Visualizing the Unthinkable

Worst-case "Sandtrina" inundation scenario for south Hampton Roads.

Worst-case “Sandtrina” inundation scenario for south Hampton Roads. Red dots are inundated, green dots above water.

by James A. Bacon

Combine the power of a Katrina-scale hurricane with the geographic proximity of a Hurricane Sandy, aim it at Hampton Roads, and what do you get? Old Dominion University professors Joshua G. Behr and Rafael Diaz cranked up their supercomputer to visualize what might happen.

A “Sandtrina” catastrophe would extend way beyond the loss to houses, buildings, roads and infrastructure to include widespread disruption to the economy and the health care system, they explain in Hurricane Preparedness: Community Vulnerability and Medically Fragile Populations,” published in the latest edition of the Virginia Newsletter.

Do not confuse this issue with Global Warming (GW). Behr and Diaz, who work at ODU’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, were not simulating the impact of hypothesized GW-induced sea level rise, as others have done. The phrases “climate change” and “global warming” never appear in their paper. They were simulating an event that, though statistically unlikely, is within the bounds of experience in the United States and could happen to Hampton Roads.

I have no competence to critique the modeling methodology underlying the Behr-Diaz simulations, but I do believe they deserve credit for broadening their analysis beyond a simple calculation of property damage. They also map financial and medical vulnerability of the Hampton Roads population, recognizing that some households are too poor to effectively prepare for a lengthy hurricane-caused disruption and that some have medical needs that may go unmet after a disaster.

“Resilience,” referring to the ability of communities to recover from disasters, is all the rage among GW believers, but it would be a mistake for conservatives to dismiss the concept out of hand. The Behr-Diaz simulations make it clear that the concept is very relevant right now. Conservatives should take the lead in devising ways to make Virginia communities more resilient to natural disaster. One good place to start: Curtail federal insurance subsidies that encourage people to build in flood-prone coastal areas. Another idea: Encourage development either in higher-elevation areas or in low-elevation areas that can be hardened against a massive storm surge.

9 Responses to Visualizing the Unthinkable

  1. Scary image but I am SOOOO glad you got the climate change nonsense out of the way.

    Why muck up a great graphic with unneeded lib-prog propaganda?

  2. “Why muck up a great graphic with unneeded lib-prog propaganda?”

    Because some conservatives might conflate this work with climate change and reject it on that basis. I’m trying to focus here on a matter that lib-progs and paleo-cons can find some common ground!

  3. we cannot accept as valid, the potential effects of climate change if we call it the potential result of climate change?

    what else would one attribute this kind of impact with?

    the sea is just rising – and we don’t know why and if we dare use the phrase “climate change” as a reason, the modelling work automatically becomes the work of lying propagadizing scientists but if they don’t utter the “C” word .. it’s a competent, valid study?

    hmmm.. this is starting to sound like what happened to the scientists who dared to say the earth was not flat… jesus..

    • Of all the places in the world, the Chesapeake Bay is probably the worst choice to use in relating rising sea levels with global warming. I’ll explain in a later comment but there all manner of things going on in the Chesapeake Bay that have nothing to do with global warming. However, I do recognize that global climate change exists.

      • that’s fine. just measure the anticipated sea level rise in the Chesapeake relative to other places that do not have the subsidence or other unique features of the Chesapeake and separate it but at least owning the sea level rise in the Chesapeake that is the same as other places on the East Coast.

        In other words, describe the issue and delineate the part that is unique to the Chesapeake Bay and delineate the part that is common to other places also experiencing sea level rise.

        I’m just reacting to the fact – that as long as we acknowledge sea level rise but don’t attribute it to anything in particular – we can “discuss’ it but if we postulate possible causes of sea level rises and some of them involve climate warming – the whole thing turns into a political food fight…

        geeze!

      • while we’re at it – take a look a the barrier islands all up and down the East Coast from New York/New Jersey to Florida.. they’re all going to get hammered by rising sea levels – and it’s not obvious how they will be damaged.

        it may not be some mega-hurricane – but more likely some no-name storm with higher than normal tides and a storm surge – which is basically what happened with the Outer Banks in the last couple of years as they got cut clean across and wiped out roads and bridges.. no big name storm just run-of-the-mill type storm that had a much larger than expected tidal surge.

        this is how a lot of damage will occur. It won’t be some apocalyptic event – just something that floods… because the base sea level will be higher than in prior decades.

        and we do have a name for it: Base Flood Elevation (BFE)

        http://www.region2coastal.com/sandy/table

        The computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood. Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) are shown on Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and on the flood profiles.

        The BFE is the regulatory requirement for the elevation or floodproofing of structures. The relationship between the BFE and a structure’s elevation determines the flood insurance premium.

        guess what that number is going to be for many areas of Coastal Va and guess what that means for insurance premiums?

  4. “Resilience” is a liberal code word for spending money on infrastructure … and believing the liberal trope about sea level rise and other “alarmist” blather.

    “Real” conservatives are not about to be fooled by sneaky backdoor attempts to spook people…into spending money for no good reason.

    I used to think it took some “smarts” to become delegate to the Va GA or Congress.

    no more. half of those among us now walk with virtual torches and pitchforks and they elect their share to Congress and the Va Ga.

    and the trouble is that the GOP and Conservatives claim that not all of them are whacko birds but the problem is they all clump together these days like a choco-nut sandwich.

    I fully expect the personal attacks to begin shortly on Messieurs Behr and Diaz.

  5. And while we’re on the subject of the free market versus govt especially with regard to the incompetence and waste of govt compared to private industry..

    let’s take a quick look at how the FEMA (that’s the Federal Govt folks) works with local governments (who do building codes) and the Flood Insurance program which is subsidized by the Government but implemented by private insurance companies.

    1. why does FEMA do flood maps in the first place instead of the private sector?

    2. why do localities require building codes instead of letting the free market handle it?

    3. why is the Federal Govt and the local government involved in any of this anyhow instead of letting the free market and private sector insurance handle it?

    Bonus Question: once FEMA and the Feds pull out of the subsidized flood insurance program – what will happen to places that are vulnerable to rising seas in terms of privately owned property and public infrastructure?

    to make my point – if coastal areas properties lose value and become virtually worthless (as in Detroit type worthless) – where will local governments get the money to “flood proof” infrastructure?

    Are flood prone areas of Va going to become the “new” version of SouthWest Va in terms of a lack of wealth and minimally-funded government services and infrastructure unless subsidized by the rest of the state?

    Where are questions like these being addressed in the General Assembly?

    Should Va just get out of this and let the free market handle it?

  6. Wasn’t Willoughby Spit in Norfolk (where the HRBT is) created by a hurricane about 100 years ago? What storms give, they can take away.

    And if you want to see some really bad development go to the Outer Banks and other coastal Carolina points.

    Yrs truly was 18 months old in 1954 when my dad was transferred to Camp Lejeune. I don’t remember this, but we stayed at a beach house for a few weeks waiting for quarters on the base. We moved just before Hurricane Hazel hit. My parents told me they went out and couldn’t find one board of the beach house afterwards.

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