Billion Dollar Disasters: Rain, Rain Go Away!


Billion Dollar Disasters: Rain, Rain Go Away!

“The U.S. has sustained 310 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion [...]. The total cost of these 310 events exceeds $2.155 trillion,” reports NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), formerly the National Climatic Data Center. On the blog, Adam B. Smith wrote in February, “In 2021, the U.S. experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, putting 2021 in second place for the most disasters in a calendar year, behind the record 22 separate billion-dollar events in 2020.” These events affected not only homes and businesses, but also cultural sites. 

Where is your cultural heritage institution on this map?
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2022)., DOI: 10.25921/stkw-7w73

What is the United States doing to combat climate change and protect cultural heritage?

The Biden Administration has established a Climate Change Task Force, which required federal agencies to submit Climate Change Action and Resilience Plans in 2021. Two agencies we would like to highlight are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Smithsonian Institution.

NASA: NASA’s plan has adaptation actions that include integrating climate risks into risk analysis; agency resilience planning; and advancing aeronautics research on technologies and processes that reduce contributors to climate change. NASA’s new chief scientist is focused on raising public and outside agency awareness of NASA’s climate work, from climate modeling using satellite data to making flights more efficient.

Smithsonian: The Smithsonian’s Climate Change plan includes details on institution-wide efforts to assess their vulnerabilities and enhance their resiliency. The collections section aims to protect national collections, mitigate collections risks, and prepare staff for responding to increasingly extreme weather through long-term planning and preparedness training while reducing or not increasing their energy reliance.

Melissa King, Rebecca Kaczkowski, and Samantha Snell gave a Collections Emergency Kits webinar last May, which is free to view at

Preparing for Seasonal Change

Considering the NOAA reports and government agency plans can help us direct our own activities. As we move into the spring months, let’s prepare our collections
and spaces for storms of increasing intensity and frequency. Some reminders:
  • Are the building drains and gutters clear of debris?
  • Are sump pumps in working order?
  • Is your phone tree up to date?
  • Do you have enough absorbent socks in your emergency kit?
Still need more preparedness tips and emergency kit information? Check out the resources available through Connecting to Collections Care including a webinar
specifically on emergency kits.

—Samantha Snell, National Collections Program, Smithsonian Institution, AIC Emergency Committee co-chair,, and Melissa Miller, PRICE Program Contractor, National Collections Program, AIC Emergency Committee member,