DISASTERSExtreme Weather Cost $80 Billion in 2023. The True Price Is Far Higher.

By Jake Bittle

Published 6 January 2024

The U.S. saw 25 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023 — more than ever before. 2024 could be worse. Congress has long punted on reforming FEMA and the nation’s disaster relief policy, but it’s only a matter of time before there’s a disaster bad enough that legislators feel pressure to act. That catastrophe didn’t arrive in in 2023, but it is surely coming.

You may not remember the tornado that swept through western Mississippi on the night of Friday, March 24, but Eldridge Walker does. 

Walker, who is both the mayor and the funeral director of the town of Rolling Fork, said it’s still hard to fathom the destruction it caused in his town. The twister killed 17 people and injured another 165. It destroyed dozens of houses as well as City Hall, the fire and police stations, post office, elementary school, high school, and hospital — not to mention Walker’s home and business. The damages exceeded $100 million, and the cost of the storm that spun off the cyclone approached $2 billion.

Nine months later, the recovery remains a work in progress. 

“It’s still going on, and it’s going to be going on as long as I’m mayor,” he told Grist this week. The tornado drew a flurry of national attention and a spot on Good Morning America, but aid was slower to arrive. Just a handful of the more than 700 people who lost their homes have managed to rebuild, and dozens still live in hotels, waiting on the federal government to find them temporary housing.

“They’ve got a lot going on to facilitate what they do for cities and municipalities after storms,” Walker said of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which had to respond to a string of disasters in the months after Rolling Fork’s devastation. “I’m just pleased with the fact that I’ve had communication with them.”

While Walker waits, the destruction of Rolling Fork has vanished beneath headlines about wildfires, floods, and heat waves elsewhere. Millions of people have come to feel his pain: A November poll found that three-quarters of Americans experienced some kind of extreme weather in 2023.