Poverty and Disasters

In the United States, the Census Bureau estimates that 12.3% of the population are in poverty in 2017, according to the Center of Poverty Research, University of California, Davis.  Talk Poverty showed that the South and Ohio Valley have the highest poverty rate in 2018, and Nevada also has a similarly high poverty rate. Some states have close to 20% of the population in poverty. The Scientific American showed that the major natural disaster tends to raise the poverty rate by around 1% each time it occurs. Another interesting point that the article mentions is that wealthier populations usually leave the area after the disaster strike, but poorer populations tend to stay in vulnerable communities because they can not afford to start all over again in a new location. With climate change in mind, the poorer population in disaster-prone areas face increasing risks of major disasters. There are some notable cases that show how poverty plays a role in disasters.

Notable Examples

Hurricane Katrina, 2016 Louisiana Flood, and Hurricane Harvey

According to the Grist, some of the most devastated communities affected by the Lousiana flood in August 2016 are among the most impoverished, and they faced a slow recovery. The federal government did not provide enough aid for the disaster victims to recover and cope with mental health issues. Some of the flood victims had developed post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The Louisianans who were impacted by flood tend to be lower- and middle classes, but the wealthier people had already left for safer areas, which paralleled Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A year later, a similar scenario unfolded in Houston, Texas when Hurricane Harvey struck the area, according to The New York Times. Minorities, especially African Americans and Hispanics, were among the hardest hit. These examples showed how vulnerable the poorer population is to the major disasters.

Dixie Alley Killer Tornadoes

The Dixie Alley is where the VORTEX-SE (Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment, Southeast) project took place during the past couple years to study tornado behaviors, but one interesting point about the study regarding killer tornadoes was the prevalence of mobile homes, or better known as trailers to Southerners. According to USA Today article, most tornado deaths happen in mobile homes, and the majority of killer tornadoes occur in the Southeast. Mobile homes, which are common in the South, can be so easily damaged by even a weak tornado, but the people affected by poverty sometimes turn to mobile home for cheap, affordable places to live. Well-built homes are more expensive, but they tend to have the lower number of tornado deaths. In a way, the poorer people are far more vulnerable to killer tornadoes, especially in the South, due to constructions of homes on top of other factors, such as time of the day, seasons, and terrains.


I am a trained NWS spotter, and I enjoy writing about weather-related topics with commentaries.