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The Midwest’s 25 Biggest Weather Disasters

John Csiszar

The United States is one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world. Whether it’s from droughts, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes, climate and weather systems result in loss of life and property damage every year. A look at the list of the most significant weather- and climate-related tragedies in the U.S. can be eye-opening — especially in the Midwest. For example, a series of tornadoes in 2011 resulted in over 300 deaths, and the biggest loss in terms of property damage occurred during a series of floods in 1993.

To determine the biggest weather disasters that hit the Midwest, GOBankingRates gathered data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Only weather and climate disasters affecting Midwestern states from 1980 through 2019 were considered. Events are ranked by overall estimated cost, adjusted to 2019 dollars.

25. Severe Weather in July 2011

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $1.4 billion
  • Fatalities: 2

Swirling high winds starting east of the Rockies spread all the way across the central Plains, triggering a tornado outbreak accompanied by hail. The phenomenon affected Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota, but its effects were acutely felt in North Dakota. While July 2011 exhibited less-than-average tornado activity, North Dakota was hit by 41 tornadoes — well above the July average of just nine. A large dome of high pressure pushed these summer storms north of their usual track.

24. Severe Storms, Hail and Tornadoes in May 2004

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $1.4 billion
  • Fatalities: 4

Massive thunderstorms pummeled the central U.S. for nearly an entire week in 2004, between May 21-27. Extensive damage affected eight Midwestern states: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin. This storm also triggered the Hallam, Nebraska, tornado. At the time, it was the widest tornado on record, with a peak width of 2 1/2 miles.

23. Flooding and Severe Weather in 2017

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $1.7 billion
  • Fatalities: 20

Extensive flooding from April 25 to May 7 wreaked havoc on Missouri and Illinois. Torrential rain in the last weekend of April helped shatter flood records that had stood for more than 100 years. Levee breaches also resulted in massive flooding in Arkansas. At one point, the city of West Plains, Missouri, was completely cut off from the rest of the state. Every road in and out of the town had been submerged, and the power was out.

22. Severe Weather in April 2015

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $1.7 billion
  • Fatalities: 2

Severe thunderstorms over two days deluged a wide swath of the Midwest, affecting Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The storms and high winds lasted from April 7-9 and unleashed a series of powerful tornadoes and hailstorms, particularly across Illinois and Missouri.

21. Tornadoes and Severe Weather in June 2011

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $1.8 billion
  • Fatalities: 3

An estimated 81 tornadoes swept through the central states of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois from June 18-22. Wind and hail damage extended outward to Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina as well. The twisters were accompanied by heavy rainfall, with some areas receiving 3-4 inches in a 48-hour period.

20. Winter Storms and Cold Wave in January 1982

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $1.8 billion
  • Fatalities: 85

The winter storm and cold wave from Jan. 8-16 resulted in catastrophic damage and significant loss of life. In the Midwest, the cold snap affected Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Ohio. Over this time span, Chicago reported wind chills as low as minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

19. Severe Weather in June 2008

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $2 billion
  • Fatalities: 18

Beginning on June 6, a series of intense thunderstorms rolled through the Midwest, affecting Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri before the storms broke on June 12. Tornadoes throughout the area spread into the mid-Atlantic states as well. On June 7 alone, the greater Chicago area was hit with no fewer than eight tornadoes.

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18. Tornado Outbreak in March 2017

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $2.3 billion
  • Fatalities: 2

Missouri and Illinois bore the brunt of numerous tornadoes spawned by the severe weather event of March 6-8, but plenty of other states suffered as well. Sustained high winds swept through the states from Illinois to New York. In Michigan alone, nearly 1 million people lost power. Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin were all affected by the event, which triggered more than 580 reports of severe wind and hail and spawned at least 63 tornadoes.

17. Missouri River Flooding in 2011

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $2.3 billion
  • Fatalities: 5

The Missouri and Souris rivers overflowed for two months from May 1 to June 30, flooding 4,000 homes in North Dakota and forcing the evacuation of 11,000 people from Minot, North Dakota. Thousands of acres of farmland were flooded when the Missouri River breached numerous levees — a result of above-average precipitation and the melting of a higher-than-typical snowpack across the northern Rocky Mountains. In addition to North Dakota, affected states included Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota.

16. Winter Storm in January 2014

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $2.4 billion
  • Fatalities: 16

A four-day winter storm from Jan. 5-8 caused widespread damage across a broad swath of America, including numerous states in the Midwest, the Southeast and the Northeast. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio were the most directly affected in the Midwest. Temperatures in the region dropped by as much as 40-45 degrees between Jan. 5-6, and snowfall totals exceeded 1 foot in many places.

15. Tornado Outbreak in May 2013

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $2.6 billion
  • Fatalities: 27

Severe weather systems from May 18-22 spawned 59 confirmed tornadoes across the Midwest, Great Plains and Eastern states. The infamous Moore, Oklahoma, tornado was responsible for the vast majority of the death and destruction in this storm system, but other violent tornadoes struck the Midwest during this time, too — including an EF4 tornado that hit Rozel, Kansas.

14. Tornado Outbreak in April 2011

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $3.2 billion
  • Fatalities: 9

Tornado Alley lived up to its reputation yet again from April 4-5, when an estimated 46 tornadoes touched down over central and Southern states. Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin were all affected. This rapidly moving squall system covered more than 800 miles in about 24 hours, reaching average speeds of up to 40 mph. The storm was associated with a record-breaking number of severe wind reports.

