2020 Storm Surge Forecast Sees 7.4 Million Residences at Risk

Okay, just to recap: So far in 2020, we’ve had the COVID-19 pandemic; partial collapse of the U.S. economy; no spring home buying season; dam breaches in Michigan; one of the busiest tornado seasons this decade; and, God help us, “murder hornets.”

Now it’s June, and the official start of North American hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts the Atlantic region alone could see and above-normal season with 13-19 named storms and 3-6 major hurricanes.

Welcome to Jumanji: Level 7.

CoreLogic, Irvine, Calif., this week released its 2020 Storm Surge Report (https://www.corelogic.com/downloadable-docs/storm-surge-report-20200528-screen-2.pdf), analyzing conditions in the U.S. along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coastlines from Texas up to Maine. The news, unfortunately, is consistent with 2020 headlines: CoreLogic said more than 7.1 million single family and more than 250,000 multifamily residences along the Atlantic Seaboard/Gulf Coast are at risk of storm surge damage this year.

Residences are dotted along the coastlines from a birds-eye view. Although they have beautiful views and idyllic landscapes, these areas are vulnerable to hurricanes and their accompanying storm surge.

This year, even as the widespread coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to sweep the globe, the risk for natural disasters remains unchanged.

“Hurricane-driven storm surge is one component of land falling hurricanes that can cause extensive property damage,” said Thomas Jeffery, Principal of Science and Analytics with CoreLogic. “While most people associate hurricanes with wind, it is important to expect and prepare for the inevitable flooding since that is often responsible for considerable damage.”

According to the National Hurricane Center, storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides. Storm surge can be “incredibly destructive,” the report said with a single cubic yard of seawater weighing nearly one ton. A mix of high winds and low pressure traveling with the storm causes water to accumulate along the front of a hurricane and push the amassed water across the ocean as it moves – eventually onto land, and into residences and businesses.

For example, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge famously breached 53 levees, causing catastrophic damage to New Orleans and its residents and $125 billion in damage.

The CoreLogic analysis identified 7.110 million single-family residences and 252,657 multifamily residences at risk of storm surge. The reconstruction cost value–the cost to rebuild a house assuming complete destruction–for SFRs tops $1.7 trillion, while MFRs tops $95 billion.

Of the top metropolitan areas with the greatest number of SFRs and MFRs at risk for storm surge, 15 account for 68.8% of the total RCV of storm surge risk in the United States in 2020, led by Miami, New York, Tampa, New Orleans and Virginia Beach.

Complicating the forecast, CoreLogic said, is the continuing economic struggle in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with the unemployment rate hitting nearly 15 percent last month and expected to rise higher when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its May numbers this Friday. CoreLogic estimated the serious delinquency rate for home mortgages could rise four- to ten-fold from February’s 1.2% in 18 to 24 months depending on the severity and length of the current recession, or 3 to 7 million homeowners who may be seriously delinquent during the second half of 2021.

“If a hurricane causes significant storm surge damage during a time when mortgage delinquencies are already high, this could result in additional losses for homeowners, lenders and insurers – and ultimately, delay economic recovery for impacted communities,” said CoreLogic Chief Economist Frank Nothaft.

“COVID-19 has upended the day-to-day life for people around the world,” the report said. “Add a wide scale catastrophe event to this equation, and a community can suddenly become engulfed in logistical challenges as it responds to evacuation or shelter needs from people displaced from their homes.”