the country’s 97 million people will need food aid in 2016, at a cost of at least $1.1 billion. This map illustrates how rainfall between March and September 2015 deviated from the 1981-2014 average across the East Africa Region. During this period, rainfall was more than 25 percent below average across large areas of central/eastern Ethiopia and eastern Sudan, and smaller areas of Djibouti, Eritrea, northeastern Somalia, northern Darfur and western Kenya. The March-September period includes the major agricultural seasons of these countries; drought at this time of year is common due to El Niño. Image credit:ReliefWeb.

Multi-Month Drought Disaster 7. Drought conditions wreaked havoc on agricultural interests in Western Canada during the summer of 2015. The province of Alberta was particularly affected, where a disaster was declared after more than 80 percent of farmers reported sustaining crop loss during the year. Damage estimates from the drought were $1 billion. In this image, we see smoke from drought-aided forest fires over British Columbia settling into valleys on July 8, 2015. Image credit: NASA.


Disaster 1. One of the most intense cold waves for so late in the year swept across the Eastern U.S. on February 16 – 22, 2015, killing eight and causing damages estimated at $3.25 billion. In this image, we see sunshine illuminating icicles in the winter-swathed landscape of Plainville, Massachusetts, on Friday, February 20, 2015. Image credit: wunderphotographer PvilleGuy.


Disaster 1. Back-to-back severe windstorms (Mike and Niklas) pounded western and central Europe from March 29 – April 1. The storms killed at least nine people and did approximately $1 billion in damage. Hurricane-force winds, including a peak gust of 192 kph (120 mph), hit parts of Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Poland. In this image, we see cars covered under the part of a metal roofing in Prague on March 31, 2015, as the Czech Republic and many other parts of northern Europe were hit by extreme winds. Image credit: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images.

Disaster 2. Flooding hit the driest part of the world—Chile’s Atacama desert–on March 23 – 26, 2015, killing 25 people and doing $1.5 billion in damage. The largest city in the region, Antofagasta, received a deluge of 24.4 mm (0.96 inches) in 24 hours—over fourteen years of rain in one day! This remarkable video  shows incredible flooding in Chanaral, Chile, on March 25, 2015 from the deluge. In the image above, residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Image credit: AP Photo/Aton Chile.


Disaster 1. The EF4 tornado that plowed across northern Illinois just west of Chicago on April 9, 2015, photographed near Stillman Valley, Illinois. The tornado was part of a four-day severe weather outbreak April 7 -10 that killed 3 people and did $1.6 billion in damage. This was the first of just three EF4 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2015; the other two EF4s occurred on December 23 in Mississippi and on December 26 in Texas. Image credit:wunderphotographer StormyPleasures (Charles Russell).

Disaster 2. A thunderstorm-generated shelf cloud near Mounds, OK, on Sunday, April 19, part of a four-day U.S. severe weather outbreak on April 18 – 21 that did $1.4 billion in damage. Image credit: wunderphotographer mrwing.


Disaster 1. A severe weather outbreak across the U.S. Plains, Midwest, and Southeast on May 6 – 13 killed 6 people and did $1 billion in damage. In this photo, we see a tornado that touched down in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado on May 9, 2015. Image credit: Wunderphotographer Guyinjeep16.

Disaster 2. A wave of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and torrential rains swept through the heart of the U.S. May 23 – 28, killing 32 people and causing $3.75 billion in damage. The heaviest flooding and damage was in Texas and Oklahoma, which suffered their rainiest month in recorded history. In this photo, we see a severe thunderstorm with golfball-sized hail that pounded Wetmore, KS on May 25, 2015. Image credit:Wunderphotographer idzrvit.

