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Journal Article

Nighttime light data reveal lack of full recovery after hurricanes in Southern US


Barton-Henry,  Kelsey
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Wenz,  Leonie
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Barton-Henry, K., Wenz, L. (2022): Nighttime light data reveal lack of full recovery after hurricanes in Southern US. - Environmental Research Letters, 17, 11, 114015.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_27462
As the climate warms, many areas of the world are experiencing more frequent and extreme weather events. Hurricanes carry some of the costliest short-term socioeconomic repercussions in economic losses and people displaced. There is, however, little quantitative evidence regarding medium- to long-term effects, nor factors moderating recovery. Here we show that areas affected by hurricanes of category 4 or 5 in the southern US between 2014 and 2020 generally do not demonstrate full recovery in the longer term. Utilizing Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) nighttime light data as a proxy for economic activity and population density, we build a timeline of recovery via nighttime light radiance levels. We exploit the difference in the eligibility for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to apply a quasi-experimental method to identify changes in nighttime light radiance attributable to hurricanes. We find that after three years, affected areas demonstrate a reduction in nighttime light radiance levels of between 2 and 14% compared to the pre-disaster period. Combining these results with machine learning techniques, we are able to investigate those factors that contribute to recovery. We find counties demonstrating smaller reductions in nighttime light radiance levels in the months following the hurricane are buoyed by the amount of FEMA aid received, but that this aid does not foster a longer term return to normal radiance levels. Investigating areas receiving FEMA aid at the household and individual level, we find age and employment more important than other demographic factors in determining hurricane recovery over time. These findings suggest that aid may be more important in motivating short-term recovery for public entities than for individuals but is not sufficient to guarantee complete recovery in the longer term.