Hurricane Florence tied for the second-most-expensive natural disaster in 2018, according to data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week.
The tropical cyclone, which made landfall as a Category 1 storm near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., in mid-September, had a total price tag of $24 billion, NOAA reported.
It was about as damaging in financial terms as the entire 2018 wildfire season in California, a period of six months in which entire towns were destroyed by historically large blazes and 106 people perished.
The most expensive single event was Hurricane Michael, which devastated the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm in October to the tune of $25 billion.
The vast majority of Florence's damages occurred in North Carolina. But NOAA's cost estimate on the storm, which covers the period from Sept. 13 to 16, doesn't tell the full story.
Florence, which was a particularly wet storm that led to rainfall records across the Carolinas, unleashed its biggest wallop in South Carolina in the days after the hurricane dispersed. A torrent of rain dumped into watersheds that start in North Carolina swelled rivers in the Pee Dee and Horry County, displacing hundreds of people.
Derrec Becker, spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said the state has so far tallied $149 million in costs to governments incurred by the disaster, and that FEMA has paid out $23 million in direct assistance to Palmetto State residents. There have additionally been $98 million in claims to the National Flood Insurance Program, he said.
Private insurers report an additional expected $283 million in paid losses from Florence, according to a January report from the S.C. Department of Insurance.
Florence is the 12th-most-costly tropical cyclone since 1980, according to NOAA data. It was also $5.3 billion more expensive than Hurricane Hugo, one of the most devastating storms in South Carolina's history.
Costs are growing in part because of what insurers call a concentration of risk, said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the S.C. Insurance Association. Homes on the coast are more likely to be impacted by wind damage, one of the most intense effects of a hurricane. But a coastal boom of new residents and building in South Carolina has magnified that concentration, both in rising property values and in putting more people in harm's way.
However, Dubisky said, private insurers aren't shying away form coastal marketplaces, even as the risk rises.
"I don't think we're seeing the market react to the two most recent storms suddenly and swiftly in any kind of knee jerk at this point," he said.
At the same time as NOAA released updated disaster damage estimates, the agency also published a report showing that 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record since such data was first recorded, 139 years ago. In total, the past five years are the five warmest in that period.
The worldwide warming trend has been linked to wetter, more intense tropical storms, like Florence.