The 2015 annual storm surge report from Core Logic, a firm specializing in global property information and analytics, finds that over 6.6 million homes on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are at risk from hurricane-induced storm surge. The cost to replace what could be lost is staggering: The price tag of reconstruction alone is nearly USD 1.5 trillion. To put that into perspective, USD 1.5 trillion is the current GDP of the country of Australia.
The report also highlights metropolitan areas at risk from storm surge, and a recent article from PropertyCasualty360 goes one step further, presenting the ten most storm surge exposed areas as an itemized list. Most of the cities in the top ten won't be surprising (Miami, New York, Tampa, New Orleans), and some are (Philadelphia, commonly thought of as an "inland" city). The article present facts and figures, and conveys the very important message that hurricane induced storm surge is a major threat to these cities.
However, one point is not highlighted in the article: Many of these cities are in the midst of a decades-long hurricane drought, and with the development of all these homes and businesses, comes a growing population. With each year that goes by without a major hurricane landfall, the number of individuals living in these hurricane exposed cities who haven't experienced a major hurricane landfall increases.
Three cities on the top ten list are of particular concern. First, at #2, Miami, Florida. Miami-Dade County hasn't had a direct strike from a major hurricane since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew made landfall in late August. Given that Andrew was a tiny hurricane, and made landfall approximately 20 miles south of Miami, sparing the downtown its worst, one could argue that the city of Miami, home to many high-rise commercial structures and condominiums, has gone without the effects of a major hurricane for almost 90 years, since the 1926 hurricane moved ashore. Numerous studies have shown that if this event happened today, the damage would exceed USD 125 billion dollars, beyond that of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, the population of Miami-Dade County continues to grow, with over 500,000 individuals moving to the county since Hurricane Andrew's landfall.
At #3, another city in Florida, Tampa, has gone even longer without a major hurricane strike. A scare in 2004 occurred with Hurricane Charley, but the storm ultimately took a last minute turn, sparing the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and striking Port Charlotte. The last major hurricane to have a significant impact in Tampa was the 1921 Tampa Bay hurricane, which brought a 10 – 12 foot storm surge into Tampa Bay. With only 11% of the population in Tampa over 65 years old, and an even smaller fraction over 90 years old, it's unlikely there are many current residents of Tampa who remember this hurricane and its impacts.
To find the most recent major hurricane that affected Virginia Beach, #4 on the list, one needs to go back 100 years before the 1921 Tampa Bay hurricane, to 1821, when the Norfolk Long Island hurricane raced up the Eastern Seaboard and laid waste to much in its path. A 2014 report from Swiss Re estimates wind losses alone from this event in Virginia Beach would be in excess of USD 2.5 billion. Losses from surge would only exacerbate the wind losses. Needless to say, not one present-day resident of Virginia Beach remembers this hurricane.
Finally, even in New York, #1 on PropertyCasualty360's list, there's room for awareness building. Many take false comfort in the fact that Hurricane Sandy was a meteorological anomaly, and that the exact features that aligned to create Sandy are unlikely to align again. However, history shows that New York too is susceptible to more traditional hurricanes, and while an exact recurrence of Sandy is remote, a major hurricane which takes a track similar to Hurricane Irene, as the 1821 Norfolk Long Island hurricane did, is both possible and probable.
All individuals who live in hurricane exposed areas, particularly those who've never experienced a major hurricane, must take the time to inform themselves of the risks posed by these weather events. Hurricanes have devastating, long term impacts on property and lives, and being ill-prepared can cost both unnecessary dollars, and more importantly, unnecessary loss of life. Living on the coast is both a privilege and a responsibility, and everyone must be ready during each hurricane season for, "The Big One," no matter for how long your city has been spared.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience
Location: Miami, FL, United States