New York is home to over 8 million people, many of whom have personally experienced the devastating impact of natural disasters or been forced to evacuate in the face of danger.
Unfortunately, many residents remain unaware of the full range of natural disasters that can occur in the state, leaving them vulnerable to potential harm.
This analysis goes over what natural disasters occur in New York, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what residents can do to prepare.
Is New York At Risk of Natural Disasters?
Compared to the rest of the United States, New York has a medium risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, New York has had 54 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 37 were declared major disasters.
New York is also frequently hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, more than 56 separate $1-billion events have affected the state.
Worst Natural Disasters in New York By Cost (Since 2000)
- Hurricane Sandy 2012: $83.9 billion
- Hurricane Ida 2021: $80.2 billion
- 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
- Hurricane Ivan 2004: $32.2 billion
- February 2021 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: $25.6 billion
Worst Natural Disasters in New York By Deaths (Since 2000)
- February 2021 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: 262 deaths
- Hurricane Sandy 2012: 159 deaths
- 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
- Hurricane Ida 2021: 96 deaths
- December 2021 Tornado Outbreak: 93 deaths
*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.
Most Common Natural Disasters in New York
Compared to the nation as a whole, New York State only has a moderate risk of flood disasters. However, because the state is highly populated, hundreds of thousands of people are at risk, and the potential for damage is enormous.
As climate change brings increasing sea levels and more intense rainfall to the region, the risk of flooding will only rise in NY. By 2050, approximately 13% of properties will be at substantial risk of floods.
New York Flood Stats
- 615,500 properties at substantial risk in 2020
- 571,600 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000
- 998,600 properties at risk by 2050
- 688,800 properties will be at substantial risk by 2050
- 172,800 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
Which Areas of New York Are Most At-Risk of Flooding?
Floods can occur in all parts of New York, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are New York areas with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations).
- Hornell: 75%
- Fire Island: 68%
- Port Jervis: 66%
- Conesus Lake: 60%
- North Tonawanda: 59%
- Southport: 59%
- Elmira: 55%
- Ithaca: 53%
Because of climate change, the risk of flood disasters is growing in many parts of New York. For example, 23% of properties in Merrick, NY, are currently at risk of flooding, but that number will increase to 63% by 2050.
There are also thousands of properties in major NY cities at risk of flooding. In Buffalo, over 24 thousand properties are currently at risk. In Syracuse, nearly 8 thousand properties are at risk.
Is New York City At Risk of Flooding?
Over 121,000 properties (14% of all properties) in NYC are currently at risk of flooding. By 2050, that number will increase to over 166,000 properties (19% of all properties). Much of NYC is in a floodplain, and 1.3 million residents live within a floodplain or directly next to one.
The areas of NYC most at risk for flooding are:
- Lower Manhattan waterfront (including South Street Seaport, Tribeca, and Battery Park City)
- Upper Manhattan waterfront
- Staten Island (particularly the western and eastern waterfront)
- South Brooklyn waterfront (including Red Hook, Brighton Beach, and Howard Beach)
While not as at-risk as states in the South, New York frequently gets hit by hurricanes. From 1851, when recordkeeping began to 2020, New York was hit by 15 hurricanes. This ranks New York as #8 in the country for hurricane frequency. Of these hurricanes, nine were Category 1 storms, and three were Category 2.
Because New York is so densely populated, when hurricanes do affect New York, the damages can be drastic. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused approximately $19 billion in damages in NYC alone.
3. Heavy Snowfall
New York ranks #7 in the country for the most snowfall and #11 for the most snowfall days per year.
The coastal area receives the least snowfall, with NYC only getting an average of 25 inches annually.
The Adirondacks region receives the most snowfall, averaging 126 inches per year. Many large cities in New York also get large amounts of snowfall, such as Buffalo, which receives an average of over 92 inches yearly.
Snowfall in New York often comes down as snowstorms or blizzards. These winter storms can shut down businesses and travel, resulting in substantial economic losses.
Since 2000, the state has been affected by eight billion-dollar winter storms. The December 2022 winter storm was one of the worst. It caused widespread power outages and at least 34 fatalities in New York State alone.
New York Winter Weather Stats
- Average snowfall per year: 55”
- Snowfall days per year: 53 days
- Coldest recorded temperature: -52°F in Old Forge in 1979
- Record snowfall: 45” in Watertown in 1900
4. Freezing Rain
The climate of the Northeast makes it ideal for freezing rain. In New York, some areas have more than 21 hours of freezing rain annually. This makes New York one of the highest-risk states in the USA for freezing rain.
Freezing rain most frequently occurs during December and January, but fall and spring freeze events also happen. Icy road conditions from the rain make vehicle accidents and slip and fall injuries 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 and Droughts
As with the rest of the country, the risk of heat days is increasing in New York. New York has an average of 5 “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 New York is expected to increase to 10 days per year.
In addition to more dangerous heat days, New York will see more “Local Hot Days.” Local Hot Days are “Days at or above the 98th percentile temperature, or the temperature that 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 New York are expected to have an increase in Local Hot Days, but Suffolk County is particularly at-risk. By 2053, Suffolk is expected to have 18 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 93.6℉.
Heat waves are often accompanied by droughts, which can significantly impact New York’s agricultural economy. Heat waves also increase the risk of wildfire in New York.
A large portion of New York state 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, the risk of wildfires in New York is growing. By 2050, an estimated 24% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.
New York Wildfire Stats
- Acres burned in 2021: 550
- Number of fires in 2021: 137
- Percentage of state covered by forests: 61%
- Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 999,217