Disaster 3. Flooding, landslides and hail from seasonal rains in southern China from May 18 – 22 killed at least 48 people and did $1.15 billion in damage in the provincial regions of Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Guizhou. An estimated 87,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of cropland were inundated. This picture taken on May 20, 2015 shows a rescuer with a life buoy in floodwaters during an intense rainstorm that killed 7 people in Xiamen, in eastern China’s Fujian province. Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 1. Severe thunderstorms and torrential seasonal Mei-Yu rains inundated northern and southern sections of China on June 7 – 11, killing 16 people and doing at least $2 billion in damage. The provincial regions of Hunan, Guizhou, Hubei, and Gansu were the most severely impacted, with more than 20,000 homes damaged. In this picture, we see houses along a river submerged in floodwaters in Kaili in Qiandongnan, southwest China’s Guizhou province on June 8, 2015. Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Disaster 2. A severe weather outbreak from the Rockies to the Mid-Atlantic in the U.S. on June 19 – 26 killed 4 people and did $1.3 billion in damage. In this photo, we see a supercell thunderstorm that spawned a tornado near Minetare, NE on June 25, 2015. Image credit: Wunderphotographer JdyJdyJdy.


Disaster 1. Typhoon Chan-hom made landfall about 80 mi south-southeast of Shanghai, China on July 11, killing 16 people and doing at least $1.6 billion in damage. The typhoon did another $100 million in damage to Guam, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. In this image, we see people watching huge waves from Chan-hom pounding Wenling, in east China’s Zhejiang province, on July 10, 2015. Image credit:  STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Disaster 2. Heavy rainfall in China from July 20 – 24 killed 28 people and did $1.2 billion in damage. More than 238,000 residents were evacuated as floods and landslides destroyed 7,770 homes and damaged 35,100. In this picture, we see vehicles stranded on a flooded road in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, on July 23, 2015, when 160.2 millimeters (6.31″) hit the city. This was their heaviest daily rainfall since 1998, according to Changjiang Times. Image credit: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images.


Disaster 1. Typhoon Soudelor passed directly over Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands on August 2 as a Category 2 storm, causing widespread damage and injuring ten people on the island. Soudelor hit Japan’s Ryukyu Islands on August 5, causing over $3 million in damage, then hit Taiwan as a Category 3 storm with 120 mph winds on August 7, knocking out power to 4.85 million households–the largest power outage in Taiwan’s history. On August 8, Soudelor hit Fujian Province in China as a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds, causing over $3 billion in damage. Soudelor killed a total of 41 people and did $3.2 billion in damage along its entire path. This image shows Super Typhoon Soudelor as seen by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi spacecraft at 03:43 UTC August 4, 2015. At the time, Soudelor was a peak-strength Category 5 storm with 180 mph winds and a 900 mb central pressure.


Disaster 1. Multiple wildfires raged across California during much of September, killing seven and costing $2 billion. The Valley Fire, northwest of San Francisco, and the Butte Fire, southeast of Sacramento, were the most destructive of the fires. The Valley Fire–the third most damaging in state history, at $1.5 billion–left four people dead and destroyed 1,958 homes and other structures. The Butte Fire left two people dead and destroyed 475 homes, and was the seventh-most damaging wildfire in state history, at $450 million. The year 2015 saw the most acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S. since record keeping began in 1960, and was the costliest year in terms of money spent on firefighting efforts. In this image, we see burned out cars from the Valley Fire’s rampage through Lake County, California; the fire started on September 12, 2015. Image credit: wunderphotographer noneinc.


Disaster 1. Typhoon Mujigae hit the Philippines as a tropical storm on October 2 before rapidly intensifying and striking China on October 4 as a Category 3 storm. Mujigae killed two in the Philippines and at least 20 in China. Economic losses in Philippines were estimated at $1.3 million, and were $4.2 billion in China, making Mujigae the costliest tropical cyclone of 2015. In this image, we see a rapidly intensifying Typhoon Mujigae approaching China at 0305 UTC October 3, 2015. Image credit: NASA.

Disaster 2. Torrential 1-in-1000 year rains of over two feet, associated with a plume of moisture wrapping around Hurricane Joaquin, brought tremendous flooding across much of South Carolina during the first week of October. At least 21 people were killed, and damage was estimated at $2.0 billion, including $300 million in damage to crops. In this photo, we see a church surrounded by flood waters on October 5, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Image credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images.

