What if there was a better way to forecast and communicate a hurricane's damaging economic impact before it happens? Colorado State University civil engineers have developed an innovative new approach to assessing the resiliency of coastal communities to hurricanes. They've created a "multi-hazard hurricane impact level model," which estimates economic damages to be caused by storms, before they happen. The impact model is detailed in a recent paper in Palgrave Communications, authored by Hussam Mahmoud, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Stephanie Pilkington, a graduate student in civil engineering, who designed and validated the model. "Our model forecasts storms more in terms of impacts," Mahmoud explained. Forecasters typically communicate about approaching storms by categorizing sustained wind speeds on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Wind speed, however, is not usually the main cause of death and destruction from hurricanes, the researchers say. The worst impacts are usually caused by flooding, precipitation and storm surge, combined with geography of landfall, population density, and quality of infrastructure. The researchers wanted to come up with a more accurate way to talk about impacts. Their goal is to provide communication about a tropical storm's expected economic damage, rather than only the meteorological intensity of the storm, Pilkington said. Mahmoud and Pilkington's impact model uses artificial neural networks and machine learning to "teach" a computer program how to predict a pending storm's damage, by dollar figure. The neural network, which is like an artificial human brain that gets smarter the more data it is fed, is powered by detailed historical data from several storms. These include Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Arthur in 2014. The researchers also used their model to analyze whether physical and policy improvements such as seawalls, the National Flood Insurance Program, and updated building codes have mitigated the impacts of powerful storms. In short, they haven't, the researchers say. According to their data, coastal communities in Florida or Texas are about as economically vulnerable, or even worse off, to hurricane devastation as they were 100 years ago. That's a sobering reality the engineers hope their work can shed light on.