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Hurricane Florence forecast to be among costliest U.S. storms on record

It is no secret that Hurricane Florence is a force to be reckoned with— it is predicted to be one of the strongest storms to hit the East Coast in decades. Though the previously Category 4 storm was knocked down to a Category 2 as it approached the southeast U.S. early Thursday, the system for categorizing hurricanes solely measures wind speeds, which are still expected to reach 110 mph, in addition to intense rainfall, storm surges, and coastal flooding.

“Do not focus on the wind speed category of Hurricane Florence!” The National Hurricane Center cautioned on Twitter Thursday morning. “Life-threatening storm surge flooding, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are still expected.”

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center "Dramatic Views of Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station From 9/12"
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center “Dramatic Views of Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station From 9/12”

North Carolina governor Roy Cooper warned his residents that the storm “will affect each and every one of you…the waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”

North and South Carolina have each had bouts with extreme flooding events in the past few years; Hurricane Joaquin hit South Carolina in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew inundated North Carolina in 2016. A Global Resilience Institute study performed in the aftermath of both disasters found that the complexity of watersheds and flood management played a large role in the impacts residents and businesses suffered. Communities were taken by surprise as infrastructure that they did not even realize they relied on failed, sending torrents of water towards their property, washing out roads and dams, and disrupting recovery plans.

The severe flooding and rainfall are likely to result in widespread damage along the Eastern Seaboard. According to an estimate from analytics firm CoreLogic, the storm could be among the most costly in U.S. history, with a reconstruction cost value of approximately $170.2 billion based on the hurricane’s former Category 4 status.

Prior to Florence, Katrina racked up an estimated $161 billion cost in terms of losses when it hit New Orleans in 2005.

Flood insurance is something under-purchased by residents in states that are most at risk. According to an article from the Wall Street Journal, fewer homeowners in North and South Carolina have flood insurance than five years ago. Typically, residents are unaware that flooding is not covered in regular homeowners insurance and are made aware once a disaster has struck. Under the National Flood Insurance Program, residents in a 100-year flood plain – an area that has a 1% chance of flooding per year – are required to purchase flood insurance. However, this has led to a false sense of security for those outside of the flood zones and an underestimation of flood risk. From 1999-2009, 75% of the damages incurred by floods in Houston happened in areas where homeowners were not required to purchase flood insurance.

“Residents of these states are materially less prepared than they were in the past to deal with the financial consequences associated with major flooding events,” Robert Hartwig, a risk-management and insurance professor at the University of South Carolina, told WSJ.

With waiting periods of 30 days, those who have not purchased flood insurance are too late. It is predicted that 10 trillion gallons of rainfall will drench the states of the east coast, with storm surges rising up to 13 feet. North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia have all declared a state of emergency.

As so alarmingly put by FEMA Associate Administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery Jeff Byard on September 12, “This is not going to be a glancing blow. … This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”