POPULATION SPIKE ON COASTS DESPITE STORMS,
Rising sea levels and fierce storms have failed to stop relentless population growth along U.S. coasts in recent years, a new Associated Press analysis shows. The latest punishing hurricanes scored bull’s eyes on two of the country’s fastestgrowing regions: coastal Texas around Houston and resort areas of southwest Florida.
Nothing seems to curb America’s appetite for life near the sea, especially in the warmer climates of the South. Coastal development destroys natural barriers such as islands and wetlands, promotes erosion and flooding, and positions more buildings and people in the path of future destruction, according to researchers and policy advisers who study hurricanes.
“History gives us a lesson, but we don’t always learn from it,” said Graham Tobin, a disaster researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa. That city took a glancing hit from Hurricane Irma — one of the most intense U.S. hurricanes in years — but sustained less flooding and damage than other parts of the state.
In 2005, coastal communities took heed of more than 1,800 deaths and $108 billion in damages from Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. Images of New Orleans under water elicited solemn resolutions that such a thing should never happen again — until Superstorm Sandy inundated lower Manhattan in 2012.
Harvey, another historically big hurricane, flooded sections of Houston in recent weeks. Four counties around Houston, where growth has been buoyed by the oil business, took the full force of the storm. The population of those counties expanded by 12 percent from 2010-16, to a total of 5.3 million people, the AP analysis shows.
During the same years, two of Florida’s fastestgrowing coastline counties — retirement-friendly Lee and Manatee, both south of Tampa — welcomed 16 percent more people.
“There will be some real challenges for coastal towns,” predicted Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. “We’ll see some of these homes that are part of their tax base becoming unlivable.”
Hazard researchers said they see nothing in the near term to reverse the trend toward bigger storm losses. As a stopgap, communities should cease building new high-rises on the oceanfront, said Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.
SEASIDE LIFE: U.S. coastlines are still the most attractive residential areas, despite more ferocious weather.