Southern Florida, USA : Getting a hold on hurricane risks

Florida is widely known as “The Sunshine State”. Sunny weather also largely explains the fact that over 90% of the state’s population and 75% of its GDP, including US$ 875 billion in property value, is located along the coast. However, hidden in this picture postcard scenario lies a major climatic threat – huge vulnerability to the massive risk of hurricane damage, particularly in Southern Florida. A new project, integrating a total climate risk management approach, focused on the particularly exposed three counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. It has culminated in the proposal of concrete measures to protect the region’s economy and people from future climate hazards.

The eye of the problem

A high value is at stake in the frequently hit Southern Florida area, home to some of the state’s largest population and economic centres. Between 1992 and 2005, 30 tropical cyclones hit the region and today hurricanes are responsible for annual economic loss amounting to US$ 17 billion across Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. Although Florida is often quoted as the benchmark for managing hurricane risk, climate change could increase both the intensity of future hurricanes and the damage they cause. By 2030 GDP is expected to have risen to US$ 316 billion in the same geographical area, further highlighting the enormity of potential loss.

Effectively managing the risk

The new independent research study proposes a range of infrastructural, technological, behavioural and risk transfer measures. These include building additional barriers to water intrusion, managing vegetation by removing weak branches and extending beaches into the ocean to absorb storm surge. Literally building on the pioneer status held by Florida in designing and enforcing building codes, the report also recommends further new home improvement legislation. Addressing the issue of making the portfolio of steps affordable is a proposal for risk transfer. This should target low frequency, high-risk events, such as hurricanes occurring once in a period of 100 years. With a balanced combination of protective and mitigative initiatives in place, Southern Florida, and locations with similar risk profiles, could look forward to much more stability in the years to come.

GDP, %1

1 Based upon select regions analyzed within the countries (e.g., Mopti, Mali; Georgetown, Guyana Hull, UK; North and Northeast China; Maharashtra, India; Central regions of Tanzania; Southeast Florida, U.S.)

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