Seeing the recent hurricane activity, including the hard-to-pin-down Debby currently in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, reminds me of this past study indicating that costly hurricane damage could increase along the eastern seaboard and Gulf coast of the U.S. While the authors speculate that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) could exacerbate things, the real culprit is the fact that more people are living and building expensive structures near the coast. People in southeast Asia are also gaining wealth and building more along the coast, so yes, around the world hurricane damages will rise, but it might not be due to an increase in hurricane number or strength.
Having expensive “real estate” along coastal regions is a problem of course, but the problem is exacerbated in the U.S. by the National Flood Insurance Program(NFIP), whereby taxpayers are on the hook for coastal mansions and condos. If a coastal area is destroyed by a hurricane year-after-year by a hurricane, taxpayers will foot the bill to re-build everything….year-after-year. This might not seem like too much of a problem except that the dollar amount of losses continues to climb because of the reasons stated earlier. How many times do you want to foot the bill to rebuild New Orleans? Hundreds of billions of public (and private) dollars flowed into New Orleans to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The city is below sea level and continues to sink. The oceans level is high and is expected to rise a bit more over coming decades. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen. Nothing has changed. It is still a disaster waiting to happen. At some point, you would think someone in the government would write into law that New Orleans will only be rebuilt in its current location one more time, but according to the NFIP, New Orleans will be rebuilt every time.
Now, people along the coast who are reading this will claim that building a house in New Orleans – below sea level – is on par with someone building a house in earthquake-prone California or the tornado-prone Midwest. Disasters happen all the time, right? It is different for most disasters because they are paid for by private insurance. After the Merrill tornado, homeowners were not bailed out by taxpayers, but by private insurance they paid (full price) for. In Grand Forks North Dakota, after the flood in the late 1990s, they rebuilt the downtown away from the flood plain to prevent future disaster.
Have a pleasant Monday! Meteologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on June 25, 2012