Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Does Hurricane Irene Rank among Top Ten All-Time U.S. Catastrophes?


The New York Times today has Irene pegged as one of the "top 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation's history". To rank losses over time, they must at a minimum be adjusted for inflation. Irene imposed huge losses on many communities, but does it rank among the "Top 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation's history"? At the $7-$10 billion total cited in the article, no way. If the losses remain in this range after all reports are in, Irene will not even rank among the top ten Atlantic Coast hurricanes.
Adjusting for inflation only:
- The tenth costliest hurricane since 1900 was Betsy in 1965, with $11.2 billion in 2010 dollars.
- Katrina ranks #1 at $105.8 billion.
Adjusting for population growth and wealth per capita as well as inflation, as two experts argue is needed to compare the data on a fair basis:
- The costliest hurricane since 1900 was the 1926 Great Miami hurricane, with losses of $164.8 billion in 2010 dollars.
- Katrina is second at $113.4 billion.
- The Galveston 1900 hurricane is the third most severe, with a loss of $104.3 billion.
- The tenth costliest was Hurricane Donna in 1960, with a loss of $28.2 billion in 2010 dollars.
SOURCE: Eric S. Blake (National Hurricane Center) and Ethan J. Gibney (National Climatic Data Center), The Deadliest, Costliest and Most Intense U.S. Tropical Cyclones from 1851 to 2010, April 2011, Table 3b, p.11.

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