According to Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, Director of the International Hurricane Research Center, the top 10 most vulnerable areas to hurricanes are:
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Lake Okeechobee, Florida
- Florida Keys
- Coastal Mississippi
- Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
- Galveston/Houston, Texas
- Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
- Eastern Long Island, New York
- Wilmington, North Carolina
- Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida
While New Orleans would at first seem not to be a surprise, many might think that spots in Florida actually see more hurricane activity. And this, in fact, may be true. But an important point to remember here is that this is a list of the “most vulnerable” spots. Therefore, New Orleans, with its “below sea level” status and its levee system, makes it especially susceptible to flooding and damage when a hurricane actually does hit. And, of course, the world was witness to just what can happen to a city like New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck.
In keeping with this theme, Lake Okeechobee, Florida is the only other major area that is protected by levees. And so this is why they get the number two spot. There are approximately 40,000 people living at the base of Hoover Dike in the Lake Okeechobee area – which, according to reports, is leaking.
There were twelve criteria used to determine a location’s vulnerability to a hurricane. Hurricane frequency and intensity, as well as potential levee or dike failure, were the main determinants. Some of the other factors included the potential for freshwater flooding, island breaching history, costal erosion history, the amount of actual residents potentially at risk, the quality and distance of evacuation routes, and the ability of local and state governments and organizations to respond to the damage a hurricane inflicts.
Locations in Florida, as is probably expected, took three out of the top five spots, and then added a fourth at number ten – the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. With coasts on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mexican Gulf, they are in a unique position of possibly getting hit from different directions.
While a place like Long Island may come as a surprise to many, the area has been actually impacted in the not-so-distant past by Hurricane Donna (1960), Hurricane Gloria (1985), and Hurricane Bob (1991).