Hurricane Irene Demonstrates Threats to Coasts As Climate Changes

Every hurricane season, climate scientists are asked how climate change is impacting hurricanes.

The East Coast is hard hit economically when storms strike

Insured coastal property along Hurricane Irene’s path—from North Carolina to Maine—is valued at $4.9 trillion, accounting for more than half of the value of all insured coastal property in the Gulf and Eastern States.

Even though Hurricane Irene was a Category 1 storm, a preliminary estimate from the Insurance Information Institute found it could inflict $7 billion in damage, which would make it among the 10 most expensive weather-related disasters in U.S. history. The costliest damage related to Irene is expected to stem from claims in some of the most densely populated areas along the East Coast, including New Jersey and New York. The cost of damage from extensive inland flooding in Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia is still unclear, but it will likely raise overall damage costs.

Sea levels are rising and allowing storms to reach further inland and damage property

What would future sea-level rise mean for coasts? According to research compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in North Carolina, 18 inches of sea-level rise would cause $2 billion in cumulative property damage by 2100. In Boston, 18 inches of sea-level rise would exact cumulative costs of $13 billion by 2100—on top of $7 billion in other expected flooding costs. And if sea-level rise reaches 33 inches by 2100, today’s 100-year coastal flood will likely occur every one to two years in Boston and Atlantic City, and every 11 to 22 years in New York City.

Further, heavier rainfall, sea-level rise and flooding can chip away at barrier islands and wetlands, leaving coastal areas more vulnerable to storms, including hurricanes.

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

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