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The growth in housing density over the past 40 years in the region that's in Hurricane Laura's path. Credit: Stephen M. Strader

The population density of the Texas-Louisiana coastal region where Hurricane Laura is set to make landfall as a Category 4 storm has increased significantly over the past 40 years.

Why it matters: The damage a storm can do is a function not just of its sheer strength, but the number of people in its path. As more people live in coastal regions, we will get an increasingly "expanded bull's-eye" of hurricane risks.

What's happening: As Hurricane Laura is set to hit the Gulf Coast tonight or tomorrow morning, it has sustained winds of about 140 mph and could cause "unsurvivable storm surges" as high as 30 feet.

  • But while the storm's sheer power — and the role that climate change might play in intensifying that power — grabs attention, the more immediate multiplier is the increase in the number of people living in harm's way.

By the numbers: The population of coastline counties in the Gulf of Mexico region increased by more than 3 million, or 24.5%, between 2000 and 2016.

  • That's the fastest growth among all coastline counties, and significantly faster than total U.S. population growth over the time period.
  • The GIF above, posted on Twitter by the Villanova University geographer Stephen M. Strader, shows the growth in housing density over the past four decades for the region that's in Laura's path.

How it works: The spread of development in natural disaster-prone areas creates what experts call an "expanding bull's-eye" effect of increased risk.

  • Imagine the Gulf Coast as a dartboard. As development expands, the bull's-eye — the area where a storm might do maximum damage — expands as well.
  • That means more people and more property in the path of a possible hurricane, increasing the damage for a mild storm — and multiplying it for a severe one.

The bottom line: While more and more people move into fire, tornado and flood-prone regions, natural disasters will get worse — even before we begin factoring in climate change.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 10, 2020 - Science

Theta becomes 29th named storm in record hurricane season

A satellite image of Subtropical Storm Theta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/Twitter

Subtropical Storm Theta formed in the Northeast Atlantic Monday night, becoming the 29th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center confirmed.

Why it matters: The formation of Theta, which was some 995 miles southwest of the Azores overnight, breaks the record for the most named storms in a season — set in 2005. The World Meteorological Organization sets 21 alphabetical names for every season (excluding Q,U, X, Y and Z). This is the second time ever it's used all and had to turn to the Greek alphabet.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further context on the hurricane season.

Updated 29 mins ago - Sports

MLB headed for first lockout since '95 as deal expires

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred (L) and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark. Photo: Matt King/MLB via Getty Images

Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday without a new deal in place.

Why it matters: With no CBA, the MLB is headed for the first management lockout since a 1994-95 strike led to the cancelation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

Media giants back Bannon's bid to release Jan. 6 documents

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon at the FBI Washington Field Office in Washington, DC., in November. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A coalition of news outlets including the Washington Post is supporting Stephen Bannon's campaign for the release of documents related to his contempt of Congress charges, WashPost confirmed Wednesday.

Why it matters: WashPost, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal's parent company and others filed a motion arguing that a proposed protective order seeking to prevent the documents from being released violates the First Amendment, per the Daily Mail, which first reported on the news.

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