An analysis of coastal and inland fatalities in landfalling US hurricanes


Improvements in hurricane forecasts allowing for more timely evacuations from storm-surge zones are credited with reducing lethality of US landfalling hurricanes. The deadly reach of a hurricane, however, is not limited to storm-surge zones. About 80% of direct US hurricane fatalities since 1970 occurred outside of landfall counties, with most of these fatalities caused by inland flooding. We construct a geographic information system database combining the location and cause of fatalities, estimated wind speeds, and rainfall amounts for the entire track of the storm for landfalling US hurricanes between 1970 and 2007. We analyze the determinants of total fatalities and deaths due to freshwater drowning and wind. Inclusion of inland fatalities results in no downward trend in lethality over the period, in contrast to prior research. Local storm conditions significantly affect lethality, as one-inch and one-knot increases in rainfall and wind increase total fatalities by 28 and 4%. Rainfall significantly increases freshwater-drowning deaths and is insignificant for wind deaths, while the opposite relation holds for wind speed. While coastal counties do not exhibit a significantly higher amount of lethality risk versus inland counties for total or wind-driven fatalities, freshwater-drowning fatalities occur most frequently in inland counties along the center of the storm path and its outer county tiers as we have defined them.

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  1. 1.

    Missing data necessitated the exclusion of Hurricanes Celia (1970), Emily (1993), Gustav (2002), Alex (2004), Dennis (2005), and Ophelia (2005).

  2. 2.

    These are Dennis (1981), Dennis (1999), Gabrielle (2001), Gilbert (1988), Gordon (1994), Gordon (2000), Isidore (2002), Kyle (2002), and Mitch (1998).

  3. 3.

    An indirectly affected county is “a county/parish/borough that experienced fringe affects” (NHC Re-Analysis Project 2008a, b).

  4. 4.

    For the 9 storms that made landfall as a tropical storm included in this analysis, explicit county strikes are not available from the re-analysis project. For these storms, affected landfall counties are limited to the primary coastal counties for the affected landfall states identified in the re-analysis project (NHC Re-Analysis Project 2008b).

  5. 5.

    Seventy-five of the 194 fatalities occurring in known counties outside of our constructed swath were from three storms—Agnes 1972 (58%), Floyd 1999 (12%), and Chantal 1989 (5%). These missing data are mainly associated with the portion of the hurricane being over water, which we excluded. Roughly 15% of the 194 missing fatalities can be attributed to the swath overland plausibly not being large enough. The remaining 10% is attributed to fatalities that occurred very far from the point of landfall, e.g., Dennis in 1999 had 3 fatalities associated with Florida coastal counties, while landfall occurred in North Carolina.

  6. 6.

    The county was identified for 194 fatalities excluded from our analysis due to distance from the storm path, and the cause of death was identified for 156 of these fatalities. The most common cause for these excluded fatalities is freshwater drowning (72%).

  7. 7.

    Personal communication with James Franklin of the NHC.

  8. 8.

    We verified this by calculating wind radii across the different hurricane category wind speed levels from the models developed in Kaplan and Demaria (1995), Gray and Klotzbach (2005), and Nordhaus (2006).

  9. 9.

    An inverse distance-weighted interpolation scheme was also conducted and compared with the results of the kriging interpolation methodology.


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Correspondence to Jeffrey Czajkowski.

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Czajkowski, J., Simmons, K. & Sutter, D. An analysis of coastal and inland fatalities in landfalling US hurricanes. Nat Hazards 59, 1513–1531 (2011).

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  • Hurricanes
  • Fatalities
  • Freshwater drowning
  • Rainfall
  • Wind field

JEL Classifications

  • Q54