11/02/2012 13 Comments
One of my regular reads every day is Roger Pielke Jr.’s Blog, he is a moderate voice in the climate change debate. He had an insightful look at the impact of Sandy in the Wall Street Journal. Hurricanes and Human Choice
Sandy was terrible, but we’re currently in a relative hurricane ‘drought. Connecting energy policy and disasters makes little scientific sense.
Hurricane Sandy left in its path some impressive statistics. Its central pressure was the lowest ever recorded for a storm north of North Carolina, breaking a record set by the devastating “Long Island Express” hurricane of 1938. Along the East Coast, Sandy led to more than 50 deaths, left millions without power and caused an estimated $20 billion or more in damage.
But to call Sandy a harbinger of a “new normal,” in which unprecedented weather events cause unprecedented destruction, would be wrong. This historic storm should remind us that planet Earth is a dangerous place, where extreme events are commonplace and disasters are to be expected. In the proper context, Sandy is less an example of how bad things can get than a reminder that they could be much worse.
In studying hurricanes, we can make rough comparisons over time by adjusting past losses to account for inflation and the growth of coastal communities. If Sandy causes $20 billion in damage (in 2012 dollars), it would rank as the 17th most damaging hurricane or tropical storm (out of 242) to hit the U.S. since 1900—a significant event, but not close to the top 10. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 tops the list (according to estimates by the catastrophe-insurance provider ICAT), as it would cause $180 billion in damage if it were to strike today. Hurricane Katrina ranks fourth at $85 billion.
To put things into even starker perspective, consider that from August 1954 through August 1955, the East Coast saw three different storms make landfall—Carol, Hazel and Diane—that in 2012 each would have caused about twice as much damage as Sandy.
Here is a graph from his blog.
The graph above shows normalized US hurricane damage, based on data from ICAT, which applies an extension to the methodology of Pielke et al. 2008. The 2012 estimate for Sandy comes from Moody’s, and is an estimate. The red line represents a linear best fit to the data — it is flat
So there your have it! Sandy is not the new normal, regardless of what the lame steam press has to say, you now have the facts.
H/T to a regular reader for the WSJ article.