Texas is home to a population of over 29 million people, many of whom have encountered natural disasters in the state or been forced to evacuate due to them.
However, a significant number of Texans are unaware of the various types of natural disasters that can occur in the state.
This article outlines the natural disasters that are prevalent in Texas, the most catastrophic disasters that have occurred in the state since 2000, and provides guidelines for residents on how to prepare for such events.
Is Texas At Risk of Natural Disasters?
Compared to the rest of the United States, Texas has a very high risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, Texas has had 196 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 33 were declared major disasters.
Texas is also frequently hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, more than 115 separate $1-billion events have affected Texas. Most of these events were severe storms.
Worst Natural Disasters in Texas By Cost (Since 2000)
- Hurricane Harvey 2017: $151.3 billion
- Hurricane Ike 2008: $40.8 billion
- 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
- Hurricane Rita 2005: $27.8 billion
- Hurricane Laura 2020: $26.7 billion
Worst Natural Disasters in Texas By Deaths (Since 2000)
- April 2011 Tornado Outbreak: 321 deaths
- February 2021 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: 262 deaths
- May 2011 Tornado Outbreak: 177 deaths
- Spring-Fall 2000 Drought and Heat Wave: 140 deaths
- 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: 136 deaths
*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.
Most Common Natural Disasters in Texas
Texas has 367 miles of coastline and a coastal population of approximately 6.5 million. Because of increasing sea levels and the frequency of tropical storms, coastal areas of Texas are high risk for flooding.
Even inland parts of Texas aren’t safe from flooding. In Eastern and Central Texas, the average amount of rainfall has increased by 10% over the last century, but the average number of rainfall events is decreasing. The heavy rains can cause rivers to swell and widespread flooding. Texas is often in drought conditions, and flash floods can occur when heavy rains hit the dry soil.
Texas Flood Stats
- 1,150,900 properties at substantial risk in 2020
- 2,116,800 properties at risk by 2050
- 1,333,700 properties at substantial risk by 2050
- 218,700 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
- 2,900,700 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000
Which Areas of Texas Are Most At-Risk to Flooding?
Floods can occur in all parts of Texas, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are the areas of Texas with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations).
- Groves: 100%
- Dickinson: 99%
- Bacliff: 99%
- Palacios: 99%
- Bridge City: 99%
- Holiday Beach: 98%
- San Leon: 98%
- Port O’Connor: 97%
- Galveston: 97%
- Clute: 96%
In addition to these areas, many major cities in Texas have thousands of properties at risk. This includes over 186,000 properties in Houston and nearly 37,000 in Corpus Christi.
Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is increasing in many parts of Texas. For example, currently, 70% of all properties in League City are at risk of flooding, but this number will increase to 82% of all properties by 2050.
Flood Deaths in Texas
Texas has more flood-related deaths than any other state. The majority of these deaths (58%) are vehicle-related, such as when cars get swept away by flash floods or while trying to drive through flood waters.
More than 80% of flood deaths in Texas occur in a region dubbed “Flash Flood Alley.” It includes a section of Texas ranging from Cooke and Grayson Counties in the North and curving down through Dallas, Waco, Austin, and San Antonio. This area has steep terrain and shallow soil, making it susceptible to flash floods.
Texas is one of the most at-risk states in the country for tropical storms and hurricanes. From 1851 to 2020, the state was hit by 64 hurricanes. This ranks North Carolina as #2 in the country for hurricane frequency. Of these, 29 were Category 1, and 16 were Category 2.
Approximately 25% of Texas’s population lives in the Gulf Coast area. This area is particularly susceptible to hurricane damage. Because of this, in 2022, North Carolina ranked #3 in expected hurricane damage losses per capita.
Texas is one of the most at-risk states in the country for wildfires. It ranks in the top 10 for both numbers of fires and acres burned per year. Since 2000, Texas has been affected by 6 billion-dollar wildfires and has had to declare disaster over 132 times because of fires.
Not only does Texas have many wildfires each year, but the fires tend to be very large. Drought conditions throughout the state mean lots of dry debris and grasses, so wildfires can ignite and spread quickly.
Because of climate change, the risk of wildfires in Texas is growing. By 2050, an estimated 82% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.
Texas Wildfire Stats
- Acres burned in 2021: 168,258
- Number of fires in 2021: 5,576
- Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 9,450,089
Which Areas of Texas Are Most At-Risk for Wildfires?
There are over 9.98 million housing units in Texas. Many of these are located in high-risk areas for wildfires. Approximately 7% of all Texas properties are at high or extremely high risk for wildfires, and another 24% are at moderate risk.
The Texas counties with the highest concentration of properties at risk are:
There are also thousands of properties at risk in major cities in Texas, including 83 thousand properties in Travis and 48 thousand in Bexar.
Largest Wildfire in Texas’s Recent History
The East Amarillo Complex in 2006 was one of the largest wildfires in the state’s recent history. It had consumed more than 907,200 acres by the time it was extinguished.
