Hurricane Irene: $35 Billion In Damages?

As Hurricane Irene slowly thrashes up the eastern seaboard, statisticians are racing to put a dollar value on how much damage the storm is likely to cause. As they pack up their bags to evacuate, of course. Though the various models vary considerably in their estimates, one thing remains certain: this is going to be a multi-billion dollar disaster.

AP reports: “The economic impact of the hurricane largely will depend on factors that include the storm’s size, where it makes landfall, and the speed at which it’s moving when it hits the coast. But experts already are forecasting billions of dollars in losses.” One such expert, University of Colorado professor and hurricane Roger Pielke, estimates the property damages to be $4.7 billion.

Shockingly, this is a conservative estimate.

Pielke only looks at the value of property he expects to be destroyed. If, for example, a tree falls on a power line and it costs $10,000 to replace, his model counts this as a 10K damage. If, however, the loss of power to the area means that businesses can’t stay open or people who work from home can’t get internet or power then the total economic cost would be far in excess of $10,000.

Nate Silver, statistical wunderkind of fame, attempts to account for all of these side effects of the hurricane. In his classic style, he gives best and worst case scenarios based on what kind of storm might hit and where, centering his focus on New York. If a Category 2 storm directly hits New York City — a highly unlikely turn of events — then he projects $35 billion in damages. If, on the other hand, as lightly weaker storms passes 50 miles away, the reported damage shrinks to $6 billion, no small chunk of change either way. Given the storm tracker (as of 6:45 PM), this seems a much more likely scenario.

No matter what model you look at, this is has the potential to be an economic catastrophe. In terms of perspective, the total annual cost of the wildly successful Women, Infants, Children program is $7 billion — just above Nate Silver’s conservative estimate. Likewise, the projected monetary cost of the damages is about the same as the cost of over 20 days in the expensive and unpopular war in Afghanistan.

What’s perhaps most frightening about these high numbers is that the government may not even help in hurricane relief. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has already vowed to block any earthquake relief that is not offset with spending cuts; it seems unlikely that he will approach the hurricane any differently.

That’s just American politics these days: allow corporations to pollute so much that it precipitates natural disasters, then not help those who are most hurt by them. I guess the good news is that if the hurricane does indeed hit New York, as long as Wall St. has some damage there might be some relief after all.

Related Stories:

Everything You Need to Know About Hurricane Irene

Morning Mix: Come on, Irene

Cantor: No Earthquake Aid Without Spending Cuts



Photo from NASA Goddard Photo and Video via flickr.

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Spoorthi BS
Spoorthi BS4 years ago

hi everyone, please sign this petition and help

Dakota Payne
Dakota Payne4 years ago

WE were all very fortunate that this storm stayed a c-1 and then downgraded to could have been so much worse. i am not minimizing the damage, inconvience and health issuess that willl arise as a result of loss of power............and the deaths were the saddest loss for their families, makeing the loss of life the worst effects of the storm. My prayers are with all effected by Irene. the loss of cash.........cost of damages, etc. is least of the losses, but of course impacts all citizens.........we just did not need to be further in the red.

Rob K.
Rob Keenan4 years ago

It looks like it will be closer to $7billion because Irene weakened.That's still a lot and will require supplemental from Congress,which should be approved unconditionally.

Ryder W.
Past Member 4 years ago

@Victoria...thanks for the info! that's a relief =]

Howard C.
.4 years ago

I live in England (still, just about, part of the UK!). Clearly, this hurricane has brought some real pain to the US, including to friends I have living there, thankfully they are okay. Hopefully the really rich in the US (and I think that you have more of them there than anywhere else in the world) will see sense and dig in to their very full pockets and help those who have lost such a lot.

Victoria M.
Past Member 4 years ago

@ Ryder, i read someplace that shelters...some? are allowing pets to the shelters as well :)

Camila K.
Kamila A.4 years ago

I guess the rich elite will be happy to pitch in and help fix

Ryder W.
Past Member 4 years ago

i'm just worried about the dogs and other pets...i hope they get rescued from the floods and stuff!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.4 years ago

William, the 4% who say no haven't probably read the article.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.4 years ago

Yes, it's a disaster for so many people...