Over 10 million people live in Michigan. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand or had to evacuate because of disasters. However, many Michigan residents don’t realize just how many types of natural disasters can occur in the state.

This analysis covers what natural disasters occur in Michigan, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what residents can do to prepare.

Is Michigan At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Compared to the rest of the United States, Michigan has a low risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, Michigan has had 15 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 10 were declared major disasters. 

Michigan is also frequently hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, more than 38 separate $1-billion events have affected the state.

Worst Natural Disasters in Michigan By Cost (Since 2000)

  1. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
  2. Summer 2008 Flooding: $14 billion
  3. Spring-Fall 2013 Drought and Heat Wave: $13.4 billion
  4. August 2020 Severe Weather-Derecho: $12.7 billion
  5. March 2019 Flooding: $12.7 billion

Worst Natural Disasters in Michigan By Deaths (Since 2000)

  1. 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
  2. December 2021 Tornado Outbreak: 93 deaths
  3. December 2022 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: 87 deaths
  4. Spring-Fall 2013 Drought and Heat Wave: 53 deaths
  5. Spring-Fall 2003 Drought and Heat Wave: 35 deaths

*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.

Most Common Natural Disasters in Michigan

1. Heavy Snowfall and Winter Storms

Michigan ranks #6 in the country for the most snowfall and #7 for the most snowfall days yearly. The upper part of Michigan is subject to the Lake Effect and gets an average of 115 inches of snowfall per year. By contrast, the southeast “thumb” part of Michigan averages 40 inches of snowfall per year.

The snowfall in Massachusetts often comes down as snowstorms or blizzards. These winter storms can shut down businesses and travel, resulting in huge economic losses. Since 2000, the state has been affected by at least three billion-dollar winter storms.

Michigan Winter Weather Stats:

  • Average snowfall per year: 60.66”
  • Snowfall days per year: 73 days
  • Coldest recorded temperature: -51°F in Vanderbilt in 1934
  • Record snowfall: 30” in Herman on December 19th, 1996

Winter Vehicle Fatalities

Michigan has approximately 7.7 fatal car crashes per 1 million drivers, which makes it the worst state for fatal car crashes in the country.

A separate analysis that factored in other data, such as miles traveled, ranked Michigan as #10 for worst states for winter driving. Regardless of which analysis you go by, it’s clear that Michigan is a dangerous state for winter driving.

2. Flooding

Compared to the United States as a whole, Michigan is not at high risk for flooding. However, floods do regularly occur in Michigan. 

Michigan has over 51,000 miles of rivers and streams. Heavy rains and snowmelt can cause these waterways to swell and flood. This is what happened in 2013 along the Grand Rapids River. Hundreds of people had to evacuate their homes, and the flood caused more than $10 million in damages. Heavy rains can also cause flash floods throughout the state.

Water levels are rising in Lake Michigan, meaning groundwater levels are also higher. The saturated ground can’t absorb rain or snowmelt as well, meaning that floods occur more frequently and are larger. The rising waters also threaten the region’s sewage treatment plants and septic tanks, which could become a health nightmare. 

Michigan Flood Stats:

  • 315,600 properties at substantial risk in 2020
  • 531,800 properties at risk by 2050
  • 329,700 properties at substantial risk by 2050
  • 51,700 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
  • 238,900 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000

Which Areas of Michigan Are Most At-Risk of Flooding?

Floods can occur in all parts of Michigan, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are the areas of Michigan with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations). 

  • River Rouge: 81%
  • Grosse Pointe Woods: 60%
  • Melvindale: 51%
  • Manitou Beach-Devils Lake: 48%
  • Ecorse: 42%
  • Grosse Pointe Park: 42%
  • Monroe: 36%
  • Eaton Rapids: 31%

In addition to these areas, there are many major cities and towns in Michigan where thousands of properties are at risk. This includes nearly 40,000 properties in Detroit and nearly 12,000 properties in Warren.

Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is increasing in many parts of Michigan. By 2050, an estimated 7% of all properties in the state will be at risk of flooding. In Detroit, 11% of all properties will be at risk.

3. Heat Waves

As with the rest of the country, the risk of heat days is increasing in Michigan. Currently, Michigan 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 Michigan is expected to increase to 15 days per year.

In addition to more dangerous heat days, Michigan will 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 Michigan are expected to have an increase in Local Hot Days, but Ingham County is particularly at-risk. By 2053, Ingham is expected to have 16 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 96.5℉.

4. Wildfires

Michigan is not high-risk for wildfires compared to the rest of the country. When wildfires do occur, they are usually small fires on private property from people burning debris.

However, large wildfires can occur. For example, in 2022, a wildfire burned over 2,700 acres in Northern Michigan. The fire was likely started by lightning. 

Because of climate change, though, the risk of wildfires in Michigan is growing. By 2050, an estimated 16% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.

Michigan Wildfire Stats:

  • Acres burned in 2021: 9,289
  • Number of fires in 2021: 435
  • Average fires per year: 502
  • Average acres burned per year: 4,336
  • Percentage of state covered by forests: 53%
  • Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 544,106

5. Tornados

Tornadoes in Michigan are not common. The state averages just 15 tornadoes per year, and most are very weak. The state has not had an F4 or F5 tornado recently, and it has only had three F3 tornadoes.

However, even the F1 and F2 tornadoes in Michigan can sometimes be very destructive, especially when they hit highly-populated areas. Because of this, it’s very important that Michigan residents have a storm shelter and emergency radio with tornado alerts. 

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