Here’s the price tag should a major hurricane hits Hampton Roads

This is a still frame of a video of Hurricane Irma at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 10, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The high winds and floodwater would be only the beginning of the misery.

A groundbreaking new study by Old Dominion University researchers suggests the financial cost of a major hurricane hitting southeastern Virginia could be staggering.

The total impact from a hurricane similar to 2018’s Florence or 2005’s Katrina striking Hampton Roads could approach, or even exceed, $40 billion in the first year after landfall – equating to 40 percent of the Hampton Roads gross domestic product and nearly 10 percent of Virginia’s GDP.

“Given the potential magnitude of losses from a major hurricane making landfall in the Hampton Roads region, planning and preparation for such an event is paramount,” said Robert McNab, director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy in the Strome College of Business and principal investigator for the estimate.

In addition to wind and water damage approaching $20 billion, the disruption in life in Hampton Roads in the first year after the hurricane would result in the storm toll more than doubling in cost. The report estimates that the loss of 175,000 jobs and a decline in economic activity of nearly $23 billion if infrastructure and military installations suffered significant damage.

The report was produced for the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency in collaboration with the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy. It was presented to Gov. Ralph Northam’s cabinet this month, at the launch of the 2019 hurricane season.

To arrive at the estimated economic impact of a Hampton Roads hurricane, the researchers examined the history of major storm events in Virginia as well as the impact of major storms throughout the southeastern United States.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazus model generated the damage estimates for a hurricane similar to Florence making landfall in Hampton Roads. Hazus is a regional multi-hazard model created as a decision-making tool which helps estimate potential losses from natural disasters, visualizing the effects of such hazards.

George McLeod, senior fellow in the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency, said hurricane and flood modeling of this nature are a critical first step for identifying vulnerabilities and baseline damage estimates before a major storm hits Hampton Roads.

“Our goal is to provide valuable information in support of an array of resilience activities, ranging from the time-sensitive emergency management work to enhanced economic impact analyses and other research,” McLeod said.

The Hazus model estimates that 20,137 buildings, or 3% of all structures in Hampton Roads, would be at least moderately damaged in a Florence-type event.

However, the physical damage is only part of the total impact. Such a storm would also send harmful ripples through the economy, as employees would lose jobs, possibly even leave the region, causing a reduction in economic activity for months.

Given the Commonwealth’s history of hurricane activity, it is a near certainty that a major hurricane will make landfall in Hampton Roads at some point. As a result, the report suggests four actions the region undertake to be prepared as possible:

  • Continue tackling the issue of sea-level rise, a policy area where this region has taken a national leadership role, including through the creation of the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency.
  • Consider what structures may be too costly to save because of their susceptibility to flooding and storm surge.
  • The Commonwealth should seriously review building codes in other, hurricane-prone, jurisdictions and adopt more stringent codes.
  • The region should recognize the positive benefits that can arise from taking action in storm preparedness, including increased capacity to respond regionally, something that has long been challenging.

To see a copy of the report, click HERE.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.