Chart of the Week: A Storm by Any Other Name

June 19, 2017

[caption id="attachment_20169" align="alignnone" width="1099"] Women look at destruction after Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti ( photo: Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS)[/caption]

Hurricane season officially began June 1, and we can expect a busy season of damaging storms in the Atlantic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s outlook.

Hurricanes are the leading cause of natural disasters in the Caribbean, making the region one of the most vulnerable in the world. Yet, only 62 percent of disasters caused by hurricanes have recorded data on economic damages, as the information is difficult to collect.

Wind damage

This chart, from a recent paper, looks at the relationship between maximum wind speeds and the damages hurricanes cause. The goal is to estimate the missing data for the Caribbean, and to calculate the potential costs that climate change would have in the region. It finds that damages in percent of GDP increase by about 3 percent with an increase in wind speed of 1 percent.

The new data set shows that hurricane damages are considerably underreported, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, with average damages potentially being three times as large as the reported average of 1.6 percent of GDP per year.

Hurricanes that do not make landfall also leave a trail of damage in the Caribbean economies.

Climate change is expected to increase the intensity of hurricanes, as warmer sea surface temperatures will create the right environment for large storms to form and strengthen. The data shows average annual hurricane damages in the Caribbean will increase between 22 and 77 percent by the year 2100, in a global warming scenario of high CO2 concentrations and high global temperatures.

So look out in 2017 for Hurricanes Arlene, Gert, Franklin, and Ophelia, to name a few. Their potential damage will weigh on people, and their countries’ economies.