December, 2011

An analysis of coastal and inland fatalities in landfalling US hurricanes

  • Daniel Sutter

    Senior Affiliated Scholar
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Improvements in hurricane forecasts allowing for more timely evacuations from storm-surge zones are credited with reducing lethality of US landfalling hurricanes. The deadly reach of a hurricane, however, is not limited to storm-surge zones. About 80% of direct US hurricane fatalities since 1970 occurred outside of landfall counties, with most of these fatalities caused by inland flooding. We construct a geographic information system database combining the location and cause of fatalities, estimated wind speeds, and rainfall amounts for the entire track of the storm for landfalling US hurricanes between 1970 and 2007. We analyze the determinants of total fatalities and deaths due to freshwater drowning and wind. Inclusion of inland fatalities results in no downward trend in lethality over the period, in contrast to prior research. Local storm conditions significantly affect lethality, as one-inch and one-knot increases in rainfall and wind increase total fatalities by 28 and 4%. Rainfall significantly increases freshwater-drowning deaths and is insignificant for wind deaths, while the opposite relation holds for wind speed. While coastal counties do not exhibit a significantly higher amount of lethality risk versus inland counties for total or wind-driven fatalities, freshwater-drowning fatalities occur most frequently in inland counties along the center of the storm path and its outer county tiers as we have defined them.

Find the article at SpringerLink.