U.S. sees record number of billion-dollar natural disaster in 2020; are we prepared?

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ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — From hurricanes to wildfires, derechos to tornadoes, the United States has seen plenty of destructive natural disasters in 2020.

There were 22 weather-related disasters that each caused more than $1 billion worth of damage. This broke the previous annual record of 16 events that occurred in 2011 and 2017. The cumulative costs of the 22 billion-dollar weather events in 2020 were $95 billion.

The billion-dollar weather events included one drought event, 13 severe storm events, seven tropical cyclone events, and one wildfire event. The costliest event at $19 billion was category 4 Hurricane Laura in August, which impacted Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The second costliest at $16.5 billion was the West Coast wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington

Courtesy: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) has collected data on the economic impact of weather and climate disasters since 1980. 2020 is the sixth consecutive year (2015-2020) in which 10 or more billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events have impacted the United States, according to the agency.

But what if a dangerous storm system, such as a derecho or hurricane, impacts the Roanoke Valley? Are emergency officials prepared for what may come in the future?

Deputy Chief Dustin Campbell with Roanoke County believes he and fellow deputy emergency managers are ready.

Roanoke County emergency managers have participated in a series of training sessions provided by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Training mainly focused on three key aspects of emergency management: mitigation, response, and recovery. Mitigation involves finding ways to prevent future emergencies or minimizing their effects. The most important aspect, response, look at how officials take action and respond safely to a disaster. Finally, recovery deals with the aftermath of a disaster and how the community can rebuild.

While the trainings are beneficial, Campbell says there are some things they learn out in the field.

“It’s an ongoing learning,” he said. “Some of it is on the job and some of it is ‘hey, this is an update.'”

Campbell says the main reason they’re able to respond efficiently is due to their mutual relationships with others in the community. It’s not just with Roanoke County, but it includes neighboring jurisdictions and agencies, such as the National Weather Service in Blacksburg.

“When I say that ‘we’ are prepared, we truly are. We’ve got great people out here doing the job and we’ve got great support from the Board of Supervisors, [Roanoke] County administration, and just our collaboration with — not only the City of Salem and the City of Roanoke — but also our collaboration with the Region 6 Virginia Department of Emergency Management Office. We got great relationships there, and that is what really makes it tick.”

Dustin Campbell, Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Manager for Roanoke County(ends at 9:22)

While the response may vary between flooding events and a snowstorm, Campbell explains it’s emergency management’s job to coordinate and mitigate whatever issue may come their way. In the end, once the natural disaster has ended, they aim to recover and provide stability in impacted communities.

“We are here, we are working,” Campbell said. “We take in consideration the whole community approach when we look at things to better serve those in those times of need.”

Although there were more billion-dollar natural disasters in 2020, it wasn’t the costliest year. The record is currently held by 2017, where 16 separate billion-dollar weather events resulted in a cumulative cost of $306.2 billion.

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