Disaster 3. At least 19 people were killed along the southeast coast of France by a flash flood on October 3 – 4. Cannes received a record 107 mm (4.21”) in just one hour; the previous one-hour record was 70 mm (2.76”). Damage was estimated at $1 billion. In this photo, we see a man walking past damaged cars in Mandelieu-la-Napoule, southern France, on October 5, 2015. Cars are often stacked in this manner in the aftermath of flash floods, as was the case during the catastrophic Rapid City, SD, flood of 1972 (scroll page for photo). Image credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 1. Five weeks of frequent torrential monsoon rainfall fed by record-warm ocean waters during November and early December inundated southern India and Sri Lanka, killing 386 people and doing $4 billion in damage. Hardest hit was Chennai, an urban area of more than 9 million people that ranks as the largest in South India and among the world’s 40 largest metro areas. Parts of Chennai spent days inundated by as much as eight feet of polluted water, with widespread power outages exacerbating the crisis. Chennai recorded 1218.6 mm (47.98”) of rain in November, the highest observed for any November in more than 100 years of record-keeping. Then, on December 1-2, a total of 345 mm (13.58”) fell in 24 hours, which smashed the city’s all-time 24-hour record rainfall of 261.6 mm on December 10, 1901. Chennai’s airport was closed for four days in early December, with some 4000 people and dozens of aircraft stranded. At one point, all runways were under water. This photo of the flooded Chennai airport is from December 2, 2015. Image credit: Atul Yadav/ Press Trust of India via AP.


Disaster 1. Windstorm Ted struck Ireland, the UK, and Norway in early December causing widespread, destructive flooding. Northwest portions of England were worst affected. Three people were killed and damage was estimated at $1.1 billion. In this image, we see residents make their way through flood waters on December 7, 2015 in Carlisle, England. Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

Disaster 2. A powerful storm system spawned a widespread outbreak of severe weather across much of the Eastern U.S. from December 22-26, killing 18 and injuring 50. Dozens of tornado touchdowns (including one EF4) were reported, along with numerous reports of damaging thunderstorm winds, baseball-sized hail and flooding. The most substantial damage was incurred in parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana. Total damage was estimated at $1 billion. In this image, we see an EF4 tornado near Clarksdale, Mississippi, on December 23, 2015. This tornado stayed on the ground for 73 miles and killed nine people. Image credit: Guy Malvezzi.

Disaster 3. Record atmospheric moisture over the southern U.S. during Christmas week helped fuel record rains and a deadly tornado outbreak between December 26 – 30. At least 46 people were killed by tornadoes, flooding, and associated severe weather in the outbreak, making it the U.S.’s deadliest weather event of 2015. Heavy tornado damage occurred in the Dallas, Texas region on December 26, where separate EF4 and EF3 tornadoes struck. The heavy rains brought the Mississippi River just south of St. Louis in early January to its highest level since records began in 1844, beating the great flood of 1993. Areas from the Rockies to the Northeast also incurred periods of heavy snow, freezing rain and ice. Total damage was estimated at $3 billion. In this image, we see damage from the EF4 tornado that struck Rowlett, Texas, on December 26, 2015, and killed nine people in Garland, Texas. Image credit: NWS/Fort Worth.

Disaster 4. A series of powerful Atlantic storms brought the rainiest December ever recorded in the United Kingdom, and caused significant flooding in northern sections of Britain. The hardest-hit areas included a large swath of southern Scotland, northern England, and Wales, where large areas of agricultural land and infrastructure were damaged. Damage was estimated at $2.5 billion. In this image, we see rescue teams wade through flood waters that have inundated homes in the Huntington Road area of York after the River Foss burst its banks, on Monday, December 28, 2015 in York, United Kingdom. Image credit: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images.

A big thanks goes to Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield for helping out with my many questions about disaster stats. We’ll be back with a report Wednesday afternoon on NOAA/NASA’s global climate roundup for December 2015 and for the year as a whole, plus coverage of the potential East Coast snowstorm on Thursday/Friday. Bob Henson is at the Glen Gerberg Weather and Climate Summit in Breckenridge this week. You can followlivestreaming of weather and climate talks each morning from a group of leading meteorologists and researchers that includes Tim Brown (director of the Western Regional Climate Center), Jennifer Francis (Rutgers University), and Michael Ventrice (WSI).

Jeff Masters