Hurricane Center Identifies 10 Most Hurricane Vulnerable Areas

The entire East and Gulf Coasts are subject to hurricane impacts, but some areas are much more vulnerable than others. Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University in Miami has released the Top 10 List that nobody wants to be on—”10 Most Vulnerable US Mainland Areas to Hurricanes.”

The rankings are as follows:
1. New Orleans, Louisiana
2. Lake Okeechobee, Florida
3. Florida Keys
4. Coastal Mississippi
5. Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
6. Galveston/Houston, Texas
7. Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
8. Eastern Long Island, New York
9. Wilmington, North Carolina
10. Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida

Not surprisingly, New Orleans tops the list with the protective levees of this below-sea level city being in little better shape than when Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city last year, according to the researchers.

The only other area that is protected from flooding by levees
(e.g., the 140-mile long Hoover Dike) is adjacent to Lake Okeechobee, Florida where the second worst hurricane disaster for life loss in U.S. history occurred in 1928. Presently more than 40,000 people live at the base of this giant Corps of Engineers earthen
structure that is leaking and declared by two recent reports (e.g., Bromwell, Dean, and Vick, 2006 and Zhang, Xiao and Leatherman, 2006) to be a “grave and imminent danger to the people and the environment of South Florida.”

Florida dominates the list with four out of the ten most vulnerable areas, but this is to be expected with its long shoreline that includes both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

Waveland, Mississippi was hit by a 30-foot storm surge during Hurricane Katrina, but the entire coastal area of Mississippi was devastated by Katrina’s high surge. Hurricane Camille in 1969 did a similar amount of damage. Such disasters are to be expected, yet
beachfront property in Mississippi is now selling at a premium in spite of the widespread devastation still evident.

The Hampton’s in eastern Long Island, New York have been
impacted by Hurricane Donna in 1960, Gloria in 1985 and Bob in 1991. The fear is a return of a 1938-type Great Hurricane that generated a 15-foot storm surge that overtopped and pancaked the barrier beaches (which now are crowned with waterfront mansions) and flooded the downtown villages of Westhampton Beach, Southampton, and Montauk.

Twelve criteria were used to evaluate the vulnerability of U.S. mainland areas to hurricanes. Cyclonic energy (hurricane frequency and storm intensity) and levee/dike failure were primary determinants of vulnerability. Physical factors included storm surge and freshwater flooding potential as well as coastal erosion trends and island breaching history. Socioeconomic indicators involved populations at risk, evacuation distance and routes, what’s at risk, and local/state capabilities to respond to major hurricane impacts.

Source: The International Hurricane Research Center