Weather or Not: Should Hurricane Threats Deter You from Finding a Coastal Home

Tragic and devastating Hurricane Ian has me reevaluating articles I have posted here over the years about hurricane threats to coastal areas in the southeast U.S. In a nutshell, I had opined that, if you compared threats of major hurricanes to specific cities along the coast, you would be able to choose a reasonably safe place to live.
Pawleysdikewithdockonit2Storm surge of an estimated eight feet carried a boat dock across 1/2 mile of marshland and deposited it on the dike at Pawleys Plantation that holds tee boxes for two par 3s on the back nine. The dike remains closed a week later.

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But because that book has some age to it and because the last decade seems to have presented us with more frequent and more intense hurricanes, I am now relying on more up-to-date data at NOAA’s website. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and it is that agency’s job, among other things, to assess the risk of hurricanes. Two maps at their web site gauge predictability in terms of “return periods”; that is, how often a hurricane of major strength can be expected to “return” to a specific coastal location. The numbers are illuminating and helpful to those who want to live on or near the coast but are concerned about the risks.

You can see for yourself at the NOAA website, but a few obserbations here. Cities like Savannah and Myrtle Beach, SC, have longer return periods for major hurricanes than we might expect: NOAA predicts 33 years for Savannah and 23 years for Myrtle Beach. That is not exactly comforting news for retirees who hope/expect to live a couple of decades longer, or to leave their retirement home to their children, but it sure is a much more optimistic prediction than for, say, the Outer Banks of North Carolina (16 years) or southeast Florida (as low as 14 years).

My own vacation home in Pawleys Island, SC, lies between Myrtle Beach and Charleston (return period of 22 years). We and our condo endured Hurricane Ian’s Category 1 phase with no damages at all, but closer to the ocean (3/4 mile), the Pawleys Plantation golf course was strewn with large wooden pieces of docks that were carried across the marsh by an eight-foot storm surge.

In any event, below is NOAA’s major hurricane prediction map. More information is available at NOAA.gov.
0816 FINAL Hurricanes Return Period Final 700x440 Landscape