Natural Disasters in Florida: What are the Risks?


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Last Updated: January 24, 2023

Over 21 million people live in Florida. Many of these Floridians have experienced natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding firsthand. However, many Florida residents don’t realize just how many different natural disasters can occur in the state or how the risk for some disasters is increasing.

Here we will go over what natural disasters occur in Florida, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what can be done to prepare.

Is Florida At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Compared to the rest of the country, Florida has a medium-high risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, there have been 93 disaster declarations in Florida State since 2000. Of these, 32 were Major Disaster Declarations. There were 50 disaster events affecting Florida, which caused more than $1 billion in damages.

Since 2000:

  • 93 disaster declarations
  • 32 Major Disaster Declarations
  • 50 events that caused $1 billion or more in damages

Worst Natural Disasters in Florida Since 2000

Since 2000, the worst natural disasters in Florida have been hurricanes. The costliest ones were hurricanes Katrina, Ian, and Ida. In addition to hurricanes, Florida often has severe storms. 

Worst Natural Disasters in Florida By Cost (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Katrina 2005: $190 billion
  2. Hurricane Ian 2022: $112.9 billion
  3. Hurricane Ida 2021: $80.2 billion
  4. Hurricane Irma 2017: $60.5 billion
  5. Hurricane Ivan 2004: $32.2 billion

Worst Natural Disasters in Florida By Deaths (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Katrina 2005: 1,833 deaths
  2. Hurricane Ian 2022: 152 deaths
  3. 2000 Drought and Heat Wave: 140 deaths
  4. Hurricane Rita 2005: 119 deaths
  5. Hurricane Irma 2017: 97 deaths

*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.

What Natural Disasters Occur in Florida?

1. Hurricanes/Tropical Storms

Florida is one of the most at-risk states for hurricanes. Since 2000, there have been 24 billion-dollar hurricanes that have affected Florida. During this period, Florida has declared disaster 17 times because of hurricanes.

The coastal area in the south of the state is most at-risk of hurricanes, but even people living in the inland parts of Florida can have their homes destroyed, face power outages, and other damage from hurricanes. Because of climate change, hurricanes in Florida are only likely to get stronger and occur more frequently.

Recent Hurricanes and Tropical Storms in Florida ($1 billion events):

  1. Hurricane Nicole: November 2022
  2. Hurricane Ian: September 2022
  3. Hurricane Nicholas: September 2021
  4. Hurricane Ida: August 2021
  5. Tropical Storm Fred: August 2021

Worst Hurricanes in Florida History

  1. Hurricane Katrina 2005: $190 billion in damages and 1,833 deaths
  2. Hurricane Ian 2022: $112.9 billion in damages and 152 deaths
  3. Hurricane Ida 2021: $78.7 billion in damages and 96 deaths
  4. Hurricane Irma 2017: $59.5 billion in damages and 97 deaths
  5. Hurricane Ivan 2004: $32.2 billion in damages and 57 deaths

For more, read: How to Survive a Hurricane

2. Floods

Florida has only had one $1 billion flood event since 2000. However, that doesn’t mean Florida isn’t at risk of flooding. Floods frequently occur in Florida due to hurricanes, heavy rainfall, and coastal surge.

The 2020 First National Flood Risk Assessment estimated that over 1.8 million properties – or 20.5% of all properties — in Florida are at substantial risk of flooding. With climate change, this number is expected to increase to 24.3% by 2050.

Which areas in Florida are at risk of flooding?

Almost all areas of Florida are at high-risk for flooding. However, there are some areas in the state where nearly all properties are at risk. These include:

  • Lighthouse Point
  • Warm Mineral Springs
  • Whiskey Creek
  • South Patrick Shores
  • Naples Park
  • Siesta Key
  • McGregor
  • Wilton Manors
  • Charlotte Park
  • Cortez

Even inland places in Florida, such as Orlando and Gainesville, have thousands of properties at risk of flooding. Every part of Florida is in a flood zone; just some are low or moderate risk. 

Also Read: How to Prepare for Floods

3. Tornados

Tornadoes in Florida are very common. The state averages over 60 tornadoes annually, making it one of the top states for tornado frequency. Luckily, most of these tornadoes are weak. Florida has never had an F5 tornado and only two F4 tornadoes in recorded history.

Even the F2 and F3 tornadoes in Florida can cause massive damage. Dozens of people have died, including 21, during a single event in February 2002. Tornadoes in Florida also cause billions in collective property damage and crop damage.

Tornadoes in Florida can occur in all parts of the state and during any season. They are most common in spring and summer. Spring tornadoes in Florida tend to be the strongest and most destructive.

Because Floridians aren’t likely to have a basement to use as a shelter, they should have an aboveground storm shelter to stay safe.

4. Wildfires

Florida is at very high risk when it comes to wildfire disasters. Every year, the state has approximately 4,000 wildfires. This makes it one of the top states for number of wildfires per year. However, wildfires in Florida only burn about 200,000 acres per year, much lower than in other high-risk wildfire states.

Florida is so high-risk for wildfires because nearly 47% of the state is covered with forests. When conditions are dry, the forests can easily ignite. Debris, such as fallen trees from hurricanes, also creates lots of fuel for wildfires. 

Because of climate change – which means more drought and hurricanes – wildfires are expected to worsen in Florida. Luckily, however, the state has started practicing prescribed burns in an attempt to keep wildfires under control.

Not only do these wildfires cause extensive property damage and sometimes fatalities, but they also affect the air quality.

The peak wildfire season in Florida is from mid-January and lasts about 17 weeks. However, wildfires in Florida can occur at any time of the year. Residents should ensure an evacuation plan, keep valuables and documents in a fireproof safe, and have N95 masks to protect themselves against wildfire smoke.

5. Heat Waves and Drought

Heat waves are common in Florida. Because of its high percentage of elderly residents, these heat waves can be particularly deadly: approximately 20 people die yearly because of heat waves.  

The heat waves can also cause drought conditions, increasing the risk of wildfires, damaging crops, and stressing cattle. High temperatures also have many other adverse effects, such as reducing tourism and the state’s overall economy.

Because of climate change, things are only going to get worse. Florida will see the most significant increase in days with a heat index over 100 degrees than any other state.    

Also Read: Heat Wave Safety Tips

6. Winter Storms and Freeze Events

Winter storms and ice are infrequent in Florida. However, the state does sometimes see snow and ice. When it does occur, it often catches the state unprepared, which can turn it into a disaster.  

Power outages can occur, and vehicle accidents are more likely when roads are icy. Because of this, Floridians should ensure they have an emergency heater and essential emergency supplies in their vehicle.

7. Sinkholes

The ground under Florida is made up of limestone. This limestone can erode, causing sinkholes to form in the ground suddenly. Sinkholes can occur anywhere but are most common in the southern and central parts of the state.

While injuries from sinkholes are not common in Florida, residents still need to be cautious. If not addressed quickly, sinkholes can swallow vehicles or even entire homes. Lawsuits from sinkhole damages are also a threat.

8. Lightning

The tropical heat and humidity combined with sea breezes make Florida a hotspot for lightning. The state ranks in the top 10 for the number of lightning strikes each year and lightning density.

Because of how common lightning is, Florida leads the country in lightning fatalities.

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