Texas is at incredibly high risk for tornadoes. At 151 per year, Texas averages more tornadoes than any other state in the USA. However, most of these tornadoes aren’t very strong, which is why Texas ranks #11 for tornado risk.
However, Texas does occasionally see strong and destructive tornadoes. While there haven’t been any F5 tornadoes in Texas since 2000, the state has seen several F4 tornadoes and dozens of F3 tornadoes.
One of the deadliest tornadoes to hit Texas recently occurred on December 26th, 2015. A cluster of tornadoes – including an F4 tornado – killed 12 and injured nearly 600 people. Since 2000, there have been 58 tornado fatalities in Texas, more than 1,440 injuries, and almost $2 billion in property and crop damages.
Compared to states like California and Utah, the risk of earthquakes in Texas is relatively low. However, Texas does have earthquakes. In the past century, more than 100 earthquakes were strong enough to be felt. Five quakes had a magnitude of 5 or 6 – strong enough to cause significant damage.
The El Paso and Panhandle regions can expect to have magnitude 5.5 to 6 quakes every 50 to 100 years. In Northeastern Texas, magnitude 7.0 or higher earthquakes could occur.
Texas has numerous fault lines, but most earthquakes in Texas are caused by wastewater disposal, a process in which waste from oil and gas production is injected deep underground. Fracking in Texas could also cause earthquakes. These practices can shake old fault lines in the region loose, making earthquakes more likely.
In 2022 alone, more than 220 earthquakes of a 3.0 magnitude or higher were thought to be manmade. Some of these human-caused earthquakes can be very large. For example, the 2012 earthquake in Timpson, Texas, was a magnitude of 4.8.
6. Winter Storms
Texas usually has very mild winters and only sees an average of 1.36 inches of snow per season. However, rare winter weather events can hit Texas. Because many residents are unprepared for winter weather, the events can be particularly devastating.
Unused to driving in snowy or icy conditions, vehicle accidents can occur. The Texas electricity infrastructure is also not designed to handle cold weather, which can lead to power outages.
The worst winter storm to hit Texas was in February 2021. Much of Texas was hit with freezing rain, sleet, and snow. There were up to 11 inches of snow in some parts of Texas, and temperatures dropped to 13F in Houston and 5F in College Station.
During the storm, more than 69% of Texans lost power, making it one of the largest blackouts in American history. Almost half of Texans also had disruptions to their water service. There were at least 210 deaths in Texas during the event. The economic damage was also massive, with estimates ranging from $80 to $130 billion.
7. Heat Waves and Droughts
When it comes to the risk of extreme heat and heat waves, Texas is one of the most at-risk states in the country.
It is part of the “Extreme Heat Belt” in the central United States. This region is very at risk of what the National Weather Service calls “dangerous” and “extremely dangerous” heat days. A “dangerous” heat day is defined as one where the heat index is 103F, and an “extremely dangerous” day has a heat index of 124F or above, which is considered unsafe for all people for any amount of time.
Currently, Texas sees an average of more than 60 days per year of dangerous heat. However, this number is going to increase over the next few decades. By 2050, Texas is expected to see 115 dangerous heat days yearly.
The risk of dangerous heat days is expected to increase throughout Texas. However, Starr County is especially at-risk. By 2053, Starr County is expected to have 131 dangerous heat days per year. Dangerous heat days pose a greater risk when they occur consecutively. Currently, Starr can expect 34 consecutive days of dangerous heat. By 2053, this will increase to 49 consecutive days.
In addition to Starr County, Zapata, Brooks, Hidalgo, and Kenedy Counties are all particularly high-risk for dangerous heat days in Texas.
Droughts often accompany heat waves. As an agricultural state, droughts can have a substantial economic toll on Texas. They also increase the already-high risk of wildfires in the state.
On average, Texas has 667 hail storms each year, more than any other state in the country. Even when you factor in the state’s huge size, Texas is still at high risk for hail. Many of the hail storms cause significant property damage. The state ranks #6 regarding property damage from hail per capita.
One of the worst hail events in Texas history was the 2012 storm. It produced hail balls up to 3 inches in diameter and lasted 30 minutes. The hail storm caused approximately $900 million in damages. At least one injury occurred when a large hail ball tore through the sunroof of a car.
The Northern parts of Texas are most at risk for hail. This part of the state is in “Hail Alley,” a region in North America that has a high amount of hail storms. Hail storms can occur during any time of year but are most common in spring.
Texas sees more lightning strikes each year than any other state. In 2021 alone, the state had more than 41 million lightning events.
However, these high numbers are primarily because Texas is so large. When you factor in size, Texas ranks #8 regarding lightning strikes per square mile. However, the eastern part of the state has a high density of lightning strikes.
From 1959 to 2016, there were 221 lightning deaths, making Texas #2 in terms of lightning deaths in the country. But, when we factor in population size, Texas ranks #33 for lightning deaths per million people.