Is Your Home on This List of Cities Likely to Be Hit by Bigger, Stronger Hurricanes?

A new study finds that more intense hurricanes will cause power failures in unexpected places.

Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to thousands in New York City in 2012. (Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Dec 16, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

Residents of New York City and Philadelphia may want to make sure they have a stash of flashlights and batteries close at hand. A new study has found that as the advance of climate change brings more intense hurricanes to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, these two cities are among those most vulnerable to power outages.

Using about 150 years of National Hurricane Center data, doctoral candidate Andrea Staid of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues modeled a dozen likely scenarios of changes in storm activity. They found that in a 100-year storm scenario, 50 percent more residents of the Big Apple and the City of Brotherly Love would be at risk for losing power because of hurricanes with stronger winds compared with the present.

The research, published in the December issue of the journal Climatic Change, can help urban areas along these coasts prepare for the impacts of global warming.

“We looked at changing intensity, frequency, and location [of hurricanes],” said Staid. “And intensity is the driving factor in increasing impacts to power systems across the country.”

Jacksonville, Florida; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Hartford, Connecticut, rounded out the top five cities most at risk for blackouts.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that the cities most at risk for overall hurricane damage—such as Miami and New Orleans—weren’t the ones most sensitive to the effects of more severe hurricanes caused by climate change.

Staid and her team observed that the level of impact to a city’s power grid from more extreme hurricanes was dependent on geographic location—and not the same as a city’s overall risk to hurricane damage.

“We know Miami is highly at risk for hurricane damage, but when you look at sensitivity to climate change, Miami is [ranked] number nine,” Staid said. “What we’re showing is that areas that don’t see as many hurricanes that are as severe can still be very sensitive to climate change.”

Some of these areas are inland, such as Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Staid found that in a 100-year storm scenario, 20 percent more residents of these cities would be without power, because stronger hurricanes are also larger in size and can reach areas farther away from the coast.

While Staid and her colleagues did not plug location-specific power grid information into their scenarios, the team validated its model using data from Hurricane Sandy and other storms that have hit the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts.

Staid believes the findings may help local governments make better decisions about climate-change adaptation. She said that Johns Hopkins University researchers can work with utilities and municipalities to conduct analyses based on their particular power grid data.

“If you’re in a city that currently has a pretty low hurricane risk—and your risk has the possibility to change quite a bit from climate change—then you need to look at investments in power system changes,” she said. “You need to evaluate how your power grid will survive and if your power grid can survive a hurricane.”