Natural Disasters in Nevada: What Is the Risk?

Nevada is home to over 3 million residents, many of whom have been personally affected by natural disasters or have had to evacuate due to potential danger.

However, despite these experiences, there is a general lack of awareness about the wide range of natural disasters that can occur in the state.

This analysis provides essential information on the natural disasters that can strike Nevada, including some of the worst events that have occurred in the state since 2000.

By understanding these risks, residents can proactively prepare for potential disasters and minimize their impact.

Is Nevada At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Compared to the rest of the United States, Nevada has a low risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, Nevada has had 71 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 7 were declared major disasters. 

Nevada is also sometimes hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, more than 24 separate $1-billion events have affected the state. Most of these were wildfires or droughts.   

Worst Natural Disasters in Nevada By Cost (Since 2000)

  1. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
  2. February 2021 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: $25.6 billion
  3. 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: $22.2 billion
  4. Summer-Fall 2017 Wildfires: $22 billion
  5. Fall 2020 Wildfires: $18.9 billion

Worst Natural Disasters in Nevada By Deaths (Since 2000)

  1. February 2021 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: 262 deaths
  2. 2021 Drought and Heat Wave: 229 deaths
  3. 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: 136 deaths
  4. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
  5. Summer-Fall 2017 Wildfires: 54 deaths

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

Most Common Natural Disasters in Nevada

1. Earthquakes

Nevada ranks #3 in the country for earthquake risk based on the greatest magnitude achieved yearly.

Reno has a particularly high risk of earthquakes because it is located in the Walker Lane, a system of many active fault lines. At least 7 major fault lines are also running through the Las Vegas Valley.

While Reno has earthquakes more frequently, Las Vegas is at higher risk because more large buildings and infrastructure could be damaged. 

In addition to these faults, Nevada could be affected by earthquakes with epicenters in California. Because significant tremors can be felt for 100s of miles away from their epicenter, nowhere in Nevada is safe from earthquakes.

High-magnitude earthquakes do occur regularly in Nevada. The state averages approximately one mag 6.0 earthquake every 10 years and one magnitude 7 quake every 27 years. However, seismic activity has increased recently. There were four earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater in the Walker Lane region from 2018 to 2021.

2. Heat Waves and Droughts

Currently, Nevada sees an average of 20 days per year with what the National Weather Service considers “dangerous” or “extremely dangerous” heat. 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.

The number of dangerous heat days is expected to increase to nearly 30 days annually by 2050. The number of heat wave days is also expected to increase from 15 to almost 55 days.

Nevada is also expected to see an increase in “Local Hot Days.” These 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.  

The risk of Local Hot Days is expected to increase throughout all parts of Nevada. However, Esmeralda County is especially at-risk.  2053, Esmeralda is expected to have 21 consecutive days of temperatures at 91.8℉ or above.

Heat waves also increase drought conditions in Nevada.  The state already has very scarce water resources, and increased heat will make these resources even scarcer in the future.  Drought conditions also increase the risk of wildfires in Nevada.

3. Wildfires

Nevada is one of the worst states for wildfire risk in the USA. Luckily, most of the areas where wildfires occur are not highly populated. 

Because of this, only 6% of properties in Nevada are at high or severe risk of wildfires. However, the risk of wildfires is increasing. By 2050, an estimated 66% of all properties in the state will have some risk.

Even areas of Nevada that are not at risk can be affected by wildfires. Wildfire disasters harm air quality, cause road closures, can cause electricity shutoffs, and massive economic losses.

Nevada Wildfire Stats

  • Acres burned in 2021: 123,427
  • Number of fires in 2021: 565
  • Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 769,824

Which Areas of Nevada Are Most At-Risk for Wildfires?

Approximately 49% of all properties in Storey, Nevada, are at risk for wildfires, making it the most at-risk area of Nevada. 

When it comes to the number of homes at risk, though, Washoe has the highest risk. More than 40,000 homes in Washoe are at high risk of wildfires. 

Largest Wildfire in Nevada History

The Martin wildfire in 2018 was the largest the state has seen in terms of acres burned. By the time the fire was extinguished, it had consumed 439,000 acres in Nevada.

4. Flooding

Nevada is a dry state at very low risk for flood disasters. However, Nevada does experience flood disasters. River flooding sometimes happens when warm weather causes large amounts of snow on the Sierra Nevadas to melt and swell rivers.

Flooding also can occur in Nevada from heavy rains.  The dry soil can’t absorb the rain fast enough, causing flash floods and debris flows. 

Nevada Flood Stats

  • 3.7% of all properties at risk in 2020
  • 3.9% of all properties will be at risk by 2050
  • 14,200 properties in Reno at risk
  • 12,800 properties in Pahrump at risk

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

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

  • Gardnerville: 30%
  • Lemmon Valley: 29%
  • Sandy Valley: 26%
  • Pahrump: 25%
  • Ely: 23%
  • Fernley: 21%

In addition to these areas, there are many major cities and towns in Nebraska where thousands of properties are at risk. This includes 17% of properties in Reno, 9% in Henderson, and 6% in Las Vegas. Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is increasing in many parts of Nevada. 

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