Natural Disasters in Mississippi: What Is the Risk?

Nearly 3 million people live in Mississippi. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand or had to evacuate because of disasters. However, many Mississippi residents don’t realize just how many types of natural disasters can occur in the state.

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

Is Mississippi At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Mississippi has a high risk of natural disasters compared to the rest of the United States. Excluding COVID, Mississippi has had 50 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 39 were declared major disasters. 

Mississippi is also frequently hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, at least 67 separate $1-billion events have affected the state. 

Worst Natural Disasters in Mississippi By Cost (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Katrina 2005: $190 billion
  2. Hurricane Harvey 2017: $151.3 billion
  3. Hurricane Ida 2021: $80.2 billion
  4. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
  5. Hurricane Ivan 2004: $32.2 billion

Worst Natural Disasters in Mississippi By Deaths (Since 2000)

  1. Hurricane Katrina 2005: 1,833 deaths
  2. April 2011 Tornado Outbreak: 321 deaths
  3. February 2021 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: 262 deaths
  4. Spring-Fall 2000 Drought and Heat Wave: 140 deaths
  5. 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: 136 deaths

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

Most Common Natural Disasters in Mississippi

1. Flooding

Mississippi is at very high risk for flooding. It is located in the Gulf Coast, which is particularly vulnerable to flooding from tropical storms and hurricanes.

The state also has approximately 14,000 miles of streams and rivers. During heavy rains, these waterways can swell and cause widespread flooding. Heavy rains can also cause flash floods. Flash flooding can occur anywhere in Mississippi but is most common in low-lying areas near lakes or streams. 

Mississippi Flood Stats

  • 255,700 properties at substantial risk in 2020
  • 352,100 properties at risk by 2050
  • 280,700 properties at substantial risk by 2050
  • 78,300 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
  • 1,087,200 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000

Which Areas of Mississippi Are Most At-Risk of Flooding?

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

  • Pascagoula: 98%
  • Waveland: 91%
  • Greenwood: 90%
  • Bay St. Louis: 84%
  • Pass Christian: 79%
  • Moss Point: 73%
  • Escatawpa: 63%
  • Gautier: 61%

In addition to these areas, there are many major cities in Mississippi where thousands of properties are at risk. This includes over 10,000 properties in Jackson, MS.

Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is increasing in many parts of Mississippi. For example, currently, 30% of all properties in Gulfport are at risk of flooding. By 2050, an estimated 44% of all properties will be at risk.

2. Hurricanes

As a coastal state in the South, Mississippi is at high risk for hurricanes. From 1851 to 2020, the state was hit by 14 hurricanes. This ranks Louisiana as #9 in the country for hurricane frequency. Of these, three hurricanes were Category 1, and five were Category 2. 

Approximately 13% of Mississippi’s population lives in coastal areas. These areas are particularly susceptible to hurricane damage. Hurricanes can also cause damage further inland in Mississippi, such as from flooding. Because of this, in 2022, Mississippi ranked #2 in expected hurricane damage losses per capita.

3. Tornados

Mississippi averages 50 tornadoes per year. Because many of these are very destructive, the state ranks #2 in the USA for tornado risk. 

Since 2000, there have been 95 tornado-related deaths in Mississippi and over 1,000 injuries. The deadliest event was a cluster of F4 and F5 tornadoes that hit Mississippi on April 27th, 2011. These tornadoes killed at least 23 people.

Since 2000, at least 111 people have died in the state, and over 1,400 people have been injured because of tornadoes. Even weak tornadoes in Mississippi can cause millions in property and crop damages.

To be prepared, Mississippi residents need an above-ground tornado shelter and an emergency radio set for tornado alerts.

4. Wildfires

Mississippi is one of the highest-risk states in the South for wildfire risk. While the state generally does not have many wildfires yearly, the wildfires tend to be very large and destructive. The vast majority(94%) of wildfires in Mississippi are human-caused. Mississippi does do controlled burning to prevent wildfires.

Because of climate change, the risk of wildfires in Mississippi is only growing. By 2050, an estimated 91% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.

 Mississippi Wildfire Stats

  • Acres burned in 2021: 21,037
  • Number of fires in 2021: 922
  • Percentage of state covered by forests: 62%
  • Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 1,254,936

5. Earthquakes

Mississippi is located on the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). While this zone doesn’t have earthquakes as frequently as those in the Western part of the USA, it has the potential for large, damaging earthquakes of up to 7.6 magnitude. 

The NMSZ has approximately 200 earthquakes each year. Most of these are too small to be felt. However, there is an earthquake of magnitude 4.0 or greater in the zone approximately once every 18 months. A magnitude 5.0 quake occurs approximately once every 10 years.

The northern part of Mississippi is particularly at-risk for damaging earthquakes, but quakes could affect anywhere in the state.  

6. Heat Waves and Droughts

Mississippi is part of the “Extreme Heat Belt” in the central United States. This region is very at risk of what the National Weather Service calls “dangerous” and “extremely dangerous” heat days. A “dangerous” heat day is defined as one where the heat index is 103F, and an “extremely dangerous” day has a heat index of 124F or above, which is considered unsafe for all people for any amount of time.

By 2053, an estimated 107 million people in the Extreme Heat Belt will be affected by Extreme Danger days.   In Mississippi, more than 120,000 are considered vulnerable to extreme heat.

Currently, Mississippi sees an average of 25 days per year of dangerous heat. However, this number is going to increase over the next few decades. By 2050, Mississippi is expected to see 100 dangerous heat days per year. This makes Mississippi one of the most at-risk states in the country for heat.

The risk of dangerous heat days is expected to increase throughout Mississippi. However, Marion County is especially at-risk. In 2022, Marion had an expected 12 consecutive dangerous heat days. By 2053, Marion is expected to have 22 consecutive days of dangerous heat. 

Droughts often accompany heat waves. As an agricultural state, droughts can be particularly devastating for Mississippi and have a huge economic toll.

7. Lightning

Mississippi is one of the most at-risk states for lightning strikes. Each year, the state experiences approximately 18 lightning strikes per square mile. This high lightning density explains why Mississippi ranks #15 for lightning deaths in the country.

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