Manuel Martinez/U.S. Air Force

ScienceShot: A Hurricane's Winds Foretell Its Cost

Even a small hurricane can pack a powerful economic punch. A hurricane's final price tag depends on a lot of factors: the size and wind speed of the storm, the height of the storm surge, and the value of property in its path. But after taking population growth, property values in afflicted regions, and inflation into account, it’s possible to roughly estimate the economic losses for a particular storm based on a single aspect of the storm: the wind speed when the storm first makes landfall. Examining data on economic losses—payouts from insurance companies, as well as uncovered costs to businesses and homeowners such as policy deductibles—gathered since 1900, researchers determined that there’s a simple relationship between the economic costs of a hurricane and its wind speed, they report last week in Geophysical Research Letters. For every 1 meter per second increase in a storm's wind speed at landfall, damage costs rise by about 5%. Using the new method, the estimated economic costs of Hurricane Isaac, whose peak winds measured about 130 kilometers per hour when it made landfall as a Category 1 storm in Louisiana last week (image taken 28 August), are about $1.2 billion.

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