Hurricane Costs on the Rise: The Impact of Coastal Growth in the Carolinas

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is wrapping up with more storms but fewer landfalls, as reported by NOAA. While the basin experienced 20 named storms, only one hurricane and two tropical storms made landfall in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the Carolinas, two tropical storms, Idalia and Ophelia, made landfall, resulting in nearly $3 billion in damages. This is considered lower on the scale of storm damage, but the trend in the Carolinas has been moving in the opposite direction.

Between 2016 and 2022, the Carolinas faced five hurricanes that cost both states $33 billion in damages and resulted in 90 fatalities. From 2018 to 2022, North Carolina recorded 20 disasters causing over a billion dollars in damages, with eleven of those being tropical cyclones.

Kathie Dello of the North Carolina State Climate Office attributes the severity of flooding and storm surges to warmer oceans and rising sea levels. She also points out that increased development and population growth in storm-prone areas significantly contribute to the problem.

Coastal counties in North Carolina are among the state’s fastest-growing areas, and the Myrtle Beach metro area is cited as the quickest growing place in the country.

Dello emphasized the need for infrastructure that considers flood and hurricane risks. She expressed concerns about the alarming rate of development in high-risk flood zones despite efforts to buy out properties in these areas.

She noted that addressing the issue is not as simple as relocating people away from the coast, as the question arises, “Where will they go?” The risks of hurricanes and flooding are increasing due to extensive development and a growing population in vulnerable areas, she concluded.

The story of Hurricane Florence, a devastating storm that caused catastrophic damage and historic flooding, is a grim reminder of the potential consequence.


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