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2024 US Severe Weather

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In many parts of the United States, severe storms are expected during the winter, and that was certainly true this year as EmberFinn and Gerri brought severe weather to much of the U.S. mainland. However, it is not as common to see the level of severe storms that the U.S. has witnessed in the last few months.

From the Gulf Coast to the Midwest, across the Great Plains and even into states that are rarely hit by severe storms, there has been a never-ending onslaught of severe weather this year.

As the atmosphere transitions out of El Niño, there is a constant train of moist gulf air meeting up with cool air coming over the Rocky Mountains. For many states, hearing that severe weather is on its way is becoming a regular – even weekly or daily – occurrence.

As of May 22, we have already had more than 700 tornadoes, many as part of a winter or spring storm. To make matters worse, hurricane season begins June 1 and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts it is going to be an above-normal season.

This profile focuses on the most impactful and severe weather events across the U.S., especially those that affect marginalized and at-risk populations. While there is significant overlap, it will focus on the impacts that aren’t addressed in our 2024 U.S. Tornadoes profile and the upcoming 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season profile, which will cover storms and floods directly connected to a tropical system.

(Photo: Storm damage in Texas, May 18, 2024. Credit: Office of Commissioner Lesley Briones via X)

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Key facts
  • A derecho (said with a softer “ch” as in “cheese” instead of a hard “ch” as in echo) is a line of intense, long-lived and widespread thunderstorms that move quickly across a long distance.
    • According to the National Weather Service, “if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho.”
    • While the magnitude of damage from a derecho is often compared to the damage from a hurricane, derechos are not “inland hurricanes.” Hurricanes form around a central “eye” and have rotational winds that rotate around the center, while derechos form in a line and have straight-line winds that extend out from the derecho itself.
  • While a normal storm can be predicted by weather forecasters, rain bands can often stall or drop large amounts of rain in a short period, leading to unpredictable and devastating flooding and other damage. Derechos are also hard to predict because they may develop quickly.
  • At least eight people died in Texas as a result of the May 16 derecho. Three others died in Louisiana as a result of the tornadoes and high winds that spun off the derecho system.
  • More than a million customers were without power in the immediate aftermath of the May 16 derecho and associated storms, including at least 900,000 in Texas and 215,000 in Louisiana. According to PowerOutage.us, there were still 111,000 without power on May 23 in Texas and almost 16,000 in Louisiana. Power may not be restored in some places for weeks.
  • Across the Gulf Coast, May has been extremely hot, with current temperatures exceeding 100 F degrees in many places. Those battling the heat during clean-up and recovery from severe storms, or because of extended power outages, are at risk of increased negative health impacts. Extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. and loss of air conditioning, increased hours outside or heavy exertion can be challenging, especially in southern states.
  • The decay of El Niño has increased the danger of tornadoes this spring. It is expected to be gone by the summer.
  • Recovery from major disasters can take years and requires long-term investment by funders.
Colorado hailstorm – May 20
  • Tornado-warned thunderstorms brought high winds, heavy rain and hail the size of baseballs to the small town of Yuma, Colorado on May 20, leading to large hail and flooding. The weather and knee-deep hail felled trees and caused extensive impact damage to vehicles and homes, especially broken windows. Large equipment was required to remove the hail from the streets, which was still about 6 inches deep the next day.
  • The small town of Yuma sits about 35 miles from the juncture of the Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska borders. It was hit by an EF-3 tornado in August 2023 and was still recovering before this storm hit.
Houston derecho – May 16
  • A severe storm system with a 300-mile path, determined later to be a derecho, brought 100 mph straight-line winds to Texas on Thursday, May 16, causing extensive damage and knocking out power to almost a million customers.
  • The cluster of weather stretched from West Texas to the Florida Panhandle with the worst damage in Houston and the surrounding metropolitan area.
  • A tornado was confirmed outside of Cypress, Texas because of the same system. Other tornadoes were also confirmed causing even more damage.

 

