When many people thought 2018 would be a relatively quiet hurricane season, monstrous Hurricane Florence is barreling towards the east coast. More than one millions coastal residents are facing mandatory evacuation order. It is now classified as Category 4 hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson scale only considers wind speed. In addition to destructive wind, hurricanes bring heavy rainfall as we witnessed during Hurricane Harvey last year and dangerous storm surge. There will be imminent flooding risks.
A year after Hurricane Harvey, the decisions to rebuild can affect the future. I just published an analysis article on the Conversation. Here is the last paragraph:
"My recent research shows that even with their flaws, FEMA flood maps influence decisions to purchase flood insurance and overall support for flood mitigation. Policy makers need to seriously consider how to accurately communicate increasing flood risks to the public. Reverting to old flood maps and granting variances to promote development is a recipe for more disasters down the road."
Hat tip to Emily Powell at the National Wildlife Federation, who brought this situation to my attention.
I enjoyed the visit at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University. I have had great discussions with Professor Lin and her Hurricane Hazards and Risk Analysis Research Group.
I am honored to be invited to give a seminar talk, entitled "Understanding Human Judgement on Environmental Risks and Hazards in a Geographic Context," at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University on June 21.
The abstract of the talk is as follows:
"The coupling effects of changing climate and rising concentration of population and assets in the coastal regions have increased the threat of potential damages. There is an urgent need for coastal communities to prepare well for future hazards through mitigation and adaptation measures. A growing number of empirical studies have found that peoples’ motivation of voluntary risk mitigation and adaptation is low unless actual risk can be perceived. Risk perception is thus the precondition for adaptive behavior. It is of both intellectual and practical interests to study what affects individuals’/communities’ risk perceptions. In this talk, I will present four of my previous studies. The first three studies are focused on the individual level and the fourth on the aggregate level. I will start with understanding how local weather and climate affect American public risk perceptions of climate change. I will then discuss how the spatial context represented by past flooding events and estimated flooding risks influence costal residents’ voluntary flood insurance purchase decisions and their support for flood adaptation policies. As many policies are designed and implemented at an aggregate level (i.e., state, county, city), it is necessary to examine aggregate-level risk perceptions. In the fourth study, I will focus on how the contextual hurricane risks in conjunction with community resilience shape county-level perceptions of hurricane-related risks. I will end with a research agenda linking communities’ perception with contextual risks and community resilience. I contend that the cognitive dimension including both risk perceptions and perceived adaptive capacity is not represented in any of the existing community resilience indexes, and therefore needs to be measured, quantified, and incorporated into a more comprehensive index."
Hurricane Harvey dumped record-breaking rain in Houston in 2017. Now, a new study shows that this extreme amounts of rainfalls actually resulted from unprecedented ocean heat content. This study presents some evidence to support the link between global temperature rise with increasing hurricane intensity.
Our new paper on aggregate perceptions of hurricane risks has been published on the Annals of American Association of Geographers.
I presented our study on community resilience and county-level perceptions of hurricane risks along the US Gulf Coast at the 2017 Society for Risk Analysis annual conference in Arlington, VA.
In a study that has been accepted by the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, my coauthors and I have examined how community resilience along with objective hurricane risks impacts aggregate perceptions of hurricane risks. We first applied spatial techniques to transform individual-level perceptions to the aggregate level, in this case, counties. The map below displays the geographic pattern of hurricane risk perceptions among coastal counties along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Clearly, there is a concentration of heightened hurricane risk perceptions stretching from southeast Texas to west Florida. Given the recent enormous impact of Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas and West Louisiana, it is likely that risk perception has further increased among coastal residents who have been affected by Harvey.
Further, we found two aspects of community resilience measured by Cutter et al. (2014), namely economic resilience and community capital, are positively related to aggregate perceptions of hurricanes risks. This indicates that communities with more economic resources and social capital tend to perceive greater threat of hurricanes. The policy implication is that counties with less economic and social capitals need to direct efforts on educating the public about scientific assessments of hurricanes risks.
Cutter, S. L., Ash, K. D. and Emrich, C. T. 2014. The geographies of community disaster resilience. Global Environmental Change, 29, 65-77.
Shao, W, Gardezi, M., and Xian, S. (forthcoming). Examining the effects of objective hurricane risks and community resilience on risk perceptions of hurricanes at the county level in the U.S. Gulf Coast: An innovative approach" Annals of the American Association of Geographers.
After Harvey dumped over 40 inches of rain in Houston over a few days, the city must come to the realization that it cannot continue to be built and relentlessly expanded by ignoring science. Now, it is time for the city to rethink about its development plan and hazard mitigation policies.
The prominent hurricane scientist Kerry Emanuel wrote a perspective piece on Washington Post. He pointed out that "natural disasters" such as Harvey and Irma are not that natural after all. Too much government interference in the insurance market has distorted insurance premiums so much by providing heavy subsidies that they do not reflect the real risks faced by coastal property owners, which has unintentionally encouraged intense development in coastal areas. In the meantime, too little regulation on carbon emission, the root cause of anthropogenic climate change, will only make hurricanes stronger.
Well, whether it's "too much interference" or "too little regulation," they both reflect a fundamental aspect of human psychology. We are more sensitive to immediate losses at present than some potential gains in the future.