Mar 7, 2023 - News

D.C.'s coming hurricane wind crisis

Data: First Street Foundation. Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals
Data: First Street Foundation. Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The number of D.C. buildings vulnerable to hurricane-caused wind damage could skyrocket by more than 600,000% over the next 30 years.

  • Seven properties are currently vulnerable. By the 2050s, that number could rise to more than 42,700.
  • Storms may come ashore this far north stronger than before.

That’s based on research from the nonprofit First Street Foundation, using peer-reviewed computer modeling of the intensity and tracks of more than 50,000 simulated tropical cyclones in a warming climate.

  • The researchers made projections for a 1-in-3,000-year storm, meaning such an event has a 0.0333% chance of hitting in any given year — a likelihood commonly used in setting building codes.

Why it matters: How hurricane-related wind damage risks are priced into insurance policies and whether they are disclosed to prospective home buyers has major implications for the real estate and insurance industries.

  • The threat will expand into inland areas previously considered out of reach for most such storms.

By the numbers: More than 13.4 million properties nationwide will be newly exposed to tropical storm force or greater wind risk in 30 years.

  • Property level damage estimates from hurricane winds are likely to rise from an annual loss of about $18.5 billion in 2023 to $19.9 billion in 2053.

Between the lines: The increasing exposure to such storms is tied to two key effects of global warming.

  1. Climate change is increasing the proportion of storms that reach major hurricane status of Category 3 or above. Such high-end storms are capable of causing damage farther inland.
  2. Over time, storm tracks are shifting farther north in some oceans, putting new areas in the crosshairs.

What they're saying: "I think the strength for this application is that it’s giving you a much better idea of current risks than historical statistics do simply because the historical statistics have changed already," climate scientist Kerry Emanuel, who sits on First Street's board, told Axios.

Yes, but: The report’s conclusions are only as accurate as the climate models used to help spin up the simulated hurricanes.

  • One reason to have more confidence in the modeling, Emanuel said, is that these simulations tend to have increased uncertainty only once you get beyond the next three decades.

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