A major hurricane hitting the southeast coast of Virginia could cost the region more than $40 billion, according to a report put out by Old Dominion University. This report has been presented to Gov. Ralph Northam’s cabinet.
Hurricane season began in the Atlantic this month, but an uptick in violent storms carrying more moisture than usual and an increase in sea levels has caused some to worry that Virginia is more likely than before to become victim to a major hurricane. Researchers evaluated what effect a hurricane as extreme as 2005’s Katrina or 2018’s Florence would have on Hampton Roads – the Virginia metropolitan area that includes several counties and cities in the southeast.
The initial damage of a hurricane would cost about $20 billion according to the estimates, but if military installations and infrastructure suffer serious damages, the economy could lose up to another $23 billion and 175,000 jobs. The report estimates that 20,137 buildings would be at least moderately damaged, which is three percent of all structures. The storm costs would equate to about 40 percent of the regions GDP and about 10 percent of Virginia’s total GDP.
"Given the potential magnitude of losses from a major hurricane making landfall in the Hampton Roads region, planning and preparation for such an event is paramount," Robert McNab, one of the researchers, said in a news release. McNab is the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy in the Strome College of Business.
Jeff Caldwell, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, told The Center Square that Virginia has been lucky that it has not been hit by a major hurricane in recent years, despite some states to its south and north falling victim to such weather. However, he said that considering the state’s history and the impact of climate change, it is “not a matter of if [a hurricane will hit Virginia], but when.”
“At some point, it will happen,” Caldwell said. Although this year’s hurricane season will not likely be busy, he said it only takes one.
According to Caldwell, Virginia does not have a set budget for the agency. If a major storm hits the state, he said that localities respond first and that the state steps in if it is needed. If the storm is too much for the state, then FEMA steps in. Some of the funding is contracted out to private entities before a storm hits, while some is decided after the storm hits based on demand. Spending that is not budgeted is reimbursed through the general fund.
The report listed several recommendations for properly preparing for storms. This includes trying to prevent sea level rises, adopting stricter building codes in hurricane-prone regions and considering what structures would be too costly to save.