Housing sales in Texas would drop, gasoline prices would increase and the state would lose hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output if another major storm struck an unprotected coastline, according to a new study.
The joint economic impact study by Texas A&M University at Galveston and the Texas General Land Office, evaluated storm surge impacts on the three counties along Galveston Bay — Galveston, Harris and Chambers, the Houston Chronicle reported.
It also examines how flooding from a major storm would affect the local and national economies.
Hurricane Harvey swamped communities in the area in August 2017. The storm made landfall near Corpus Christi with 130 mph (209 kph) sustained winds and torrential rains.
Although a 500-year flood has a 0.2% — or one in 500 — chance of happening in any given year, Harvey was the third to hit the Houston area in three years. The study found that another such storm would result in an 8% decrease in Gross State Product by 2066, amounting to an $853 billion loss.
“This study clearly demonstrates that, without any new protections in place, future storm surges could have substantial and lingering impacts on Texas’ economy and send lasting ripples through other economic sectors nationwide,” Texas land commissioner George P. Bush said in a statement.
The study was conducted prior to the Army Corps of Engineers’ recommendation in October of a barrier proposal calling for 74 miles (120 kilometers) of dunes, gates, levees, and wildlife restoration. It would start at High Island and run the length of Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston.
With a barrier in place, economic losses would be considerably less, the study found. Gross State Product would still be reduced after a 500-year storm, but only by 2%. Housing sales would fall by 2%, while petroleum output would be cut by 3% and chemical output by 5%.
“This is the first time that people have looked at indirect damages and how things occur other than the damage we think of from floods,” said Wes Highfield, an associate professor at Texas A&M University at Galveston and an investigator on the study. “This is another data point that says, ‘Hey this could be a really important piece of mitigation.’ It creates a richer picture.”
The financial outlook for an exposed Houston-Galveston region devastated by a storm surge is dire, the report shows.