Predicting severe winter coastal storm damage

David M. Hondula, Robert Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Over the past 40 years residents of, and visitors to, the North Carolina coastal barrier islands have experienced the destructive forces of several 'named' extratropical storms. These storms have caused large-scale redistributions of sand and loss of coastal structures and infrastructure. While most of the population living on the islands are familiar with the wintertime storms, the damage and scars of the 'super northeasters'-such as the Ash Wednesday storm of 7 March 1962, and the Halloween storm of 1989-are slipping away from the public's memory. In this research we compared the damage zones of the 1962 Ash Wednesday storm, as depicted on aerial photographs taken after the storm, with photos taken of the same areas in 2003. With these high-resolution aerial photos we were able to estimate the extent of new development which has taken place along the Outer Banks of North Carolina since 1962. Three damage zones were defined that extend across the islands from the ocean landward on the 1962 aerial photos: (1) the zone of almost total destruction on the seaward edge of the islands where the storm waves break; (2) the zone immediately inland where moderate structural damage occurs during severe storms; and (3) the zone of flood damage at the landward margin of the storm surge and over wash. We considered the rate of coastal erosion, the rate of development, and increases in property values as factors which may contribute to changing the financial risk for coastal communities. In comparing the values of these four factors with the 1962 damage data, we produced a predicted dollar value for storm damage should another storm of the magnitude of the 1962 Ash Wednesday storm occur in the present decade. This model also provides an opportunity to estimate the rate of increase in the potential losses through time as shoreline erosion continues to progressively reduce the buffer between the development and the edge of the sea. Our data suggest that the losses along the North Carolina coast would rank amongst the all-time most costly natural disasters to have occurred in the United States, with up to $1 billion in losses in North Carolina alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number034004
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume5
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2010

Keywords

  • Ash Wednesday storm,1962
  • Damage model
  • Natural hazard risk
  • Noreasters
  • North Carolina
  • Northeast storms
  • Outer Banks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Predicting severe winter coastal storm damage'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this