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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

That $175 billion in Tampa Bay storm surge damage from a major hurricane? Expect half to be uninsured

Storm surge from Hurricane Opal in 1995 pushed the Hillsborough River above the seawall along the University of Tampa shoreline.

KEN HELLE | Times (1995)

Storm surge from Hurricane Opal in 1995 pushed the Hillsborough River above the seawall along the University of Tampa shoreline.



Here’s a postscript to last week’s news that Tampa Bay ranks as the nation’s most vulnerable metro area to the threat of storm surge from a once-in-a-century hurricane:

At least half of the $175 billion in estimated storm surge losses would be uninsured.

That estimate came Wednesday from Karen Clark & Co. The firm, which specializes in modeling property damage and losses from storms and earthquakes, looked at potential storm surge losses from a Category 4 hurricane with peak winds of 150 mph. The company said uninsured losses would be “probably significantly more” than half the total, but without doing a detailed study it’s impossible to be precise.

Also worth noting: the Boston-based catastrophe-modeling firm isn’t the first to raise a warning flag about the threat of hurricane-driven storm surge to the Tampa Bay area.

Closer to home, two researchers at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science in St.Petersburg reached similar conclusions in a paper published in 2008 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

“The potential for disaster is as serious as occurred along the Mississippi coastline during Hurricane Katrina,” wrote Robert Weisberg, distinguished university professor of physical oceanography, and research associate Lianyuan Zheng.

Weisberg and Zheng modeled what would happen if Hurricane Ivan, which came ashore as a Category 3 storm at the Alabama-Florida border in 2004, had instead made landfall in the Tampa Bay area.

Like the analysis done more recently at Karen Clark & Co., the USF scientists concluded that the bay area is made vulnerable to storm surge by three factors:

• The broad, gently sloping continental shelf off the gulf coast.

• The shallowness and length of Tampa Bay.

• The low-lying land around the bay.

And, they said, the bay area’s vulnerability to hurricane storm surge grows every year with more coastal development.

Their simulations projected potential flood water depths of 2.5 meters above the local land elevation on the Pinellas beaches, 4.5 meters in northeast St. Petersburg, 3 meters at Tampa International Airport and MacDill Air Force Base, 2.5 meters at Davis Islands (home to Tampa General Hospital) and 5 meters at Apollo Beach.

“The potential for catastrophic damage is obvious,” they concluded, “not only to residences, but also to critical infrastructure.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 5:22pm]


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