Over 3.7 million people live in Georgia. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand. However, many 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 Georgia, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what can be done to prepare.
Is Georgia at Risk of Natural Disasters?
Georgia has a medium risk of natural disasters compared to the rest of the country. Excluding COVID, there have been 38 disaster declarations in Georgia since 2000. Of these, 20 were Major Disaster Declarations. There were 74 disaster events affecting Georgia, which caused more than $1 billion in damages.
- 38 disaster declarations
- 20 Major Disaster Declarations
- 74 events that caused $1 billion or more in damages
Worst Natural Disasters in Georgia Since 2000
Since 2000, all of the worst natural disasters in Georgia have been hurricanes. The costliest ones were hurricanes Katrina, Ian, and Ida. In addition to hurricanes, droughts and tornadoes have been particularly destructive in Georgia.
Worst Natural Disasters in Georgia By Cost (Since 2000)
- Hurricane Katrina 2005: $190 billion
- Hurricane Ian 2022: $112.9 billion
- Hurricane Ida 2021: $80.2 billion
- Hurricane Irma 2017: $60.5 billion
- 2012 Drought/Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
Worst Natural Disasters in Georgia By Deaths (Since 2000)
- Hurricane Katrina: 1,833 deaths
- April 2011 Tornado Outbreak: 321 deaths
- May 2011 Tornado Outbreak: 177 deaths
- Hurricane Ian: 152 deaths
- 2000 Drought/Heat Wave: 140 deaths
*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.
What Natural Disasters Occur in Georgia?
Georgia is one of the top 10 states for hurricanes in the USA. Since 2000, the state has had to declare an emergency 11 times and has been affected by 21 hurricanes which caused over $1 billion in damages.
The coastal areas of Georgia are most at-risk for hurricanes. This is particularly problematic since the state’s coastal population has increased by 30,000 in the past ten years. That means that over 585,000 people are at very high risk of hurricanes in Georgia. Even inland parts of Georgia are not immune from hurricanes, though. They can see wind damage, severe flooding, and widespread power outages.
For more, read: How to Survive a Hurricane
Georgia averages 34 tornadoes per year. While the state has never had an F5 tornado, it has had four F4 tornadoes since 2000. It also has had many F3 tornadoes, which cause massive damage. There have been 60 tornado-related fatalities in the state since 2000. Because of this, Georgia ranks #14 in the USA in terms of tornado risk.
Also read: Best Above-Ground Tornado Shelters
As a coastal state with many rivers and streams, many parts of Georgia are very at-risk for flooding. Currently, over 347,000 properties in the state are at substantial risk of flooding. By 2050, this number will increase to over 382,000 properties – or nearly 10% of all properties in the state.
Over 277,000 flood insurance claims have been made through FEMA in Georgia since 2000, which shows how frequently residents face damage due to flooding.
Which Areas of Georgia Are Most At-Risk of Flooding?
In some areas of Georgia, all or nearly all properties are at risk of flooding. Below are the areas of Georgia with the greatest percentage of properties that were likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations).
- Brunswick: 100%
- Skidaway Island: 99%
- Wilmington Island: 98%
- Whitemarsh Island: 98%
- St. Simons: 96%
- Tybee Island: 95%
- Country Club Estates: 90%
- Dock Junction: 73%
- St. Mary’s: 73%
- Georgetown: 44%
Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is increasing in most areas of Georgia. For example, by 2050, an estimated 93% of all properties in Dock Junction will be at risk.
Major cities in Georgia also aren’t immune to flooding. More than 14,000 properties in Atlanta (11% of properties) are at risk. In Savannah, over 13,000 properties (24%) are at-risk.
Worst Flood Events in Georgia’s Recent History
The worst flood event in Georgia’s recent history occurred in September 2009. The flood was caused by heavy rain, which fell for days. Some areas received 10 to 20 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. The rainfall caused widespread flooding throughout many parts of the state and the Atlanta metropolitan area. At least 10 people died because of the floods. There was also $500 million in damages to over 20,000 homes and other buildings. A Federal Disaster Declaration was called in 23 Georgia counties.
While this may have been the worst flood in Georgia’s history, it is not an isolated event. There have been many other significant floods and flash floods in the state, including ones that cause fatalities. Because of this, Georgians need to be prepared for all types of floods.
Also read: Flood Preparedness Steps
Regarding the number of wildfires and acres burned, Georgia ranks in the top 10 states for wildfire hazard. Many of these fires are started by humans during the dry, windy season from February to May. Georgia does use prescribed burning to cut back on wildfires. However, because increasingly more people are making their homes in forest areas, the risk of wildfire in Georgia is still very high.
Georgia Wildfire Stats
- Acres burned since 2002
- Acres burned in 2021: 11,108
- Number of fires in 2021: 2,139
- Number of fires since 2000
- Percentage of state in forest
Which Areas of Georgia Are Most At-Risk for Wildfires?
More than 2.7 million properties in Georgia – or 61% of all properties in the state — are at risk of wildfires by 2050. Even areas that are not at risk can still be affected by wildfires, such as bad air quality, road closures, and economic losses. For this reason, all Georgians must have a wildfire Go Bag.
Also read: How to Prepare for Wildfires
5. Heat Waves
Georgia is very prone to dangerous heat waves. Each year, thousands of people need to go to the emergency room because of heat-related issues. Extreme heat can also be fatal. In 2020, there were 52 deaths in Georgia from high heat.
The number of dangerously-high heat days is only expected to increase in Georgia. Charlton, GA, is particularly at risk. In 2023, it’s estimated that there will be 56 days above 100F in Charlton. By 2053, that number will increase to 82 days. Decatur, Seminole, and Miller will also have 80 or more days above 100F.
Heat waves in Georgia are often accompanied by drought. While these droughts aren’t deadly, they can damage crops and cause economic damage. For example, the severe drought that gripped Georgia in 2007 caused $1.3 billion in monetary damage to the state, much of which was from crop losses.
Drought conditions also increase the risk of wildfires. Because of climate change, droughts in Georgia are only expected to worsen.
7. Winter Storms and Freeze Events
Georgia is known for its warm weather and rarely gets snow or ice. However, cold winter weather can occur, and when it does, it often catches residents unprepared. Because of this unpreparedness, even mild winter storms can be destructive in Georgia.
The freezing weather can cause power outages from downed lines. For example, the winter storm which hit Georgia in December 2022 caused over 100,000 people to lose power. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a considerable risk during power outages from people misusing generators and propane heaters. There is also a higher risk of vehicle accidents when driving on snowy or icy roads.
Because of this, all Georgians must have a winter vehicle emergency kit and basic supplies like an emergency heater.
While earthquakes in Georgia are not common, they do occur. This is because Georgia is located near an active fault line on the east coast. Luckily, most earthquakes are too weak to cause damage or even feel. However, Georgia can experience stronger earthquakes. Because of this, residents need to be earthquake-aware and take steps to be safe, such as anchoring heavy items to walls.