A Concerning Trend: Flooding Deaths Have Increased in the U.S. the Last Few Years

Linda Lam
Published: November 8, 2018

Flooding, one of the most dangerous weather events, has caused an increasing number of deaths the last few years.

In the last 30 years, an average of 86 people have died in floods each year. In the last 10 years, that annual average increased to 95. In the last three years, since 2015, more than 100 people have died annually because of floods. 

This trend will likely continue as climate change increases the risk of heavy rainfall. The number of days with extremely heavy precipitation has increased 1 to 2 percent every decade in both typically wet and dry locations.

More and more floods are occurring away from the coast. In the last 10 years, eight of the 10 states with the most flooding disasters are inland.

So far in 2018, 66 people have died in flooding in the U.S. More than of those 50 of those deaths have happened in vehicles.

(MORE: Your Vehicle Can Be a Trap in a Flash Flood)

The average number of deaths from flooding during 5 year periods over the last 30 years.
(NOAA)

While there has been an increasing trend, there have been years with hundreds of deaths in the past. 

The year with the greatest number of deaths, 555, occurred more than 45 years ago. In 1972, several floods happened that year: flash flooding in Rapid City, South Dakota and the eastern foothills of the Black Hills killed 238; a dam break in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, claimed the lives of 125 people; and Hurricane Agnes was responsible for 50 deaths in Pennsylvania. 

(MORE: Flood Disasters Have Been More Common in Inland States Over the Past 10 Years)

Numbers on the map indicate the number of flood disasters in each of the top 10 states, 2008-17.
(The Pew Charitable Trusts/FEMA Database of Disaster Declarations)

In 1969 and 1955, there were 445 and 302 deaths, respectively. In those years, powerful hurricanes caused flooding in inland locations, as well as on the coast.

Hurricane Camille made landfall along the northern Gulf Coast in 1969 and brought heavy rainfall and flooding into West Virginia and Virginia. Two hurricanes, Connie and Diane, hit the East Coast in 1955 causing extensive flooding.

More recently, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 brought disastrous heavy rainfall and flooding along the Gulf Coast and was responsible for 136 deaths, 70 of which occurred in Texas.


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