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We're Tops for Big Disasters

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 21, 2014 11:43 AM

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Sure, home prices may be high here. But aside from a big hurricane every few decades, New England weather is fairly tame when it comes to big disasters.

That's what I've always thought. More than once I've given thanks for often dismal but reassuringly dull weather after hearing the latest house eating firestorm out west or the one of those heartrending tragedies out in tornado country.

But it looks like I haven't been paying close enough attention to all the real and potential natural disasters out there. At least that's my conclusion after reading RealtyTrac's "Natural Disaster Housing Risk Report."

Take a look at the color coded map and you'll see Massachusetts has two of the four, dark red splotches to be found in the entire Northeast representing areas at a "very high risk" of natural disasters.

Those two dark red patches represent Hampshire and Worcester counties, both of which were either in the path of, or very close to, devastating tornadoes in recent decades.

The rest of the state doesn't get off much easier, listed as "high risk," including Middlesex County, where I live.

A twister ripped through downtown Springfield back in 2011, killing four and leveling one of the city's neighborhoods. (For what it's worth, Springfield is near but not in Hampshire County - the city is in neighboring Hampden.) A tornado back in 1953 wreaked huge damage in Worcester, with 94 people perishing.

But our reputation as a hot spot for natural disasters goes beyond these two terrible tragedies.

We are vulnerable to two other types of natural disasters, one obvious, the other not so obvious.

Living in New England, we occasionally get slammed with a huge hurricane. The 1938 hurricane was legendary, taking hundreds of lives, but modern radar and weather detection systems have eliminated the element of surprise that made that storm so particularly deadly.

(Some beach goers and vacationers were literally swept away, with no advance warning that the storm clouds they were seeing were from one of the most ferocious hurricanes ever to slam into New England.)

But less obviously, we are also near a major earthquake fault, with a major quake causing massive damage across New England back in the 18th century.

At some point we are due for a repeat, though when is anyone's guess.

It could be tomorrow, or it could be a 100 years from now.

Realtytrac's findings were "somewhat surprising," says Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's spokesman and the go-to guy for stats, typically on foreclosures and distressed properties.

Natural disasters, he acknowledges, is new ground for him and RealtyTrac.

"Most of the state has at least a medium to high risk for earthquakes."

Does that mean you should avoid buying a house in a high risk area?

Hardly. Then again, it might be a good idea to read over your homeowner's insurance policy a bit more carefully. Some level of flood protection could prove useful, depending on where you live. Certainly, quake protection is available, though that may be taking it a bit far.

Still, there's a bit of a silver lining here as well, with higher risk markets tending to higher home price appreciation as well, Blomquist notes.

"A lot of places that tend to be more beautiful and have better weather are also the types of places that have more natural disaster," he says.

Interesting theory, though I don't think the better weather part of it particularly applies to New England.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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