Storm Surge

Hurricanes are causing worse and more expensive damage than ever before. High rates of coastal urbanization may be to blame.

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Read Time: 2 minutes


They go by many names—cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons. No matter what you call them, they’re all the same: a massive spiraling wind pulls ocean water into the air, bringing heavy rains and flooding to coastal communities.


Philip Klotzbach and team show that hurricanes are causing worse and more expensive damage. As seen in the graph above, the average cost of hurricanes from 1990 to 2020 rose, as represented by the dotted line. For the past few years, hurricane damage to the Gulf and Atlantic Coast—an area known as the North Atlantic Basin—cost more than storms in every other region combined. 


The authors attribute the increase in damage costs to rising coastal populations, meaning more valuable physical structures and more people with assets are affected. In the North Atlantic in 2017, there were 350 billion dollars in damages. To cover the repair costs, every person living in the U.S. would have had to contribute one thousand dollars.  


The rates of urbanization in coastal cities are one of the greatest determinants of future coastal flood risks. The authors recommend the U.S. put more focus and funding into modernizing or retrofitting local infrastructure to better withstand storm and flood risks. They also stress the importance of changing building codes in vulnerable areas so that the buildings withstand greater wind and water damage. 

Databyte via Philip Koltzbach, Kimberly Wood, Carl Schreck, Steven Bowen, Christina Patricola, and Michael Bell. Trends in Global Tropical Cyclone Activity: 1990-2021. Advancing Earth and Space Science, 2022.

This article is part of a series on Louisiana and the environmental health issues residents face.