Sunday, September 10, 2017


On the heels of Harvey’s havoc in Houston, Huricane Irma inundates Florida. I’ve been in a few hurricanes over the years and so far have been fortunate. One was Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina in 1999, which I rode out without serious incident in a hotel. Most hurricanes cease to be hurricanes by the time they reach my home state of NJ, but there are exceptions. Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 struck the state with hurricane force winds and torrential rain, though for technical reasons it was at that point categorized as an extratropical cyclone. Regardless of terminology, the storm claimed lives and caused damage that at the time made it second only to Katrina as the financially costliest storm in US history. Again I was lucky: trees came down in my driveway and yard but (barely) missed the house and barn. My home was without power for a couple weeks, but I was inconvenienced rather than harmed. Both Harvey and Irma have been lethal and both are sure to set new records in money damages.

The deadliest hurricane in US history – in fact the deadliest US natural disaster of any kind – is known as the Great Storm of 1900. In those pre-satellite days, the residents of Galveston Texas had a totally inadequate single day’s warning of the oncoming storm. A 15 foot (4.6 meter) storm surge washed over the island; it destroyed buildings and killed 12,000 people. Nowadays warnings come enough in advance to avoid loss of life on that scale, but there are always those who do not or cannot heed evacuation orders.

I do not wish to minimize in any way the current storms, which have consequences both brutal and tragic for those in their paths. For most folks, however, the good news, if one may call it that, is that the chances of meeting one’s end in a natural disaster are remote. Something catches up to all of us eventually, of course; 1 in 120 American residents die in any given year. Naturally the odds vary by age group. Overwhelmingly that final something is likely to be a natural health problem such as heart disease. The second most likely cause is accident (5% of all deaths), and the third is violence at the hands of humans (including ourselves). Insurance actuaries have calculated with their usual precision the odds of being done in by forces of nature, and they are reassuring.

Some examples of annual fatality risk from natural forces:
Lightning                                            1 in 4,326,748
Earthquakes                                        1 in 9,288,426
Cataclysmic storm                               1 in 4,570,498
Floods                                                 1 in 31,993,469
Natural heat                                        1 in 822,689
All natural forces combined                1 in 236,211

None of those numbers constitutes a good enough reason to be complacent about an oncoming hurricane though. If one is headed your way, leave or hunker down according to expert advice at the time. As for other risks both natural and unnatural, quoth Effie in The Hunger Games: “May the odds be ever in your favor.” Come to think of it, the context of that line that might not be very comforting, so let’s just go with “good luck” instead.

Barenaked Ladies - Odds Are

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