Florida – May 10
  • Hurricane-force winds left two people dead in Tallahassee, Florida on May 10 and took out power to more than 100,000 people, some for an extended period.
  • Several tornadoes were recorded during this storm system which swept the Gulf Coast.
Houston floods – late April/early May
  • Back-to-back storms in late April and early May led to extensive flooding in several communities across Texas. As rivers swelled from the rain, so did water in reservoirs, and the opening of these reservoirs caused downstream flooding in low-lying areas.
  • On May 3, the San Jacinto River just north of Harris County, which includes Houston, was still more than 6 feet over flood stage at 55 feet. Lake Livingston in Polk County was 10 feet over flood stage.
  • More than 200 people (and 150 animals) were rescued in early May after flash flooding hit Houston and Harris County.
  • The beginning of May saw several communities receive the equivalent of two months of flooding in just five days, including 23.6 inches in Groveton and 21.8 inches in Huntsville. An evacuation order was lifted on May 6 after the storm risk decreased reducing the risk of severe flooding.
  • U.S. Highway 59, a major evacuation route, floods frequently during hurricanes and did so several times in recent flood events.
Louisiana flooding and storms – April and May
  • A series of storms hit Louisiana this spring, bringing several tornadoes to the state and causing damage from high winds and rain.
  • A flash flood hit New Orleans on April 10. Since much of the city sits below sea level, pumps are required to pump the water out of the streets but can only remove a small amount per hour. At least 8 inches fell in a few hours, leading to floods that impacted homes, businesses and vehicles. At least 13 tornadoes swept the state on the same day, including an EF-2 tornado in Slidell, just outside New Orleans.
  • On May 13, heavy winds and rain caused damage across southwest Louisiana leaving many without power for days. This area was badly hit by Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Sally in 2020.
  • On May 16, hurricane-force winds swept through the state bringing down trees, tearing off roofs and causing other damage. The Louis Armstrong Airport reported winds of at least 80 mph while higher winds were reported elsewhere in the city and state. St. James Parish reported winds as high as 105 mph at the height of a tornado.

While there are many immediate needs in the wake of severe storms, such as temporary housing, childcare, automobile replacement, etc., funders must also consider holding back funds in anticipation of the intermediate and long-term needs of the affected communities. Some of the needs will depend on the type of damage, as flood damage clean-up is different than wind damage clean-up.

Immediate needs

Immediate needs may include muck and gut, tarping, cleaning, and temporary repair of damaged homes and businesses. This includes debris clean-up, which is often significant because of the amount of damage including trees, infrastructure (such as roads, power lines and bridges), homes and contents. There will be a need to replace vehicles, personal belongings, appliances and furniture lost in the tornadoes. Some of this will be needed immediately to support early recovery.

Infrastructure issues

Power outages cause concerns related to food preparation and preservation and heating and cooling needs.

Many deaths after storms are attributed to improper use of propane for heating or cooking, or running generators. While rebuilding the infrastructure is usually a government responsibility, smaller communities may not have the resources to provide their cost-share or to support writing state or federal grant applications. This is an area funders can support.

Rural communities

Recovery in rural communities is slower and requires “patient dollars.” Funders must understand that progress will not occur as quickly as it does in larger, more well-resourced communities. Investments should be made over time: Pledges of multi-year funding are very helpful, as is support for operating costs and capacity building.

Funders would, however, be wise to remember that while many rural communities do not have access to the same level of financial assistance as some urban areas, the social fabric and human capital available in more rural communities can be a powerful force multiplier.

Housing

People whose homes were damaged will need support securing new housing that is safe and affordable and/or repairing their damaged homes. After a storm, displaced residents may face challenges finding housing that meets their needs and is affordable.

In many parts of the country, demand for housing outpaces supply, complicating recovery efforts. Affected people living in rural areas or public housing and people from marginalized groups will require assistance identifying and securing housing. The ability to rebuild in rural communities is also challenging due to reduced economies of scale and the cost of transporting goods.

Affordability

Long-term repair and rebuilding of housing and businesses require additional funding beyond the initial infusion of funds to address temporary shelter and immediate needs. Without an additional injection of assistance, at-risk community members may not be able to recover.

Manufactured housing

The destruction of manufactured homes (often called mobile homes) also affects affordable housing availability in communities. Depending upon the location of housing, the homeowner may not own the land, only the building. Additionally, insurance is limited for manufactured housing, especially based on the age of the building.

Although manufactured housing can be physically vulnerable to storms, it also represents an affordable and accessible housing option. CDP hosted a webinar about the increased risks manufactured homes face and their role in disaster recovery. Additionally, the Manufactured Home Disaster Recovery Playbook, created by Matthew 25 in 2023 for CDP, has videos, lessons learned and other information to assist funders in supporting manufactured home disaster recovery.

Insurance

Storms affect people from all walks of life, some with insurance and others without. Even those with insurance may not be covered depending on the type of storm and the damage caused.

For example, in the recent derecho on the Gulf Coast, people in Louisiana who had wind damage may be covered by their normal insurance policies, however, those in Houston who have flood damage need to have a separate policy through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Cash assistance

A critical ongoing need will be unrestricted cash donations to support affected individuals and families. Direct cash assistance can allow families to secure housing, purchase items and contract services locally that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant, cost-effective and timely. Cash assistance can also help move families faster toward rebuilding their lives. Cash also provides a much-needed jolt to local economies, which can also be a major boon to recovery.

Education and children

After a storm event with significant damage, schools may be closed for a few weeks to help with recovery. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when students need the social support of their friends and teachers, especially as their families may be busy with their recovery activities.

