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Carolina Dealers Face Florence Losses

September 12, 2018

Hurricane Florence as seen from the International Space Station on Monday, Sept. 10. Photo courtesy NASA
Hurricane Florence as seen from the International Space Station on Monday, Sept. 10. Photo courtesy NASA

ATLANTA — Lower vehicle density will spare Hurricane Florence-affected areas from tallying total losses approaching those seen in Texas and Florida during last year’s hurricane season, predicted Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive.

In a statement released at noon ET yesterday, Smoke acknowledged the “hard reality” of significant flooding and property loss faced by millions of residents from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia, many of whom are now “thankfully” under mandatory evacuation. However, Smoke said he believed Florence’s impact on the automotive industry will be “manageable,” at least when compared with the devastation sown by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017.

“Vehicle density in current path, thankfully, is about half that of Houston. The broad possible impact path of Hurricane Florence from Savannah, Ga., to Norfolk, Va., encompasses a population of 10.2 million people and 3.9 million households. Thankfully, this is not as densely populated as some coastal regions,” Smoke said. “The broad area has a population density of 182 people per square mile, which is less than half that of the Houston DMA or the state of Florida, which were impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last year.”

Smoke noted that, with 9 million vehicles in operation, the path area’s vehicle density is 162 vehicles per square mile — significantly lower than Houston’s 326 vehicles per square mile and Florida’s 314.

“With the evacuation and other preparations taking place now, the impact should be less than what we saw in Houston last year,” he said. “North Carolina could lose 20,000 to 40,000 vehicles if Florence maintains its current path and remains a Category 4 or 5 hurricane given the likely damage from wind and flooding.”

The latest projections say Florence will approach the North Carolina coast and turn left toward South Carolina late Friday, making landfall sometime Saturday. At 150 miles wide and traveling at 130 miles per hour, Florence could cause 13-foot storm surges and drop 40 inches of rain, leading to catastrophic flash flooding.

“This is not going to be a glancing blow,” warned Jeff Byard, associate administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Wednesday morning. “This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”

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