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Analyzing historical development trends to predict future hurricane vulnerability in Tampa, Florida

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There is a growing consensus that urban areas are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of large-scale disasters. Not only are many urban areas located in high-risk regions (e.g., coastlines), but urbanity can exacerbate the negative impacts of many disasters. For example, high population densities expose more individuals to disaster impacts, and urban service provision relies on complex, interrelated systems prone to failure. It is possible to mitigate these vulnerabilities through urban planning, including regulations to limit high-density development in risky areas, but such decisions often run counter to local development efforts. Using Tampa, Florida, as a case study, we utilize a high-resolution methodological approach for tracking commercial and residential development related to potential hurricane strikes and storm surge flooding. Specifically, we use 16 consecutive years of parcel development data for the area alongside simulated hurricane storm surges to determine historical, present, and likely-future flooding vulnerability. Our findings indicate that the Tampa region continues to develop high-risk land which is likely to face significant damage from future hurricanes. This damage includes large tracts of commercial and residential land in high-risk areas along the coast and near inland bodies of water. The value of this study is providing a conceptual and operational framework for evaluating small (incremental) planning decisions made over space and time. When evaluated with a similar set of criteria, the results of this analysis suggest that unintended patterns of vulnerability emerge.

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Correspondence to Edward Helderop.

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Helderop, E., Grubesic, T.H. Analyzing historical development trends to predict future hurricane vulnerability in Tampa, Florida. J Coast Conserv 27, 13 (2023).

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