DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado has seen its fair share of wild weather, but over the last 20 years, severe damage caused by hail, tornadoes and wildfires has only increased.

The frequency of natural disasters in the state is up by 275% over the last 20 years, according to data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

From 2002 to 2021, there were 45 natural disasters in the state, up from 12 recorded between 1982 and 2001.

Becky Bolinger, an assistant state climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, highlights two main reasons: an increase in population and changes in climate.

“Part of the reason is the exposure. You have a lot of people living in the areas where (wildfires) are most destructive, but also we have seen an increase in the number of wildfires and the total area burned from fires in our state,” Bolinger said.

aerial photo shows flood damage in Greeley Colo. during a helicopter tour showing a washed-out road
This aerial photo shows flood damage in Greeley Colo. during a helicopter tour by Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. John Hickenlooper, and FEMA officials, of flood-ravaged areas, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler, Pool)

‘These are things we need to adapt to’

One example of this is the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

“We do know that the likelihood that we will see more droughts and more wildfires throughout the future is increasing with climate change, so we should expect that those are events we are going to have to prepare for,” Bolinger said.

Data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs shows the state has experienced 28 catastrophes since 1984. The department uses industry standards to classify a catastrophe as a natural disaster that causes at least $25 million in insured damage.

“This is a part of our climate and these are things that we need to adapt to if we are going to live in these areas. We need to reduce our vulnerabilities,” Bolinger said.

Roof ripped off a large building with debris spread on the ground
Northridge Elementary School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, suffers damage following a tornado on June 22, 2023. (KDVR)

She said the good news is there is information and the population has experience with these hazards.

“I think the best thing we can do is arm ourselves with this knowledge and be familiar with our surroundings, where you live, where you work, where you play,” Bolinger said. “And again, instead of wait and react to things, make sure you know what those possibilities are and how you would respond to them.”

The state does offer disaster recovery programs that help homeowners, businesses and local communities rebuild after these catastrophic events.