Data in the News: Cost of Hurricane Damages

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Hurricane season is well underway and the United States already has several significant storms under its belt, first with subtropical depression Alberto and now with Hurricane Florence.  Since it takes about a year or two to gather all data about weather destruction, the extent of Alberto’s and Florence’s damages remain unclear. Consider the impact of Hurricane Maria, in which the death toll for Puerto Rico took a year to calculate. So one may wonder, what will the damages be for this 2018 hurricane season? What portion of that will the federal government help with?

We can gain an idea of what 2018 costs will look like using historical data from a variety of sources. Alberto swept through a majority of the southeast region while Florence wallpoed the Catolinas hardest, but we can focus on a particular state to narrow this analysis. Let’s look at Florida in particular: According to FEMA data on assistance funding for hurricane damages, Florida counties were collectively issued approximately $4 million in 2016 and $1.6 million in 2017. These two figures give us some context of FEMA’s aid to Florida for hurricane damages and what to expect for the 2018 season. Forecasts predict five to nine hurricanes this year and one to four major hurricanes in 2018.

In this case, more research on 2016-2017 Florida hurricanes is needed to make a real comparison. However, if this year’s hurricane season is similar to the past two years we can estimate that FEMA aid for hurricane damages occurring in Florida will range between one to four million dollars, barring any major hurricane like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina. This of course does not account for insurance payouts, federal funding via other agencies, or other kinds of funding outside of FEMA. Identifying other actors that are not accounted for in the dataset you’re using for estimation purposes is a good to keep in mind and to communicate to avoid overstating your conclusion.

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