Hurricane Risk: Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad … (Cities “Most At Risk” Really Are Most at Risk)

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Wolf, right? The Big Bad Wolf is how the line goes. Well, not this time. Don’t get me wrong — there may, in fact, be a huffing and puffing four-legged Canis lupus with your address in his Rolodex, but this is not the season of the wolf. This the season of the hurricane.

Disney's version of the Big Bad Wolf. Image: Wikipedia

We’ve quietly settled into the first week of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Though there have been some big “A” storms in the past, it’s the rare storm that reaches hurricane status in June. Some of the biggest “A” hurricanes have made us wait until August (Andrew, Alicia and Agnes), though 1995’s Allison grew to hurricane-strength on June 4th. Those of us in Houston will not likely forget the other Allison, the costliest tropical storm — in June or any other month. Allison formed on June 4th and reached the upper Texas coast shortly thereafter. It never reached hurricane status but caused enough damage from Houston to Pennsylvania that it became the only tropical storm to have its name retired from the list of Atlantic storm names.

As the second week of the season begins, do you still have time to prepare your home, your family, your office for hurricane season? Of course. But don’t wait too much longer. Though Tropical Depression 9 is bringing quite a bit of rain to Florida, and nothing much is expected from 9 or from anything else in the Tropics for the coming week, we’ve already seen two named storms during the pre-season (Alberto and Beryl) and we expect more landfalling hurricanes than last year.

Houston's version of the Big Bad Wolf: Hurricane Ike. Photo: NOAA

What about the coming season as a whole? Good news, bad news is how the line goes. The good news is that we expect fewer storms than average. The bad news, as I hinted in the paragraph above, is that these storms have a better chance of making landfall. Actually, that last statement is a bit misleading: overall, the East Coast and the Gulf Coast, according to Dr. William Gray and Dr. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, have lower chances than average of being struck by a hurricane (you can look up your own particular coastline probabilities here), but steering currents are expected to steer more hurricanes to our coasts than the past three years.

New York's (and Vermont's) version of the Big Bad Wolf: Hurricane Irene. Photo: NOAA

Climate Central published an article yesterday identifying the top five U.S. cities most vulnerable to a hurricane (Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami, New Orleans, Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Houston/Galveston). Though their list is not all-inclusive nor entirely objective and was prepared without an actual 2012 seasonal forecast, their risk assessment is eerily close to areas ImpactWeather has identified as most at risk this season.

As compared to last year, there’s been a shift in several of the major factors that determine a season’s overall characteristics: La Niña has been replaced with El Niño, sea surface temperatures are cooler, the Bermuda High is stronger and repositioned and more sinking, rather than rising air is expected over the Tropics. Nearly opposite of last year, most of these factors will play a role in providing a less active 2012 season  (last year, despite few landfalling storms, was the sixth most active season on record), while the repositioned Bermuda High will direct more storms into the Caribbean, into the Gulf of Mexico and towards the lower U.S. eastern coastline.

What’s your Big Bad Wolf? The economy? Your health? The 2012 Hurricane Season? Remember, only one of the three little pigs lived to tell his tale — the one who thought ahead and prepared.

Given the atmospheric conditions for the coming 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season and how they compare to past seasons, ImpactWeather has prepared this graphic identifying regions most at risk. Image: ImpactWeather

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