13. Severe Weather in 2012

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $3.7 billion
  • Fatalities: 1

There were 38 confirmed tornadoes that struck the Midwest during a storm system that lasted from April 28 until May 1. Considerable hail damage also affected Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. For a relatively short-lived storm system that had a low fatality count, this tornado outbreak caused a considerable amount of property damage.

12. Drought and Heat Wave in 2007

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $4.5 billion
  • Fatalities: 15

A long-lasting heat wave from June 1 to Nov. 30 resulted in immense crop loss and numerous fatalities across the country. The drought that was prominent in the Eastern and Western sections of the country also reached portions of the Great Plains, Ohio Valley and Great Lakes areas, resulting in very low streamflows and lake levels. All 12 states in the Midwest were affected by either the heat or the drought.

11. Hail and Tornadoes in April 2001

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $4.5 billion
  • Fatalities: 3

Numerous Midwestern states bore the brunt of a six-day pummeling from storms, tornadoes and hail between April 6-11. On April 10, a supercell brought pounding hail up to 3 inches in diameter through portions of Missouri and southwestern Illinois, resulting in the costliest hailstorm in U.S. history. Across the Midwest, the storm affected Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.

10. Drought in 1991

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $5.7 billion
  • Fatalities: 0

Although it didn’t result in any recorded loss of life, the drought of 1991 was widespread, ranging from the West to the central and Eastern parts of the United States. Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and South Dakota all felt the effects of the drought.

9. Drought in 1989

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $6.3 billion
  • Fatalities: 0

The long summer drought of 1989 ran from June 1 to Nov. 30 in the Midwestern states of Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Severely dry conditions across the northern Plains resulted in significant agricultural losses. Researchers consider this drought to be one of the five worst droughts of the 20th century.

8. Drought and Heat Wave in 2003

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $7 billion
  • Fatalities: 35

From the beginning of March through the end of November, a scorching heat wave amplified the effects of a widespread drought across the Western and central U.S. Losses to agriculture were significant. Affected states in the Midwest were Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

7. Drought in 2006

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $7.7 billion
  • Fatalities: 0

A severe drought struck the country in 2006, running from the beginning of March through the end of August. Although it affected portions of the South as well, the severe drought centered in the Great Plains region, hitting Midwestern states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri. Low streams, reservoirs and soil moisture contributed to the spread of numerous wildfires, triggering states of emergency across the middle of the country.

6. Tornado Outbreak in May 2011

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $10.5 billion
  • Fatalities: 177

Severe weather across the Midwest spawned one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history on May 22. The Joplin, Missouri, tornado was rated an EF5 — with winds topping 200 mph — and is the seventh-deadliest tornado on record in the U.S. Storms raged from May 22-27 and affected Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota, in addition to Missouri.

5. Drought and Heat Wave in 2013

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $11.5 billion
  • Fatalities: 53

Although crop losses weren’t as severe compared to the drought in 2012, moderate or extreme drought remained in the Midwest from March 1 to Nov. 30 in 2013. Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri were all affected.

4. Tornado Outbreak in April 2011

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $11.8 billion
  • Fatalities: 321

The terrible storms from April 25-28 caused the greatest loss of life out of any Midwestern weather disaster on record. Illinois, Missouri and Ohio bore the brunt of the storms in the Midwest, but this outbreak of tornadoes reached the Southern states as well. The deadliest single tornado, an EF5, killed 78 people in northern Alabama.

The NOAA referred to April 2011 as “one of the most active, destructive and deadly tornado months on record for the United States,” with 875 preliminary tornado reports for the month as a whole.

3. Flooding in 2008

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $12 billion
  • Fatalities: 24

Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin suffered from heavy rain and flooding in varying degrees from April 1 to June 30. Iowa was hit the hardest — rainfall totals across the state ranged from 4 inches to over 16 inches. Dams and levees were breached in numerous states as well, with river levels exceeding 500-year highs in some regions. For the month of June alone, over 1,100 daily precipitation records were broken across the Midwest, according to the NOAA.

2. Drought and Heat Wave in 2012

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $33.6 billion
  • Fatalities: 123

The searing heat wave that blasted the country for the full year of 2012 was the most severe in the U.S. since the 1930s. The agricultural community suffered through widespread harvest failure for corn, soybeans and other popular crops. Mortality due to heat stress — which is difficult to quantify — is not included in the official casualty figures but was undoubtedly much higher. Moderate to extreme drought conditions affected a number of Midwestern states, including Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.

1. Flooding in 1993

  • Estimated cost in 2019 dollars: $37.3 billion
  • Fatalities: 48

The biggest Midwestern weather disaster, in terms of estimated cost, came in the form of months of flooding from June 27 to Aug. 15. Persistent rain and heavy thunderstorms wreaked havoc on agriculture, infrastructure, homes and businesses across a multitude of states, including Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Rivers across the region set records for historical flood heights, resulting in the costliest inland, nontropical flood event on record in the U.S.

Click through to see how much extreme weather costs taxpayers.

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Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the biggest weather disasters in the Midwest by analyzing all weather and climate disasters affecting Midwestern states from 1980 through 2019, sourced from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and ranked by overall estimated cost, adjusted to 2019 dollars. To be considered a Midwestern weather disaster, at least half of the states affected must be located within the U.S. Census-designated Midwest region, which includes the following states: (1) Indiana, (2) Illinois, (3) Michigan, (4) Ohio, (5) Wisconsin, (6) Iowa, (7) Kansas, (8) Minnesota, (9) Missouri, (10) Nebraska, (11) North Dakota and (12) South Dakota. All data compiled on June 24, 2019.

Photos are for representational purposes only. As a result, some of the images might not reflect the weather disasters listed in this article.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: The Midwest’s 25 Biggest Weather Disasters