If the nearly 7 million homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts were to be destroyed by hurricanes, reconstruction would cost an estimated $1.55 trillion. Miami, Florida, with 780,482 at-risk homes, leads the nation as the city in danger of the greatest damage from a hurricane.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of homes at risk and the estimated construction costs for U.S. metro areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from real estate data tracking company CoreLogic. The 15 cities vulnerable to the greatest damage are listed in order by the number of homes at risk of destruction from storm surge — the abnormal rises in sea level due to storms.
The strength and duration of storms, as well as the likelihood of hurricanes making landfall, declines the further north along the Atlantic coastline a city is located, although nothing is certain. “We just don’t know where that next hurricane is going to hit,” said Dr. Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic. “We know it can happen just about anywhere along the coast.”
The risk of storm damage in an area is contingent on a range of factors. Chief among them are the length of coastline, coastal elevation, and density of homes. Florida, for example, which is home to six of the 15 cities at risk of the greatest hurricane damage, has the longest shoreline of any state after only Alaska. In New York, on the other hand, where the likelihood of a serious hurricane is relatively low, the high population density along the coast means the area is at risk of potentially far greater levels of damage.
Hurricanes strike some parts of the country with much greater frequency than others. It is likely that major metropolitan areas in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana — where storms are more common — will be the next to see a catastrophic event inflict billions of dollars in damage. Miami has been in the direct path of several major hurricanes in the past century and a half, while Philadelphia has been largely spared.
However, if history is any indication, there is no way of telling whether Philadelphia or Miami will be the next city to sustain a serious catastrophic storm. Tampa Bay, located in the hurricane hotbed that is the Gulf of Mexico, has not sustained a direct hit from a hurricane in decades. The Greater New York metropolitan area, meanwhile, was struck in 2012 by one of the costliest storms in U.S. history, with damages estimated at more than $60 billion.
To some extent, damage from serious hurricanes cannot be avoided. However, there are small and large-scale measures residents and city governments can take to mitigate flood damage. A number of cities on this list, those in Florida in particular, enforce building codes ensuring homes are built with greater structural integrity for example. State and city governments can also take large scale and relatively expensive measures such as dikes, pump stations, and sea walls, which can lower damage from storms dramatically. Jeffery noted that in general cities do too little to mitigate potential damage, and that large-scale, long-term investments are very costly and difficult to promote.
Many Americans in these cities are likely not adopting safety measures because too much time has passed since the previous hurricane, and flood mitigation and other hurricane safety standards do not seem essential. To be sure, the deadly and costly impact of hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Sandy in 2012 are still fresh in the minds of many area residents. Jeffery described this phenomenon as “hurricane amnesia.” He said, “People don’t think about it when it doesn’t happen regularly.”
Many Americans living in hazardous flood zones who have not prepared their home may simply be ignorant of the risk. In Florida, home to six of the 15 cities with the most properties at risk, a hurricane has not made landfall in over a decade. This is remarkable, given that the state averaged one hurricane every 1.6 years in the 20th century. Since the last hurricane to strike the state in 2005, millions of people moved to Florida, residents who have never had the experience of preparing for or surviving a hurricane.
To identify the 15 cities at risk of the greatest storm damage, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of homes potentially at risk of being damaged by hurricanes in the 88 U.S. metro areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from property information company CoreLogic. The estimated rebuilding costs in the event of a total loss in each city also came from CoreLogic. Death tolls and damage estimates for past hurricanes came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
These are the 15 cities with the most to lose in a hurricane.