The first studies have been completed and the meteorologists agree. Florida is gearing up for another year of above average tropical activity.
In fact, hyperactive hurricane seasons are becoming the new normal. Since 2016, every season has seen above-normal activity.
“We are updating our definition of what is defined as means. It is based on a 30-year moving average,” said Allison wing, a professor at Florida State University and a specialist in climate and hurricanes. “What we define as normal has changed. But the larger question is when do we expect this level of activity and should we always prepare for it versus days in calmer seasons.
Those days, Wing said, are probably behind us.
According to a multidisciplinary panel of experts who participated in an FSU press conference, hurricane season is getting tougher for Floridians. Climate change has warmed the Atlantic, fueling the prevalence of more powerful storms. Then there’s the state’s recent population boom, filling it with people who likely haven’t experienced a devastating hurricane or how to prepare for one. And the state has a fractured property insurance system that could leave homeowners uncovered or insufficiently covered in the event of catastrophic damage.
“We expect hurricanes to continue to intensify, especially with the increase in number and intensity of the strongest storms, category four and five storms,” Wing said. “We also expect precipitation from hurricanes to increase, like all extreme precipitation in a warmer climate, and hurricanes are no exception.”
Wing said recent hurricanes — including the most powerful ones — have preferred to linger along coasts and rapidly intensify before slowly disintegrating on land. According to Environmental Protection Department, Florida has warmed by a degree in the past century and the sea is rising about an inch per decade. Coastlines are rapidly disappearing and coastal cities are taking extreme measures to avoid rising seas. Cities along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Panhandle coasts are seeking to raise levees, raise structures, and nurture beaches to protect their shrinking land. Every powerful storm that blows through the state risks overloading utility infrastructure like power and water and ripping up land that is becoming increasingly difficult to rebuild.
Wing said it all had the “fingerprints of climate change.”
“When you combine these changes with the increase in population and coastal infrastructure“, she said, “you have a picture where even a garden type hurricane season would put us at more risk than we have in the past”
Florida’s population is booming. Between 2020 and 2021, Florida saw the second fastest growing population in the country. Only Texas saw a greater influx of new residents.
Eren Ozguven is the director of FSU’s Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Response Center. He said the new population creates unique challenges and risks when it comes to preparing for disasters.
“They came to Florida from other states. We have a lot of people who don’t know about hurricanes and they’ve never seen a hurricane,” he said. “Even during Hurricane Irma, we saw that some people evacuated simply because they felt unsafe. But their house was on higher ground, their window structures and their roof structures were correct. We call this a “shadow evacuation”. This brings a lot of traffic onto our roads so people who are not experienced with this should not evacuate.
The Florida Legislature is gearing up for a Special session focused on property insurance in the next weeks. Charles Nycea catastrophic risk financing and insurance expert, said Florida homeowners could end up losing without creative solutions from lawmakers.
“I don’t think you can look at the current state of the private insurance market in Florida and say it’s good,” Nyce said. “It’s a very fragile market that we have. Extremely fragile. A very big storm or a series of small storms will cause significant problems. »
Florida accounts for only 8% of home insurance claims in the country, but is responsible for about 76% of disputes. Additionally, systemic fraud permeates the entire industry and many companies are going bankrupt, making it difficult for homeowners to purchase insurance. Over the past year, Nyce said Florida has lost about 25% of its insurance capacity. The state’s largest insurer is currently the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which is meant to be the insurer of last resort. With approximately $6.5 billion in capital, Citizens is in fairly good financial shape. But Nyce warned that by increasing the number of policyholders, it could be less than it looks.
“Six and a half billion dollars isn’t a lot of money when you have a million homes at risk,” he said.
And even for Floridians lucky enough to have signed up for a homeowners insurance policy in the last few years, looking at the fine print is key.
“Construction costs are still very high in the state,” he said. “If you bought a policy a few years ago and you have a 2,000 square foot house and you think it’s going to cost you $100 a square foot to fix it, that’s not the case anymore. It will cost a lot more. So make sure your policy limits are high enough to cover any damages you could potentially have.