Report: The Southeast’s Storm Surge Risk and Florida’s Hurricane Wake-Up Call

By | July 24, 2017

The Southeast has seen its fair share of natural disasters and flooding in the last several years, including two hurricanes in Florida last year – the first hurricanes to hit the state in more than a decade. But none of these events have come close to reaching the potential impact a serious storm surge event could have on the region.

According to CoreLogic’s 2017 Storm Surge Report, which examines risk from hurricane-driven storm surge for homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines across 19 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 86 metro areas, the total reconstruction cost value (RCV) in the event of a hurricane storm surge inundation in these regions would be more than $1.5 trillion.

The total number of homes that could be affected along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, defined by CoreLogic as the 3,700 miles of coastline from Maine to Texas, is nearly 6.9 million. In the Gulf Coast region – running from Texas through the tip of South Florida – almost 3 million homes are at risk with a total RCV of $593 billion. The Atlantic Coast accounts for 3.9 million homes and a RCV of more than $970 billion.

To estimate the value of property exposure of single-family residences, CoreLogic uses its reconstruction cost valuation (RCV) methodology which estimates the cost to rebuild the home in the event of a total loss. The reconstruction cost estimates more accurately reflect the actual cost of damage or destruction of residential buildings that would occur from hurricane-driven storm surge since they include the cost of materials, equipment and labor needed to rebuild and also factor in geographical pricing differences. The values in this report are based on total destruction.

Southeast coastal states CoreLogic examined in its report are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina, which account for at least 3.6 million of the 6.9 million homes at risk along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of those homes – about 2.7 million – are in Florida, which carries a whopping $536 billion reconstruction cost value – the highest of the 19 states.

The Southeast also accounts for nine of CoreLogic’s top 15 metropolitan areas at greatest risk of storm surge, with six being Florida cities.

It’s common knowledge Florida is at risk of hurricanes, but the state has gone many years without experiencing significant damage from a major storm. Dr. Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic, said that can often lead to “hurricane amnesia,” for citizens and municipalities and impacts preparation for a big storm event.

“This report is about making people aware of the fact that we are in hurricane season. We don’t know when or where they will happen, but they have the opportunity to affect the coastal U.S. and we want to put it on people’s radar,” Jeffery said. “A lot of these areas don’t realize what the risk is once you are outside the 100-year flood plain.”

He added many people in these communities don’t realize what their storm surge risk is outside of the 100-year flood plain.

“Large hurricanes especially can really push surge water quite a bit inland, but after big events, people say they didn’t realize their property was at risk,” Jeffery said. “Hopefully, this information can give them the incentive to go to their insurer and find out if they are in a high-risk area and adequately prepare.”

CoreLogic included a probabilistic storm surge analysis focused on Florida in this year’s report, with emphasis on storm surge from Hurricane Matthew, which changed course before making landfall last year and spared the state from the worst possible scenario. The goal of probabilistic modeling of hurricane perils, CoreLogic said, is to provide risk managers with insight on what could happen so they can plan and manage better.

“Probabilistic loss provides an evaluation of the specific amount of damage that could be expected from a single storm event or a set of simulated events, called probabilistic events, which are informed by historical storm records that are similar in size and scope,” the report states.

This analysis focused on the historical storms in Florida that caused storm surge damage beginning in 1900 and how Hurricane Matthew compares. Of the 97 catastrophic hurricanes in Florida since 1900, Hurricane Matthew ranked No. 19 among historical storm surge events. CoreLogic said storm surge damage from Matthew made up less than 10 percent of the total financial loss with the rest being a result of wind damage.

Number one on the list was the “13th hurricane of 1944” (before hurricanes were given actual names), which caused $15 billion in damage on 471,000 homes in today’s terms. Hurricane Andrew, which hit in 1992, was ranked No. 4, and Wilma, which hit in 2005, was ranked No. 15.

Though Florida’s first hurricanes in 11 years were not as devastating as they could have been, the two storms that did occur – Hurricane Hermine in Sept. 2016, and Hurricane Matthew – caused more than $3.2 billion combined damage to Florida.

Jeffery said the state got lucky last year. He added awareness is key to minimizing loss in the future, and the modeling company has seen increased interest in information and proactive mitigation discussions this year.

“Florida went a long stretch without an impactful landfall hurricane and last year was an eye opener, an awakening to get people to think about it since we don’t know when that next one is going to come ashore,” he said.

About Amy O'Connor

O'Connor is the Southeast editor for Insurance Journal and associate editor of MyNewMarkets.com. More from Amy O'Connor

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