Growth along the Carolina coast means costlier hurricanes

CHARLOTTE — As the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season comes to an end, the story of the year is more storms, but fewer landfalls.

According to NOAA, there were 20 named storms, above average for the year, but only one hurricane and two tropical storms made landfall in the United States.

In the Carolinas, two tropical storms, Idalia and Ophelia hit the coast, leaving behind just under $3 billion in damages. The good news is that’s on the lower side for storm damage, the bad news is the Carolinas have been trending in the opposite direction.

Between 2016 and 2022, the Carolinas saw five hurricanes that cost both states $33 billion in damages and left 90 dead. Between 2018 and 2022, North Carolina saw 20 disasters that caused more than a billion in damages. Eleven of those billion-dollar disasters were tropical cyclones.

Part of the issue, according to Kathie Dello with the North Carolina State Climate Office, is a warmer ocean and rising seas increasing the severity of flooding from heavy precipitation and storm surges. The bigger issue, however, is that more development and more people are in the paths of these storms.

“It’s never just climate change itself,” she said. “It’s never just the hurricanes. It’s never just the precipitation, but it’s where we’re putting people and adding to their risk and their vulnerability.”

North Carolina’s coastal counties are among the fastest-growing in the state, and the Myrtle Beach metro area is listed as the fastest-growing place in the country.

“People aren’t moving here and thinking about their climate risk,” Dello said. “It’s a great place to live but we’re getting hotter and we’re seeing more flooding across the state and we have that hurricane risk on the coast.”

Dello said smart infrastructure that keeps flood and hurricane risk in mind can help, but a 2023 study shows that for every property that’s been bought out of North Carolina’s riskiest flood zones between 1996 and 2017, 10 more were built in the flood plain.

“It’s not going to be just as easy as everyone needs to leave the coast now because where will they go?” she said.

At the end of the day, Dello said the more development and the more people are in harm’s way, the worse our disasters will be.

(WATCH: Remembering Hurricane Florence – a storm that brought, catastrophic damage, historic flooding)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.