Places at Greatest Risk of Hurricane Disaster
After more than a decade of relative quiet, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria struck locations along the U.S. coast and Puerto Rico in 2017. Due largely to development along the shore during the unusually long hiatus, as well as the shear intensity of these storms, the devastation broke all records. The damage, likely underestimated, has been pegged at over $200 billion.
While hurricane prediction remains a remarkably inexact endeavor, rising global ocean temperatures and evidence that points to greater hurricane activity suggest destructive weather events are not going away. The highest level of North Atlantic hurricane activity on record was between 1995 to 2000.
The places at the greatest risk of a future disaster are most likely to be the places that have already experienced such weather events.
With this pattern in mind, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the frequency of Atlantic basin hurricanes passing through an area between 1970 and 2016 in places across the continental United States and Puerto Rico. Using each area’s hurricane frequency we then calculated the average number of years between storms for every area. Those areas that have had at least one hurricane pass through them every two years on average make this list of places most likely to endure a major hurricane in the near future.
The size of these potential disasters is more closely related to the vulnerability of the areas than it is to the intensity of the storm.
Hurricane expert Michael Bell, associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, noted in an email to 24/7 Wall St., “[E]ven if hurricane intensity and frequency were to stay the same, changes in the exposure of life and property along coastal regions can increase the risk of injury and damage.” So while there is no significant trend since 1900 of hurricane frequency or intensity, hurricane-related damage has increased dramatically since the turn of the century.
A recent report by property information and analytics company Corelogic shows that close to 7 million homes along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are at risk of hurricane and storm surge damage.
Much of this damage is related to heavy rainfall and storm surge — abnormal rises in water levels caused by the force of storm winds — rather than the hurricane winds themselves.
According to a paper published in March by Geoffrey Heal, a professor of social enterprise at Columbia Business School, and Marco Tedesco, a research professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, sea levels could rise by 15 feet by 2100. The next 50 years of sea level rise are widely considered by climate scientists to be inevitable.
To identify the places at the greatest risk of hurricane disaster, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the frequency of hurricanes between 1970 and 2016 in cities, towns, villages, and Census Designated Places (CDPs) across the continental United States and Puerto Rico with populations of more than 10,000 people. We only considered storms in the Atlantic basin, which has one of the better historical hurricane records. We calculated the distance between the center of each geographical area and the center of storms at six-hour intervals after landfall. To be counted as part of an area’s hurricane record, the center of the storm needed to have passed within 50 miles of the center of the town during at least one of the six-hour intervals. Using each area’s hurricane frequency counted in this way, we then calculated the average number of years between storms.