By: Dale King Contributing Writer
The day that hurricane season 2019 arrived on June 1, South Floridians were already flocking to hardware and household supply stores to take advantage of the annual “tax free weekend” when customers were excused from paying state sales tax on storm-related purchases.
Otherwise, Sunshine Staters enjoyed – or endured – an early hot weekend that hinted at the approach of summer and the later-season months of August and September, when hurricane fears hit their peak.
Three days before the storm season kickoff, the global property information and analytics firm, CoreLogic, released its 2019 Storm Surge report, which said that “early predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicate a near-normal year for the 2019 [Gulf and] Atlantic hurricane season.”
The professionals who spoke via computer at a 45-minute webinar cautiously addressed predictions for the June 1-to-Nov. 30 period. “I tend to go with the NOAA reports. They are provided by the best of the best,” said Curtis McDonald, meteorologist and senior professional for product management at CoreLogic. “Overall, their forecasts are great. But it only takes one storm to make landfall. We don’t want to look too closely into their [estimates].”
Webinar speakers generally limited their presentations to statistics rather than nuts-and-bolts storm prep. They said research “shows more than 7.3 million single- and multifamily homes along the 3,700-mile Gulf and Atlantic coasts (stretching from Texas to Maine) have the potential for storm surge damage, with a total estimated reconstruction cost value (RCV) of nearly $1.8 trillion.”
The Miami metro area that includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach has more than 827,000 homes at risk and an RCV of $166 billion.
Dr. Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic, said Florida “has the largest number of homes (2.9 million) and the most coastline home development” in the storm surge area, as well as the highest RCV ($603 billion). Louisiana ranks second, then the New York-New Jersey area and, fourth, Texas – where Hurricane Harvey caused historically massive flooding in the Houston area nearly two years ago.
Jeffery called storm surges one of the “perils” of hurricanes. Experts who spoke at the webinar said these walls of wind-swept water always slam coastal areas, but can extend far inland, even pushed by a Category 1 storm – the least powerful tempest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Extensive flooding, he noted, is often caused by water that storm surges push up rivers, streams and other channels, overflowing their banks onto interior neighborhoods. “This can have an extreme risk inland.”
He suggested that the public listen to storm predictions, but use care in making conclusions. “Consider Hurricane Michael,” which slammed the Florida Panhandle in 2018. “If it had gone a little to the left, it would have hit 10 times as many homes.”
Speakers said hurricanes tend to form more quickly in the Gulf. Those born in the Atlantic Ocean, often as far away as coastal Africa, take more time to develop and travel, giving residents as many as seven to 10 days of warning.
“It is essential to understand and evaluate the total hazard exposure of properties at risk of storm surge prior to a hurricane event, so insurers can better protect and restore property owners from financial catastrophe,” said Jeffrey. “Damage from storm surge and inland flooding has proven to be far more destructive than wind in recent years, so we cannot rely on the hurricane category alone to give us a sense of the potential loss.”