Over 1.9 million people live in Idaho. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand. However, many don’t realize just how many different natural disasters can occur in the state or how the risk for some disasters is increasing.
Here we will go over what natural disasters occur in Idaho, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what you can do to prepare.
Is Idaho at Risk of Natural Disasters?
Compared to the rest of the country, Idaho has a low risk of natural disasters. There have been 32 disaster declarations in Idaho since 2000. Of these, 14 were Major Disaster Declarations. There were 25 disaster events affecting Idaho that caused more than $1 billion in damages.
- 32 disaster declarations
- 14 Major Disaster Declarations
- 25 events that caused $1 billion or more in damages
Worst Natural Disasters in Idaho Since 2000
Since 2000, the worst natural disasters in Idaho have been droughts and wildfires. The state has also experienced numerous severe floods, but these don’t tend to be as destructive.
Worst Natural Disasters in Idaho by Cost (Since 2000)
- 2012 US drought and heat wave: $39.3 billion
- 2018 western wildfires: $28.3 billion
- 2022 western drought and heat wave: $22.2 billion
- 2017 western wildfires: $22 billion
- 2020 western wildfires: $18.9 billion
Worst Natural Disasters in Idaho By Deaths (Since 2000)
- 2021 Western Drought and Heat Wave: 229 deaths
- 2022 Western Drought and Heat Wave: 136 deaths
- 2012 US Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
- 2018 Western Wildfires: 106 deaths
- 2017 Western Wildfires: 54 deaths
*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.
What Natural Disasters Occur in Idaho?
In Idaho, agriculture accounts for 17% of the economy and one out of every eight jobs in the state. Because of this, droughts in Idaho can be very costly. Since 2000, Idaho has been affected by 11 droughts that caused more than $1 billion in damages.
Drought conditions in Idaho can also affect water supplies. Many counties—including Teton, Ada, and Kootenai—regularly experience water shortages.
Domestic wells can run dry, and people are forced to pay huge amounts of money to drill new, deeper wells.
Because of Idaho’s water rights laws, water shortages can affect the future growth of the counties, meaning long-term economic implications.
Idaho is one of the most at-risk states when it comes to wildfires. Even though Idaho doesn’t have many wildfires, the wildfires it does have tend to be large. Wildfires often occur when dry grasses catch fire and then quickly spread. Because of this, Idaho was one of the top 10 states for acres burned by wildfires in 2021.
Idaho Wildfire Stats
- Acres burned in 2021: 439,600
- Number of fires in 2021: 1,332
- Percentage of housing units at risk: 26%
Which Areas of Idaho Are Most at Risk for Wildfires?
More than 175,000 properties in Idaho—or 26% of all properties in the state—are at high or extreme risk of wildfires. Another 19% are at moderate risk of wildfires.
Even areas that are not at risk of wildfires can still be affected by them, from bad air quality, road closures, or economic losses. So it’s incredibly important that all Idahoans have a wildfire go bag prepared.
Counties Most at Risk of Wildfires in Idaho:
Largest Wildfire in Idaho History
The Murphy Complex wildfire in 2007 is the largest the state has seen in terms of acres burned. By the time the fire was extinguished, it had consumed 652,000 acres across the state.
Idaho is at high risk when it comes to flood disasters. While the state rarely has riverine flooding, it does have floods from snowmelt and heavy rainfall. Flash flooding can also occur.
Nearly 15% of properties in Idaho are at substantial risk of flooding. This includes thousands of properties in Boise City, Meridian, Pocatello, and other major cities in the state.
Also read: How to Prepare for Severe Floods
Idaho Flood Stats:
- 148,400 properties at substantial risk in 2020
- 15,500 properties in Boise City at risk of flooding in 2020
- 700 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000
- 243,800 properties will be at risk by 2050
- 159,900 properties will be at substantial risk by 2050
- 34,000 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
Which Areas of Idaho Are Most at Risk of Flooding?
In some areas of Idaho, a huge percentage of properties are at risk of flooding. Below are the areas of Idaho with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations).
- Blackfoot: 81%
- Emmett: 76%
- Garden City: 60%
- Payette: 58%
- Ammon: 54%
- Star: 50%
- Middleton: 44%
Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is increasing in most areas of Idaho. For example, by 2050, an estimated 58% of all properties in Star will be at risk.
Worst Flood Events in Idaho’s Recent History
Since 2000, Idaho has had eight major disaster declarations due to flooding. Four of these disasters occurred in the period from February to June 2017. It started with rain and snowmelt on saturated and frozen soil, causing flooding and mudslides across the northern part of the state. Then, later in spring, several streams and rivers in Idaho flooded.
Because of the severity of the flooding, many people had to be rescued, evacuation orders were in place, and at least one person died. There were widespread power outages and millions of dollars in property damages.
4. Severe Thunderstorms
Idaho sometimes gets severe thunderstorms with very high winds. These storms can cause huge amounts of damage to property. They are sometimes also deadly, such as the June 2015 storm that killed four people and injured three more.
5. Winter Storms and Freeze Events
The cold season in Idaho lasts for over three months, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. It’s also not uncommon for Idaho to have blizzards or severe winter storms with high winds. These winter storms can be deadly when tree branches fall on people or icy roads cause vehicle accidents.
Idaho residents should make sure they are prepared for winter weather by making sure they have enough emergency supplies stockpiled at home, an emergency indoor heater, and emergency supplies in their vehicles.
Idaho is situated on the western edge of the North American plate, which makes it a very active seismic area. As a result, Idaho ranks fifth in the nation for earthquake risk.
The state gets thousands of earthquakes each year. While most of these are too weak to be felt, it’s not uncommon for Idaho to have high-magnitude earthquakes.
In 2020 alone, Idaho had:
- 1,700 earthquakes between magnitude 2 and 3
- 283 earthquakes between magnitude 3 and 4
- 19 earthquakes between magnitude 4 and 5
- 1 earthquake of magnitude 6.5
Earthquakes in Idaho can not only cause direct damage but can also trigger other natural disasters. For example, the mag-6.5 earthquake in 2020 triggered landslides and avalanches in the region.
Tornadoes rarely happen in Idaho. When they do happen, they are usually just F1 in intensity. Since 2000, the state has only had 18 days with tornadoes that caused property damage. Despite the low risk, Idaho residents should still be cautious and make sure they know what to do during a tornado.