Hurricanes ahead mean rising damage for unprepared infrastructure

Coastal residents and infrastructure planners, take note. The 2008 hurricane season, starting June 1, is expected to be worse than historical averages. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts this year will see up to nine hurricanes including two to five “major” storms of category 3, 4 or 5.

Researchers worry that over the past two years, which have seen storm activity slightly below forecast levels, complacency may be on the rise. Storm activity greatly exceeded early forecasts in the seasons of 2004 and 2005, a period in which Katrina and other mega storms did hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to the US economy.

Though researchers can’t yet forecast where or when storms might hit the U.S., the damage they do is rising. With ongoing migration, 53% of the US population now lives in coastal counties, according to a recent National Research Council report, and infrastructure planners have not so far factored in the long-term implications of climate change. Both extant infrastructure and newly planned facilities face higher risks. Rising storm surges, higher peak temperatures and decimated wetlands mean that the nation’s coastal ports and energy facilities — as well as roads, bridges and rail links — will experience sharply rising repair, upgrade and reconstruction bills in years to come.

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