The number of deaths attributed to natural hazards in the U.S. has declined, even as the costs of major disasters like tornadoes are on the rise. Insurance industry analysts say that tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and related weather events have caused nearly 57 percent of all insured catastrophe losses in the United States since 1953. According to analysts, losses of $1 billion or more from a single tornado are becoming more frequent.
The monster tornado in Joplin, Mo., last month killed more than 150 people and damages could reach as high as $3 billion.
According to the National Science and Technology Council, “Americans today are more vulnerable than ever to severe weather events caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, severe storms, heat waves, and winter weather.”
Population changes, wealth distribution, construction of dense infrastructure in areas prone to severe weather have increased losses resulting from tornados and severe storms.
The population could be less vulnerable to the effects of severe weather if the federal government expanded funding for improved detection and warning systems, fostered efforts to build more resilient buildings and infrastructure, and financed research and development to better understand why and where severe thunderstorms and tornadoes occur.
Congress passed the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act in 2004, which was aimed at reducing loss of life and property from tornados and severe thunderstorms, but it is unclear whether the program made progress toward its objective. Congress never approved a specific appropriation. The four agencies responsible for the program—the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, NOAA, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency —did not identify a line item for the program in their annual budgets.