10 Safest and Riskiest Places in the U.S. for Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can occur anywhere throughout the United States. However, there are some areas that stand out as much safer — or much riskier — than others. FEMA created a National Risk Index (NRI) which shows the relative riskiness of an area to natural disasters based on:

  • The expected annual loss in property damages

  • The social vulnerability of an area

  • A community’s resilience or preparedness for natural disasters

Check out some of the safest and riskiest metropolitan areas for natural disasters, according to the data provided by the NRI. 

10 Safest Cities

1. Syracuse, NY

Located in upstate New York, Syracuse has very low ratings for earthquakes, flooding, and tornadoes. While the area does sometimes get heavy storms and lots of snow, it’s often at the top of the list for urban areas safest from natural disasters. 

2. Dayton, OH

While Dayton was the center of a devastating flood in 1913, it currently has a state-of-the-art flood protection system that has nearly eliminated the risk of flooding since. The Miami Conservancy District estimates that its system of dams, levees, and embankments protects over $7 billion of property in southern Ohio.

3. Columbus, OH

Columbus is situated in a very geographically safe portion of the U.S., away from coasts and major fault lines. The city does experience typical Midwestern severe weather, like hail, tornadoes, and lightning. But the NRI ranks the community preparedness for such events as very high.

4. Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City rarely sees types of severe weather events due to its landlocked location. Interestingly, the city’s greatest natural disaster risks are avalanches and landslides. The city has several mitigation measures in place to decrease the effects of these events as much as possible. 

5. Spokane, WA

Spokane is nestled between the Cascade and Rocky Mountains, giving it ample protection from severe weather events that other parts of the Pacific Northwest endure. Its summers are warm and mild, and its winters not very severe due to the shielding from surrounding mountains. This all makes Spokane a lovely place to live.  

6. Bozeman, MT

Bozeman is located within the Rocky Mountains which, much like Spokane, protect the city from major weather events. Community resilience is ranked very high within the area as well. This means the population is better prepared for natural disasters to strike. 

7. Charlotte, NC

While North Carolina often gets hit by hurricanes, Charlotte is located far enough inland to avoid the worst of it. The area is also considered low risk for other dangerous natural disasters, including earthquakes, fires, and tornadoes. 

8. Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis is centrally located within the U.S. and is safe from hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires. While Minneapolis does get colder winters with lots of snow and ice, residents are very prepared for these weather conditions.  

9. Boulder, CO

Also shielded by the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is a great place to live because of its mild climate, sunny days, and beautiful scenery. While Boulder does have a high expected annual loss, its location makes it very low risk for most natural disasters that could cause lots of damage. 

10. Allentown, PA

Allentown is located in southwestern Pennsylvania and has a history of lower damage from deadly storms than other parts of the state. The city is more at risk for severe winter weather, although the NRI ranks community resilience as very high in the area. 

10 Riskiest Cities 

1. Los Angeles, CA

With a high population density and high frequency of earthquakes, wildfires, and flooding, LA ranks as the riskiest place for national disasters on the NRI. LA’s low community resilience, more vulnerable social populations, and high expected annual loss for property and agriculture make any sort of natural disaster a blow to the area. 

2. Miami, FL

While known for its beautiful beaches and swanky downtown scene, Miami is also in prime hurricane territory. Currently, over 300,000 properties in Miami-Dade county are considered at risk for flooding, with hundreds of millions of dollars in flood damage projected for this year alone. 

3. New York City, NY

New York City is the most populated city in the U.S. and gets hit by hurricanes that can wreak havoc with strong winds and flooding. Because most NYC residents aren’t prepared for natural disasters, major storms like Hurricane Sandy can devastate the city for months or even years. 

4. Dallas, TX

Located near the southern edge of Tornado Alley, Dallas is especially prone to severe storms that produce lightning, hail, strong winds, and of course, tornadoes. And because the community often isn’t prepared to handle natural disasters, Dallas ranks higher on the NRI. 

5. New Orleans, LA

Everyone knows that New Orleans has been a hotbed for severe, deadly hurricanes. Five hurricanes hit Louisiana in the 2020 hurricane season alone. Additionally, the city of New Orleans is situated below sea level, so severe storms can cause major flooding. 

6. Philadelphia, PA

While you may not think Philadelphia is a high-risk area for natural disasters, it makes the cut because of its very high expected annual loss and community vulnerability. Severe weather events like flooding, lightning, and ice storms combined with a lack of preparedness for such disasters make Philadelphia a risky place to live. 

7. St. Louis, MO

St. Louis is located in the infamous Tornado Alley and sits right next to major rivers including the Mississippi and Missouri, so it’s a city with a history of dangerous tornado and flooding events. St. Louis also scores high on the social vulnerability factor. 

8. Oklahoma City, OK

Centered within Tornado Alley, Oklahoma City is considered one of the most tornado-prone metropolitan areas in the country. It also ranks as high risk for other severe weather events, like flooding and hail, causing expensive damage to surrounding properties and agriculture. 

9. San Bernardino/Riverside, CA

The San Bernardino and Riverside communities are located directly on top of the San Andreas fault, making these areas extremely susceptible to major earthquakes. On top of that, the hot and dry Santa Ana winds that blow through the area increase its risk of wildfire.

10. Houston, TX

Houston’s population ranks low on the NRI in terms of preparedness for natural disasters, and the 2021 Texas winter storm is a somber real-life example of that. Twenty-five people diedin Houston alone due to the unusually frigid temperatures, while 91% of the city’s population lost power and 65% lost access to water

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