Over 645,000 people live in Vermont. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand or had to evacuate because of disasters. However, many Vermont residents don’t realize just how many types of natural disasters can occur in the state.
This analysis covers what natural disasters occur in Vermont, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what residents can do to prepare.
Is Vermont At Risk of Natural Disasters?
Vermont has a very low risk of natural disasters compared to the rest of the United States. Excluding COVID, Vermont has had 32 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 29 were declared major disasters.
Vermont is also sometimes hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, more than 4 separate $1-billion events have affected Vermont.
Worst Natural Disasters in Vermont (Since 2000)
- December 2022 Winter Storm and Cold Wave
- Hurricane Irene 2011
- April 2007 Severe Weather and Flooding
- May 2018 Severe Weather
- 2016 Drought
Most Common Natural Disasters in Vermont
Vermont has over 7,000 miles of rivers and streams. Snowmelt, heavy rains, and ice jams can cause these rivers to swell, resulting in widespread floods. Heavy rains can also cause deadly flash floods in the state. As a result, Vermont is at high risk when it comes to flooding.
Vermont Flood Stats
- 39,700 properties at substantial risk in 2020
- 16,100 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000
- 52,300 properties at risk by 2050
- 40,600 properties will be at substantial risk by 2050
- 20,200 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
Which Areas of Vermont Are Most At-Risk to Flooding?
Floods can occur in all parts of Vermont, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are the areas of Vermont with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations).
- Bennington: 43%
- Montpelier: 35%
- Barre: 33%
- St. Johnsbury: 20%
- Brattleboro: 15%
- Rutland: 13%
Worst Flood in Vermont’s History
The worst flood event in Vermont’s recent history was the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
The storm caused massive amounts of rainfall across the state, which led to severe flooding. Over 500 miles of roads, 1200 bridges and culverts, and 3500 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Vast amounts of farmland were also destroyed, and there were nearly 50 thousand power outages. Total damages for the flood exceeded $700 million.
In addition to this event, Vermont has had 5 major disaster declarations due to flooding since 2000. The state also regularly sees 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. Heavy Snowfall and Winter Storms
Vermont ranks #1 in the country for the most snowfall and #3 for the most snowfall days yearly. Blizzards are fairly common in the state. On average, Burlington typically has four days with 5 or more inches of snow and one blizzard per year with 10 or more inches of snow.
Power outages often occur during snowstorms in Vermont. The 2022 season was particularly bad and caused more than 51,000 outages. High winds and heavy snows can cause tree limbs to break, sometimes falling on people and causing fatalities.
Vermont Winter Weather Stats
- Average snowfall per year: 89”
- Snowfall days per year: 98 days
- Coldest recorded temperature: -50°F in Bloomfield in 1933
- Record one-day snowfall: 33” in Saint Johnsbury on February 25th, 1969
Winter Driving Fatalities
Snowy and icy road conditions make vehicle accidents common in Vermont. With 12.5 fatalities per 1 million drivers, Vermont is the 4th worst state in the country for winter driving. Residents should make sure they have a winter emergency kit in their vehicles.
3. Freezing Rain
The climate of the Northeast makes it ideal for freezing rain. In Vermont, some areas have up to 18 hours of freezing rain per year. This makes Vermont 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.
4. Heat Waves and Droughts
As with the rest of the country, the risk of heat days is increasing in Vermont. Currently, Vermont has almost no “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 Vermont is expected to increase to 5 per year.
In addition to more dangerous heat days, Vermont 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 Vermont are expected to have an increase in Local Hot Days, but Addison County is particularly at-risk. By 2053, Addison is expected to have 16 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 91.9℉.
Droughts often accompany heat waves. These droughts can have a huge toll on Vermont’s agricultural economy and increase wildfire risk.
Even though much of Vermont is covered by forests, the state is not at high risk for wildfires. This is because Vermont is a wet state and mostly has hardwood trees that don’t ignite easily and don’t have lots of dry undergrowth.
However, wildfires can sometimes occur in Vermont. When they occur, it is usually in early spring, the period after the snow has melted and dry leaves are exposed.
Because of climate change, the risk of wildfires in Vermont is growing. By 2050, an estimated 5% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.
Vermont Wildfire Stats
- Acres burned in 2021: 157
- Number of fires in 2021: 90
- Percentage of state covered by forests: 78%
- Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 7,494