Hurricane Risk: Not Just Florida

Here’s a cheerful article about storm risks in South Florida. And of course the journalists who wrote it are only trying to help. It’s not like they are trying to gin up a little pre-hurricane season hysteria to boost circulation and ad revenues! No, nothing like that. Why, they are so thoughtful that they even commissioned experts to run computer simulations of worst-case events in case readers don’t get the point, which is that THEY ARE ALL GOING TO DIE (maybe).

Journalists exaggerating remote probabilities in order to sell papers (or page views) is like dog bites man, but there is a more serious side to this story. While the odds of a major hurricane hitting Miami in any given year are probably low, the likelihood that a storm will cause havoc somewhere on the Gulf or East Coast is much higher.

The issue is not so much (perhaps not at all) global warming as it is population growth along the coasts. The last few decades have seen a great deal of building on beaches and barrier islands. While the risk of disaster is low for any given place and perhaps even any given year, it appears inevitable that some major population centers will eventually go the way of New Orleans. Everybody knows this, of course, but whereas Floridians may be overestimating the risks it seems likely that residents of more-northern states are underestimating them. Long Island, NY, to cite just one example, was devastated by a hurricane in 1938, and there is no reason why it can’t happen again. And if it does happen again the outcome might be a lot worse because Long Island’s population is much bigger now (though the costs would be mitigated by better weather forecasts, medicine and probably construction technology). The fact that it hasn’t occurred recently skews people’s perceptions but probably doesn’t change the real odds.

No part of the USA’s eastern coast, from Massachusetts on South, is immune, no matter how few storms there have been recently. If you live anywhere near the East Coast you should assume that it can happen to you.

UPDATE: This article is probably helpful.

7 thoughts on “Hurricane Risk: Not Just Florida”

  1. I have the impression that I’ve read something about insurance copanies (intentional sic to bypass comment submission error) dumping Florida homeowner policies lately. Even the state insurance agency of last resort was reportedly having some issues.

  2. Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida and we that live along the coast–or at least we that have been here long enough to know–know the risk that we run by living here.

    When I first decided that Florida was for me-way back in 1962- the central west coast beaches had a lot of small homes and cabins and the tourists stayed in Mom and Pop type motels. A hurricane would do a lot of damage but not the billions worth that even a strong cat one can do now. It is the massive influx of population and the high priced developments along the coast that are the problem–not global warming nor the hurricanes. Simply put-if you can’t stand the heat get out of the damn fire. I just can’t generate any sympathy for someone who builds a million dollar home on a barrier Island then cries because they can’t afford the insurance.

    My home is modest by a lot of standards even though I could easily afford more. But I don’t want the high insurance nor the high taxes just for the luxery of living where the fishing is good and the weather is usually pleasant.

  3. Since jurnalists are writing stuff merely to increase circulation, why not stop reading what they sayh instead of reading and then belittling? And, in passing, how come the Boyz have so little to say about the many many warnings about environmental destruction that was ignored by your main man, George W. Bush?

  4. Who’s belittling. I am merely pointing out (with, I had thought, some humor) what is going on and using it as a starting point for a new discussion.

    As for “many many warnings about environmental destruction,” well, yes, there have been many such warnings. The problem is that almost all of them have proved false, and in cases where there was some reasonable concern the proposed cure (e.g., Kyoto Treaty) would have been worse than the disease. To the extent that Bush has ignored such warnings I say, good for him. It’s not his job to be our chief weather forecaster and urban planner. The real issue isn’t man-made “environmental destruction” in the brief period that Bush has been in office, it’s decades of population growth along the US East Coast. Partisan blaming is simply irrelevant.

  5. OOPS, better hold off on the hurricane scare, it was replaced tonight on one of the major network local newscast at 10:00pm. Wildfire threat to South Florida because storms are passing to the North…Wild fires burning now tape at 10…

    What was the quote exactly “Long in tooth and claw”???

  6. Jonathan brings up a very important point that is often overlooked: we expect nature to change its ways in order to accomodate our ways. Having lived on Long Island in the 60’s when a “mild” hurricane passed over and knocked over huge maple trees, oaks and severe flooding. Forty years later I’m living in SoFla through Andrew, Francis, Jeanne, and Wilma. Now the fires to the north which happens yearly. This is what Florida was all about for many years before the likes of me and others decided to invade a beautiful but vunerable eco system. But we want the weather to change to meet our illusory desires. Barrier islands are rife with high rises that will tumble into the intercoastal or the Atlantic when push comes to shove. And we should be surprised?

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