Hurricane Harvey, which dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana, looks to be one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. Flooding continues to affect large areas of Houston, Beaumont and other areas of Texas. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes, and rig shut downs and evacuations along the Gulf have curbed oil and gas production. The White House, meanwhile, is expected to ask Congress for $14.5 billion in relief funding. While we don’t know Harvey’s ultimate toll on life and property — and won’t for some time — here are the best estimates of the hurricane’s impacts so far, and how they compare to the destruction wrought by other major storms.
Estimates of Harvey’s cost vary, with some predicting that the storm will be the most expensive in U.S. history at over $190 billion, surpassing Hurricane Katrina. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates Katrina to have cost around $160 billion.) If that ends up being the case, it would greatly increase the total cost of billion-dollar-plus events since 1980. Others predict that the cost will be closer to that of Superstorm Sandy, at around $70-90 billion.
In general, hurricanes are a particularly devastating type of natural disaster. Of the billion-dollar disasters shown in the chart above, the 10 most destructive hurricanes caused an estimated $442 billion in losses, over a third of the $1.2 trillion caused by all 212 events combined. And while billion-dollar hurricanes haven’t been growing more frequent, Harvey and other super damaging weather and climate disasters are part of a continuing, costly trend.
Rain and flooding
One reason for Harvey’s estimated record cost is the sheer amount of rain and flooding brought on by the storm. Harvey set the record for tropical cyclone rainfall measured in any one place in the U.S. over at least the past 50 years.
Since its landfall on Aug. 25th, Harvey also brought extensive flooding in and around Houston and Beaumont before it dissipated and made its way inland.
Because of Harvey’s flood impacts, many have compared it to Hurricane Katrina. Katrina’s devastation was a result of the failure of government flood protection systems, violent storm surges, a chaotic evacuation plan and an ill-prepared city government. Harvey, on the other hand, has caused massive flooding at a slower pace, without Katrina’s deadly surge. In this way it resembles other costly and damaging tropical cyclones of the past 30 years.
Other impacts to look out for
The immediate effects of Harvey were also felt by the oil and gas industries. Around 10% of manned oil platforms in the Gulf were evacuated, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. While the fallout is still being determined, gas prices have risen and oil and gas rig production has continued to be hampered.
There are many more consequences that residents and officials are only now sorting through. Harvey’s impact may be felt as residents seek claims from insurance companies, encounter environmental contaminants from debris and infrastructural damage and incur the economic effects of displacement. The cleanup has only just begun.