Taking a closer look at America’s safest county

Sweet Grass No. 1 when looking at natural disasters

Last week, an article surfaced on social media from time.com — an online supplement of TIME Magazine — labeled, ‘Most Dangerous Place to Live in America.’ The article was an interactive piece, detailing each of the contiguous country’s 3,114 counties and their susceptibility to natural disasters. 

Of those 3,000-plus counties, Sweet Grass County was the No. 1 safest place. 

The article used a formulated “disaster index,” which is combined of historical data on natural disasters dating back to 1950. The data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) storm events database helped Time reporters gather the information needed.

Sweet Grass County tied with Washington County, Idaho, with a 1.7 disaster index. But according to the article, “When two counties have the same disaster index number, fatalities recorded by NOAA since 1950 in counties and neighboring counties are considered as part of the ranking.” That’s how Sweet Grass County came out on top.

But when looking at the key factor of how Sweet Grass County earned such a low disaster index rating, one statistic stands out among them all. 

“The low population density of Sweet Grass County plays a large role in why there are a low number of events that cause damage/loss of life in Sweet Grass County [which lowers the disaster index produced by TIME Magazine],” said meteorologist Wright Dobbs, who works at the National Weather Service in Billings. “Like the article mentions, Sweet Grass County is averse to many natural disasters based on its location.”

As of the 2010 population census, Sweet Grass County has 3,651 living in its boundaries. That’s the sixth-smallest population size among the top 15 safest counties in America. It’s also to note that among those top 15 counties, seven are Montana counties, including: Wheatland (No. 3), Fergus (No. 6), Liberty (No. 8), Hill (No. 12), Silver Bow (No. 13) and Golden Valley (No. 15). 

While Montana isn’t as prone to marine disasters, such as hurricanes and tsunamis, the state does earn its danger in the fall and winter months.

“We do get our fair share of winter weather,” Dobbs said.”With wind, snow, blowing snow, that’s not the safest stuff to be out in. The biggest hazards of concern for Sweet Grass county are generally strong wind events, and winter storms. These hazardous storms and weather events will not show up in the Storm Data Database because of the limited damage, and zero loss of life.”

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at bigtimberpioneer.net.





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