Storm damage to increase in the future, film at 11

March 1, 2006

A story that was on the front page of Yahoo last night before I went to bed: Storm damage predictors see bigger risks ahead

After failing to predict how costly
Hurricane Katrina would be last year, companies forecasting
catastrophes are now saying U.S. damage from large storms will
rise as much as 60 percent in some regions in coming years…

One of my gripes with the article has changed since I saw it last night.  The article used the word ‘forecasters’ where it currently says ‘storm damage predictors’ While forecaster is a generic word, and can apply to anyone, articles about weather should not use the word for anyone other than meteorologists.

The article is just plain wierd because of how it casts some things that are obvious as forecasts and throws in some off the wall stuff. Here’s an example of the former:

Storm modeler Risk Management Solutions (RMS) told Reuters
hurricanes could cause 50 percent more damage in the future.

 I’ve no idea why they bothered to specify the increase in damage without a cap on the time period as it is obvious that at some point in the future the damage caused by hurricanes will increase by 50%.

Here’s the bizarro quote of the article:

Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said: "There’s
no guarantee of a catastrophic event, but it is twice as risky
as it was a year ago," he said.

 I know of nothing that justifies that asessment.  It reminds me of the public’s asessment of a risk of a terrorist attack before and after 9/11.  When you think about it there was no difference in the risk, it was the public’s conciousness of the risk that increased. 

The article does end on a sensible (albeit no-brainer) note, which leads into my explanation of why I call some of the forecasts obvious.

AIR Worldwide said it was refining its U.S. hurricane model
but wasn’t making any fundamental changes at this time.
"Insured losses will continue to rise as the number and value
of insured properties in vulnerable coastal areas continues to
rise," said Michael Gannon, an AIR spokesman.

And there’s your story.  You don’t need to talk about bigger stronger hurricanes to say that damage is going to increase in the future.  Every day, the amount of property that can be damaged increases due to new construction.

To pick a stretch of coastline that I am familiar with, the amount of damage that could be done to the upper Outer Banks (From the Virginia state line to Nags Head) has increased at least 100 fold in my lifetime.  Once upon a time the only residences were small low slung cinder block houses behind the dune line.  Now there are multi-story cottages that straddle the dune line.  Similarly the only business were a gas station and a few small stores.  Now there are full blown shopping centers.  

It’s development like that that enables a category two hurricane to do nearly nine billion dollars of damage (Frances, of 2004). 

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