Child care and child support programs are particularly helpful during this time and can reduce the need for child trauma counseling in later months. Funder investment in these programs has long-term benefits for children and their families.

Health care

There are often immediate health needs after storms related to injuries that arise as people are hit by falling debris, spend time in flood water or lose access to services because of damage to health centers and hospitals.

Roads may be blocked by debris or flooding, preventing health care workers from reaching their jobs or patients from reaching their providers.

It is important to think about more than storm-related injuries. Some people may need access to medical care to address acute or chronic, pre-existing health issues. Surgeries or treatments such as dialysis may be delayed, further worsening conditions.

Funders can help rebuild medical facilities, including equipment, or support temporary staff who can help meet the increased needs of the community.

Emotional and spiritual care

Emotional and spiritual care will be critical, especially for families of people killed in the storms, first responders and those in the direct path of the storm or its impacts. Long-term mental health and trauma support will also be required. Some of the affected communities may have been impacted by previous events, which has left them with increased trauma from natural hazards.

There is also severe risk of poor emotional health, suicide or self-harming behaviors among people with pre-existing mental health issues. Farmers or ranchers also have unique needs that require support after disasters. The loss of generational family property is often devastating.

Supporting locally-based and culturally-competent mental health resources is an excellent way for funders to build individual and community resiliency and support mental health.

Business recovery

Business recovery is always critical to helping communities rebuild. When storms damage or destroy businesses, it negatively impacts people’s livelihoods. Given the higher costs of living and ongoing recovery from COVID-19, this is particularly challenging for small businesses.

Funders can support small businesses with grants and loans. Some businesses may need help meeting their deductible. Others may want to take the opportunity to improve their building to prevent damage in future storms. Loans with minimal interest could be an opportunity for funders to support the enhancement or expansion of a small business.

FEMA’s new Individual Assistance program now supports self-employed individuals with recovery from disasters, but there are always people who will not get the assistance they need. This is another opportunity for funders to use the flexibility of their funding to address gaps.

Navigating the disaster assistance process

Disaster assistance may be available in various forms and from different sources. People will need help navigating the assistance process, particularly undocumented people and people whose first language is not English. Government assistance is vital but can also be cumbersome and confusing for households and communities.

For example, Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans are part of the federal sequence of assistance for FEMA’s Individual and Households Program (IHP). Many people may not understand that the loans, though they originate from the SBA, can be made to individuals/families. Due to the confusion around SBA working with individuals and households, some people do not complete the application and lose access to additional federal assistance.

Furthermore, a recently released study from the U.S. Commission on Human Rights found that FEMA did not equitably serve at-risk populations, including people with disabilities, people living in poverty and English as a second language speakers, during Hurricanes Harvey or Maria in 2017. FEMA recently set equity as a strategic priority to help itself reset and do better in this area. Recent changes to the Individual Assistance program are a step in the right direction to getting more support into the hands of people who need it the most.

Funders can support organizations that work to help people complete their submissions and file appeals.

Disaster case management

In most situations, disaster recovery navigation services – also called disaster case management – can be a valuable and hugely impactful resource in expediting the recovery process, especially if governmental disaster assistance is available. Disaster case managers can provide essential support and guidance in accessing resources and navigating the road to recovery.

In some disasters, case management is provided with funds from the federal and/or state government, but the timing does not always align with the needs of the community. Funders can fill the gap from the time immediately after a disaster until a government-funded case management program starts.

CDP has a disaster case management toolkit that can be helpful for communities and funders looking to create local case management programs.

To support storm recovery efforts, please donate to CDP’s Disaster Recovery Fund.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you have questions about donating to the CDP Disaster Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy, or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, please contact development.

(Flooding in Texas, May 6. 2024. Photo credit: Texas Division of Emergency Management via X)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Philanthropic and government support

A federal disaster declaration (DR-4781) was issued for Texas Severe Storms, Straight-line Winds, Tornadoes, and Flooding from April 26. As of May 23, 912 applications for individual assistance have been approved for a total of $3.6 million.

Resources

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Derecho

Derecho

A derecho is a line of intense, long-lived and widespread thunderstorms that move quickly across a long distance.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes

The National Weather Service defines tornadoes as “a violently rotating column of air touching the ground, usually attached to the base of a thunderstorm.” The U.S. is home to more tornadoes than any other country in the world, with approximately 900 to 1,700 tornadoes occurring a year throughout the country.

Floods

Floods

Flooding is our nation’s most common natural disaster. Regardless of whether a lake, river or ocean is actually in view, everyone is at some risk of flooding. Flash floods, tropical storms, increased urbanization and the failing of infrastructure such as dams and levees all play a part — and cause millions (sometimes billions) of dollars in damage across the U.S. each year.