Irene Takes Aim At East Coast

It’s been quite the weather week for those of us on the East Coast, with the Virginia earthquake and the imminent landfall of Hurricane Irene.

This morning we woke to the reality of a hurricane watch in effect for a large swathe of the north east from New Jersey to Massachussetts, including New York City, Long Island, Long Island Sound, Block Island, Boston, Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket.

Just to be clear, a hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area. A watch is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds.

As of 8am EDT the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that Irene, currently a category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, is located some 375 miles south southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving to the north near 14 miles per hour.

NHC says that some re-intensificaton is possible and Irene is expected to be near the threshold between Category 2 and 3 as it reaches the North Carolina coast Saturday.

As Irene heads north, an important  statistic is that five of the top 10 states in terms of the value of insured coastal property vulnerable to hurricanes are situated in the northeast.

New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine have some of the highest insured coastal property values in the country, according to the I.I.I.

Figures compiled by catastrophe modeler AIR Worldwide show the total value of insured coastal exposure in these five states was $4.4 trillion in 2007. That’s about half the $8.9 trillion value of insured coastal property in hurricane prone states as a whole.

As we continue to track Irene, the I.I.I. reminds that in addition to wind, heavy flooding from storm surge and torrential rains caused by hurricanes also can cause major damage.

In the words of Dr. Robert Hartwig, I.I.I. president and an economist:

It may come as some surprise, but the top 10 most costly flood events in U.S. history are associated with hurricanes and tropical storms, with insured flood losses from Hurricane Katrina topping the list at $16 billion.†

The I.I.I. also notes that many still lack flood insurance as hurricane season nears its peak.

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