Natural Catastrophes in 2012 Dominated by U.S. Weather Extremes

Petra Löw | May 28, 2013

In 2012, there were 905 natural catastrophes worldwide—and 93 percent of these events were weather-related disasters.1 This figure was about 100 above the 10-year annual average of 800 natural catastrophes.2 In terms of overall and insured losses ($170 billion and $70 billion, respectively), 2012 did not follow the records set in 2011 and could be defined as a moderate year on a global scale.3 But the United States was seriously affected by weather extremes: it accounted for 69 percent of overall losses and 92 percent of insured losses due to natural catastrophes worldwide.4 (See Figure 1.)

Of the 905 documented loss events, 45 percent were meteorological events (storms), 36 percent were hydrological events (floods), and 12 percent were climatological events such as heat waves, cold waves, droughts, and wildfires.5 The remaining 7 percent were geophysical events—earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.6 This distribution deviates somewhat from long-term trends, as between 1980 and 2011 geophysical events accounted for 14 percent of all natural catastrophes.7

Some 37 percent of natural catastrophes occurred in Asia, 26 percent in the United States, 15 percent in Europe, 11 percent in Africa, and 6 percent in Australia/Oceania.8 This breakdown was approximately in line with the long-term average from 1980 to 2011.9 Yet the trends of weather-related catastrophes show considerable regional differences. The largest increases over the last 30 years occurred in North America (including Central America and the Caribbean), Asia, and Australia, while the smallest increases happened in Europe and South America.10

Natural Catastrophes Figure 1

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More