Coastal Hazards Primer - Introduction
There are two main reasons coastal hazards are a major concern for Connecticut:
1. Vulnerable property and dense population: Since the last Category 3 hurricane to hit Southern New England in 1954, over 70% of Connecticut’s shoreline is estimated to be privately owned and a vast majority has attained high market value. Damages from the next comparable hurricane could be huge. "Adjusted for inflation, the 1938 New England hurricane destroyed or damaged some $3.5 billion worth of property. Today, the same hurricane would leave behind a tab of up to $50 billion. Katrina was an $80 billion storm."1
Extreme events aside, even more common occurrences have significant impacts. In 2007, severe storms and flooding accounted for $6.4 million of Federal Disaster aid (statewide) and in 2010 similar events accounted for at least $5.5 million.2
Despite these, the population of coastal Connecticut has been growing3 and current projections show that trend continuing for the next 20 years (2010 – 2030).4 As a result, there is a tremendous amount of infrastructure and property that can incur substantial damages.
2. Climate change making hazards worse: Accelerated rates of warming are altering the sea levels around the world. While some scientists speculate current sea levels may increase several meters by 2100, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conservatively estimates a range of 18-59 cm. The scientific literature also indicates we should expect a global increase in the intensity, though not necessarily the number, of tropical storms. More locally, the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment October 2006 report, suggests we may see an increase in the number of winter storms.
If these projections hold true or worsen, it is easy to conceptualize the resulting damage to bridges, roads, homes, etc. However, they will also severely affect natural resources like beach and dune systems via erosion, and tidal wetlands through inundation. As these natural coastal defenses are compromised or eliminated, coastal hazard threats can escalate.
The simple fact is that living on or near the coast can be hazardous due to reasons beyond our control. What we can control, though, is how we mitigate damages and adapt to become more resilient to future conditions. Below are definitions of these key terms:
- Mitigation: Any cost-effective measure that will reduce the potential for damage to a facility from a disaster event.5
- Adaptation: Actions taken to help communities and ecosystems moderate, cope with, or take advantage of actual or expected changes in weather and climate conditions. (Modified from IPCC, 2007)6
- Resiliency: The capacity of a system, community, or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by resisting or changing, in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure.7
Content Last Updated January 3, 2012