Saturday, August 22, 2009

The simplest

A house in Miami is torn apart by Hurricane Andrew.
The simplest characterization of hurricane intensity is embodied in the Saffir-Simpson scale: from Category 1 - barely a hurricane - to Category 5 - the worst imaginable. "Major Hurricanes" are those in Categories 3, 4, and 5 with winds stronger than 110 miles per hour equivalent to 100 kt or 50 m s-1. Category 5 hurricanes are the most extreme and also the most rare. Only two, the 1935 Labor Day Storm and Camille in 1969 are recorded to have struck the United States. Andrew, at the very top of Category 4 was the third strongest U.S. landfall, and the second strongest on the mainland, given that the 1935 storm hit the Florida Keys.In the 20th century, U.S. hurricanes destroyed > $73 billion in property, not corrected for inflation. During the 70-year period from 1925 through 1995, the toll was $61 billion. If the damage from historical hurricanes is normalized for inflation, increased population, and greater individual wealth (Pielke and C. Landsea 1998), the estimate of total damage for the shorter period is $340 billion, equivalent to an average annual loss of $5 billion. During these 70 years, 244 landfalls occurred. The average landfall would have resulted in $1.5 billion in damage with today's prices and costal development. But the average doesn't tell the story. Major hurricanes accounted for 80% of the normalized damage, although they represented only 20% of occurrence.

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