Thursday, September 08, 2005

Some historical perspective on Katrina

Some perspective on just how bad Hurricane Katrina is. These data are from the National Hurricane Center's list of deadliest and costliest hurricanes. I've included all hurricanes that caused at least 25 deaths OR were among the 30 costliest hurricanes (1851-2004). I've included storms since 1948 in the data, a total of 36 hurricanes.

Major hurricane deaths since 1948. Posted by Picasa

If the Katrina death toll is in the thousands, as has been suggested, then this will far exceed the worst storm of the last 50 years, Hurricane Audry which in 1957 killed 390 people. The Galveston, Texas, hurricane of 1900 killed between 8,000 and 12,000. An unnamed hurricane in 1928 killed between 2,500 and 3,000 in Florida. Nothing else in the last 100 years is close to 1,000 deaths. After some 30 years of declining death tolls, Katrina will establish a modern record for deaths.

Major hurricane costs since 1948. Posted by Picasa

Katrina is certain to become the costliest hurricane since 1851 in monetary losses. While the death toll has fallen over the past 50 years, the cost of hurricanes has trended up only modestly. The huge outlier is Hurricane Andrew from 1991 which cost over $40 billion (in 2004 dollars). Most recent major hurricanes have caused less than $10 billion (again, in 2004 dollars.) Of the five storms, besides Andrew, than have exceeded $10 billion, none have approached as much as $20B. While Andrew is an outlier that dwarfs all other storms, Katrina will certainly exceed Andrew by a substantial amount.

In historical perspective, Katrina is not just a major disaster. It is far greater than any hurricane of the past 50 years in both lives and gold.