NASA Earth Observatory

If Ocean Temperatures Continue to Rise, The Cost of Hurricane Damage Could More Than Double by 2100

Those estimates don't even take into account storm surges and flooding.

13 OCT 2017

2017 is officially the first year in more than a century (and only the fourth time on record) that 10 Atlantic storms in a row have reached hurricane strength.

Now, a new study, suggests that if our oceans continue to warm at the rate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the intensity and size of these hurricanes will continue to grow, costing billions of dollars in damage.


If the IPCC's most severe scenario proves correct (which isn't unreasonable considering the 80 percent confidence level in these predictions), the cost associated with hurricane damage could increase more than 70 percent by 2100.

To calculate these numbers, the researchers used a model that simulates hurricane size, intensity, track and landfall locations to predict the impact future hurricanes could have on 13 coastal counties in South Carolina.

The model, which is based on 150 years of data gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), allowed the researchers to predict the impact of these hurricanes under two different scenarios.

It was found that if ocean temperatures remain unchanged from 2005 to 2100, the expected loss in the region due to hurricanes would be about $7 billion. But if oceans continue to warm at the same rate as the IPCC's worst-case scenario, the financial cost could reach a staggering $12 billion.

These numbers are conservative and only take into account losses from wind and wind-driven rain. They do not even touch the massive financial burden that will result from storm surges and flooding.

"The study shows that a significant increase in damage and loss is likely to occur in coastal Carolina, and by implication other coastal communities, as a result of climate change," said David Rosowky, a civil engineer at the University of Vermont and one of the authors of the study.


It is important to note here that the researchers did not find any evidence to suggest that warming oceans will increase the prevalence of hurricanes, only that warming seas will lead to higher wind speeds and storms that are greater in size.

The cost of recovery from wind and wind-driven rain was calculated by placing hurricane predictions over a zip-code-by-zip-code inventory of building types and occupancy in South Carolina.

The inventory, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's HAZUS database, predicts the cost to repair, replace and inventory, as well as the losses that will result from business interruption and daily production.

"To be prepared, we need to build, design, zone, renovate and retrofit structures in vulnerable communities to accommodate that future," Rosowky said.

Rosowky says that if action isn't taken soon, IPCC scenarios are likely to become worse. For instance, the worst-case scenario that the current study is based on was not anticipated in a previous report published in 2007.

"What is today's worst case scenario will likely become more probable in the IPCC's future reports if little action is taken to slow the effects of climate change," said Rosowky.

The study was published in the journal Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.