Are natural disasters becoming more widespread? In October 2011, President Obama declared that more than 89 disasters had already occurred in 2011 - a record-breaking amount, according to ABC News. Although this statistic may have some political as well as social motivation, it appears that natural disasters are increasing. Some blame climate change while others believe that as the world becomes more populated, the economic impact on regional economies is more severely felt. Either way, natural disasters have many negative financial effects. In 2012, it's difficult to deny that Mother Nature has unleashed her fury from the start. Here are a few of the most notable disasters of 2012 (so far).
It might not sound like much of a disaster, but if you're in a business that relies on a good healthy dose of cold, an unseasonably warm winter can mean disaster on your bottom line. Ski resorts, who hire many seasonal employees and often pay only minimum wage, were forced to close early and lay off large amounts of employees, stripping resort towns of much-needed revenue. Local food pantries and soup kitchens in ski resort towns in Colorado and New England states reported their largest ever demand.
Ski Resorts weren't the only businesses feeling the pinch. Retailers were forced to aggressively mark down a larger than normal stock of winter clothing and accessories. However, the warm winter also had upsides. Natural gas prices were lower, due to increasing inventories, and cash-strapped municipalities paid less in snow removal expenses, which was good news for local economies already in fiscal distress.
If the effects of a mild winter weren't enough to affect tourist revenue in Colorado, the forest fires, first reported on June 23rd, will rob the municipalities of even more tourist income. The fires caused an estimated $110 million in damage but the effects on the economy may be much worse. Some hotel owners report as much as 80% of their reservations have been canceled and local attractions are feeling the same effects.
The Manitou Springs Economic Development council reported that revenues were down close to $2 million in the first two weeks following the fires, resulting in 74% of workers being laid off.
Tropical Storm Debby
Tropical Storm Debby pales in comparison to hurricanes like Katrina, but to home and business owners that sustained unprecedented flood damage, the storm has changed their lives. Add to that the estimated $17 million in damages to area beaches, including Siesta Key (voted America's top beach destination in 2011) and the tourism industry that drives the summer economy of the east coast of Florida will likely see lower-than-expected revenues. The numbers will only get worse when word gets out about the severely damaged beaches spanning the north and central gulf coast.
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The drought currently ravaging the Midwest is sure to affect the entire country. Not only will food prices likely rise for every American household, but farmers will also feel the effects of a lower crop yield. It's difficult to estimate the impacts of what experts are calling the worst drought in recent history, but Texas, a state that has seen drought conditions that started in late 2010 and continued through 2011, estimated a hit of $5.2 billion to farmers and ranchers. Some economists fear that if consumers see significantly higher prices, the impact on an already challenged economy could be severe.
The Bottom Line
With 2012 nearly three quarters of the way into the record books, let's hope that America has seen the brunt of Mother Nature's fury for this year. If not, it may be a good idea to be prepared financially for a natural disaster, just in case. Either way, the spirit of community that America exhibits has surely shone through from those who assisted the victims that found themselves in need of assistance.