An important new study shows that several hurricanes in the 20th century would have caused Katrina-like devastation, if they’d occurred in more modern times:
If the Great Storm of 1900 had hit Galveston two years ago, it would have inflicted $72 billion in damage, nearly as much as Hurricane Katrina, researchers say. …
Under the new analysis, which adjusted for inflation, population and coastal development, Hurricane Katrina and its $81 billion cost ranked second to the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, which caused damage estimated at almost $140 billion. Another Galveston hurricane, in 1915, ranked fourth with $57 billion in damage.
Put simply, the devastation wrought by Katrina in 2005 was not unprecedented.
That’s significant in an era when some blame global warming for catastrophic hurricanes. The research concludes that economic damage from hurricanes, after being adjusted, has remained relatively constant during the last century.
Furthermore, scientists involved in the study say, a $500 billion storm in a major metropolitan area along the U.S. coast, such as Miami or possibly even Houston, is conceivable by 2020 if present development trends continue, as expected.
When it comes to hurricanes, these scientists say, coastal development Ã¢â‚¬â€ not warming oceans Ã¢â‚¬â€ should perhaps be policymakers’ biggest concern.
This is proof of something I was musing about the other day in the wake of the Bill Proenza kerfuffle: the need to increase funding for hurricane forecasting and research — for satellite systems, reconaissance aircraft, and all sorts of other important tools — should not be subsumed within the “global warming” debate. Indeed, given how thoroughly politicized that debate has become, proponents of increased funding are probably hurting their own cause by using the argument that “we need more funding because there are going to be more and stronger hurricanes.”
Even if hurricanes are getting stronger and more numerous (and, whatever one thinks about global warming, the jury is still out about the overall effects of a warmer climate on tropical development), it’s still not the best argument for adequately funding the NHC, HRD, etc. The best argument is that increased coastal development — which entails not only heightened potential for damage to life and property, but also increased costs for unnecessary evacuations — makes it absolutely imperative that we continue to improve the accuracy of hurricane forecasts as much as humanly possible.