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Storm-surges might dramatically increase property losses within the next few decades

18.12.2010, Age: 3516 days

A recent study on storm-surge risk along the Atlantic Seaboard and Gulfcoast shows that in 2030, hurricane-driven surges will amplify overall property losses due to the effect of sea level rise. Increases in expected losses will vary by region, with increases of twenty per cent or more being common.


Sea level is rising as the world ocean warms and ice caps and glaciers melt. Published estimates based on data from satellite altimeters, beginning in late 1992, suggest that global mean sea level has been rising on the order of 3 mm yr−1. Local processes, including ocean currents and land motions due to a variety of causes, modulate the global signal spatially and temporally. These local signals can be much larger than the global signal, and especially so on annual or shorter time scales.

Even increases on the order of 10 cm in sea level can amplify the already devastating losses that occur when a hurricane driven storm surge coincides with an astronomical high tide. To quantify the sensitivity of property risk to increasing sea level, we have calculated the change in expected annual losses to property along the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts. First, we extrapolate observed trends in sea level rise from tide gauges to the year 2030, and interpolate these changes to all coastal locations. Then we use a 10,000 year catalog of simulated hurricanes to define critical wind parameters for each event. These wind parameters then drive a parametric time-evolving storm surge model that accounts for bathymetry, coastal geometry, surface roughness, and the phase of the astronomical tide. The impact of the maximum storm surge height on a comprehensive inventory of commercial and residential property is then calculated, using engineering models that take into account the characteristics of the full range of construction types.

Average annual losses projected to the year 2030 are presented for regions and key states and are normalized by aggregate property value on a zip code by zip code basis. Comparisons to the results of a control run reflecting the risk today quantify the change in risk per dollar of property on a percentage basis. Increases in expected losses, due to the effect of sea level rise alone vary by region, with increases of 20% or more common. Further sensitivity tests quantify the impact on the risk of sea level rise plus additional factors, such as changes in hurricane frequency and intensity as a result of rising sea surface temperatures.

Ross N. Hoffman, Peter Dailey, Susanna Hopsch, Rui M. Ponte, Katherine Quinn, Emma M. Hill, Brian Zachry. An estimate of increases in storm surge risk to property from sea level rise in the first half of the twenty-first century. DOI: 10.1175/2010WCAS1050.1

Additional information

The study will be published in the next issue of Weather, Climate and Society of the American Meteorological Society. An early online release version can be found on the AMS website.

More information on related work of Dr Hoffman can be found in a recorded presentation of the January 2010 AMS Annual meeting.

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Source article

American Meteorological Society

Published By

Dr. Dick van der Wateren



risk assessment, hurricane, storm-surge, economy, Atlantic Seaboard, Gulfcoast

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