This year’s hurricane season is off to an early and troubling start with tropical storm Elsa, the earliest fifth-named storm in recent history. Elsa reached tropical storm status (minimum sustained wind speeds of 39 mph) on July 2, shattering the previous record of July 6. Elsa also clocked exceptional forward speed, reaching 31 mph on Saturday, nearly three times the average hurricane forward speed of 11 – 12 mph.

Yet more troubling is the fact that tropical storms and hurricanes are not the only natural catastrophes in 2021 causing deaths, economic losses and government disaster assistance expenditures. The unprecedented February storms that ravaged Texas and other states were responsible for an estimated $155 billion in economic loss. Drought conditions in the West are expected to lead to 9.5 million acres of land lost due to wildfires this year, which is 30 percent higher than the average for the past five years, and 40 percent higher than the average of the last decade. What’s more, the economic losses from the recent scorching heat waves have not even been calculated.

The natural catastrophe trifecta of Atlantic storms, winter storms and droughts/heatwaves/wildfires is a clarion call for urgently-needed resilience and disaster mitigation planning. There are many practical, common sense measures that may be taken to mitigate potential future mega-losses from catastrophes, such as strengthening building codes and prohibiting building in areas prone to flooding or fire. The insurance industry will do its part to indemnify financial losses, but mitigation and resilience measures are desperately needed. Every dollar invested by the federal government in pre-disaster mitigation saves society $6 in post-disaster recovery costs. Investing in resilience and pre-disaster mitigation is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. After all, hurricanes Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida and Julian will soon be bearing down on us.

Featured Publications