Fiona Reveals Puerto Rico’s Risks as Historical Storm Pattern Holds

A look at the historical hurricane return-time trends for countries along Hurricane Fiona's path

Hurricane Fiona on Monday cut a devastating path through Puerto Rico, claiming up to eight lives, knocking out power and water services, and washing away many roads and bridges on the island. That the storm is in keeping with Puerto Rico’s historical hurricane return-time trends, according to the Gro Climate Indicator (GCI) for Tropical Cyclone Risk, suggests that the island’s infrastructure and hurricane resilience strategies are not keeping up with its storm frequency pattern. 

Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm almost five years to the day when Hurricane Maria, an exceptionally deadly and costly Category 4 storm, made landfall on the island. 

The GCI for Tropical Cyclone Risk, which provides users with visibility into any area or asset’s hurricane risk profile worldwide, shows that most districts in Puerto Rico are at risk of facing a Category 1 or greater hurricane every 12.5 to 14.5 years. 

If Hurricane Fiona reaches Newfoundland and Nova Scotia as a hurricane this weekend, these Canadian provinces’ storm return-time patterns will also be at - or close - to their modeled hurricane histories, according to the (GCI) for Tropical Cyclone Risk

For Nova Scotia, if Fiona strikes as a Category 1 hurricane, it would be the second such storm since Hurricane Earl hit 12 years ago, and the third hurricane since Hurricane Bill made a close pass in 2009. This would put its recent storm return-time trend near the historical modeled return time of five years. Meanwhile, if Hurricane Fiona maintains hurricane status and makes a Newfoundland landfall, it would be the fourth hurricane-force storm in 12 years, putting the province in a more active phase than Newfoundland’s modeled return time of 6.6 years. 

For governments and companies, hurricane return-time frequencies are worth noting because they might warrant sharpening climate resilience strategies and taking other steps to limit hurricane-related losses.

Currently, there is no Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consensus on how the number of Atlantic hurricanes will change as climate change accelerates. However, there is general agreement that climate change will mean that hurricanes’ average wind speeds will increase, that more rain will be dumped by storms, and that hurricane-related storm surge will worsen due to sea-level rise.