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Weaker storms could be more damaging, study suggests

Posted On Wed, October 23, 2013

Coming up on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the second costliest storm in U.S. history, new research indicates that storms no where near as strong or as big may unleash the same kind of fury on homeowners and renters - mainly due to the effects of climate change.

The analysis, performed by Andrew Kemp of Tufts University, involved analyzing salt-marsh sediments in New Jersey's Barnegat Bay, which is near Battery Park in New York. The tri-state area bore the brunt of Sandy's wind and rain. Using special tools to assess where sea levels currently reside compared with where they were in 1788, researchers found a substantial disparity.

Kemp noted how rising sea levels make floods that much more devastating.

"As sea level rises, smaller and weaker storms will cause flood damage," said Kemp, who serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Tufts University.

He added that there are several reasons for why water levels have risen appreciably over the past 200-plus years. This includes the widely held belief among climatologists that polar ice caps are melting at a faster rate - a theory that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change supports - and because of the natural sinking of land, a phenomenon known to scientists as glacio-isostatic adjustment.

Flooding most expensive weather catastrophe
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flooding is routinely the costliest natural disaster in the U.S. Since 1978, through the National Flood Insurance Program, more than $41 billion has been paid out to individuals affected by high water levels.

Recently, FEMA updated and expanded its flood zone maps, which detail the communities homeowners live in that are at a high risk of experiencing flooding. With these adjustments have come higher insurance rates.

However, to guard against costs from increasing substantially, legislators in Massachusetts have filed a bill that would not require policyholders to purchase coverage in an amount that exceeds what they owe on their mortgage.

"This state legislation can help mitigate the impact of these costs on families and businesses," said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. "I want to thank Speaker [Robert] DeLeo for his leadership on this issue, and also thank Reps. [James] Cantwell and [Garrett] Bradley and Sen. Hedlund for continuing to shine a light on the impact of these significant policy changes."

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