Natural Disasters in Maryland: What Is the Risk?

Over 6 million people live in Maryland. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand or had to evacuate because of disasters. However, many Maryland residents don’t realize just how many types of natural disasters can occur in the state.

This analysis goes over what natural disasters occur in Maryland, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what residents can do to prepare.

Is Maryland At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Compared to the rest of the United States, Maryland has a low risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, Maryland has had 20 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 16 were declared major disasters. 

Maryland is also sometimes hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, there have been more than 50 separate $1-billion events. 

Worst Natural Disasters in Maryland By Cost (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Sandy 2012: $83.9 billion
  2. Hurricane Ida 2021: $80.2 billion
  3. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
  4. Hurricane Ivan 2004: $32.2 billion
  5. Hurricane Michael 2018: $29.5 billion

Worst Natural Disasters in Maryland By Deaths (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Sandy 2012: 159 deaths
  2. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
  3. Hurricane Ida 2021: 96 deaths
  4. Spring-Summer 2011 Drought and Heat Wave: 95 deaths
  5. December 2022 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: 87 deaths

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

Most Common Natural Disasters in Maryland

1. Flooding

As a coastal state, Maryland is at risk for tidal flooding, especially when hurricanes and storms cause surges that flood the bays.

The state also has several major rivers running through it. During heavy rains or storms, these rivers can swell and flood. Flash flooding isn’t very common in Maryland but does sometimes occur and can be deadly when it does.

Maryland Flood Stats

  • 133,700 properties at substantial risk in 2020
  • 15,700 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000
  • 202,600 properties at risk by 2050
  • 153,500 properties will be at substantial risk by 2050
  • 40,700 properties at almost certain risk by 2050

Which Areas of Maryland Are Most At-Risk to Flooding?

Floods can occur in all parts of Maryland, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are the areas of Maryland with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations). 

  • Ocean City: 85%
  • Crisfield: 83%
  • West Ocean City: 57%
  • Ocean Pines: 43%
  • Shady Side: 40%
  • Bowleys Quarters: 37%
  • Deale: 28%
  • Edgemere: 28%

Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is growing in many parts of Maryland. For example, it’s estimated that 89% of properties in West Ocean City will be at risk of flooding by 2050. In Chester, the risk will increase from 10% in 2020 to 26% in 2050.

Worst Flood Events in Maryland’s Recent History

Since 2000, Maryland has declared a major disaster three times because of flooding. These were:

  • May 2018 Floods
  • July 2016 Floods
  • Sept 2011 Floods from Tropical Storm Lee

In addition to these major events, Maryland has also had many smaller flood events. It doesn’t take much flood water to cause massive property damage, so residents need to know the risks and be prepared.

2. Hurricanes

Maryland doesn’t experience hurricanes as frequently as coastal states in the South. However, since record keeping began, Maryland has been hit by two Category 1 hurricanes.

Hurricanes and tropical storms which make landing in nearby states can also cause extensive damage to Maryland. Because of this, in 2022, Maryland ranked #10 in expected hurricane losses per capita.

3. Winter Storms

Maryland has an average of 21 inches of snowfall each year, which ranks it towards the middle in terms of snowfall by state. However, this number is a bit deceiving because it averages the state as a whole. The western part of Maryland, especially near the Appalachian Mountains, has an average yearly snowfall of 70 inches. 

Some of these snowstorms can be very severe. Since 2000, Maryland has been affected by six separate billion-dollar winter storms. One of the most recent was the December 2022 winter storm which caused at least 87 deaths in the region.

Maryland Winter Weather Stats

  • Average snowfall per year: 21”
  • Snowfall days per year: 18 days
  • Coldest recorded temperature: -40F in Oakland on January 13th, 1912
  • Record snowfall: 31” in Clear Spring on March 29th, 1942

4. Freezing Rain

While they don’t occur as frequently as in Northeastern states, freezing rains do occur in Maryland. The state can expect 6-12 hours of freezing rain each year. 

Freezing rain most frequently occurs during December and January, but fall and spring freeze events also occur. Icy road conditions from the rain make vehicle accidents common.

It’s also common for people to lose power during freezing rain events, meaning that thousands can be left without a way to heat their homes during the coldest months.

5. Heat Waves

As with the rest of the country, the risk of heat days is increasing in Maryland. Maryland has an average of 10 “dangerous” heat days per year. The National Weather Service defines these as days where the heat index is 103F or above. By 2050, the number of dangerous heat days in Maryland is expected to increase to 40 per year.

In addition to more dangerous heat days, Maryland will also see more “Local Hot Days.”  Local Hot Days are defined as

“Days at or above the 98th percentile temperature, or the temperature than an area could expect to see on the hottest 7 days of the year.” 

Essentially, Local Hot Days factor in what temperatures a local population is used to experiencing.  

An increase in Local Hot Days is associated with health problems like strokes, and heat-related deaths are more likely to occur. Energy demands also increase from air conditioning use.

All parts of Maryland are expected to have an increase in Local Hot Days, but Somerset County is particularly at-risk. By 2053, Somerset is expected to have 20 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 102.7℉.

6. Wildfires

A large portion of Maryland is covered in forests. However, it is a wet state with lots of rainfall, so wildfires are uncommon. When wildfires do occur, they are usually small and quickly contained. 

Because of climate change, though, the risk of wildfires in Maryland is growing. By 2050, an estimated 36% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.

Maryland Wildfire Stats

  • Acres burned in 2021: 377
  • Number of fires in 2021: 112
  • Percentage of state covered by forests: 43%
  • Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 559,540

7. Tornados

Tornadoes in Maryland are not common. The state averages just 9 tornadoes per year, most of which are very weak.

However, Maryland does sometimes get destructive tornadoes. In April 2002, it had an F4 tornado that caused one death and 122 injuries.   Since 2000, 7 people have died in the state because of tornadoes, 187 people have been injured, and millions of property damage occurred.

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