September 3, 2019
Over the past few years strong hurricanes have become so commonplace in the Southeastern United States that it feels strange when they don’t occur. Earlier this summer I found myself reflecting that it had been an oddly long time since we had been warned of the approach of one of these powerful forces. Unfortunately, last week we received such a warning.
The period from June 1st to November 30th marks hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. Over the last twelve months we were lucky not to encounter as many hurricanes as we have in years past, but Hurricane Dorian is changing that. The storm reached a Category 5 intensity this weekend with maximum wind speeds recorded at nearly 200 miles per hour.
The destructive ability of hurricanes can be difficult to fathom. The relatively mild Hurricane Barry, a Category 1 cyclone that hit the US in July, had wind speeds which topped out at only 75 miles per hour, but it caused nearly $600 million in damage in the US. More comparable to the current threat, the four most recent Category 5 hurricanes that hit the US have each caused tens of billions of dollars in damage according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Insurance Information Institute has reported data which shows that six of the ten costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have pounded areas of land which included Florida. That state alone accounted for 13 percent of all U.S. insured catastrophe losses from 1987 to 2016 ($70.8 billion out of $364.3 billion). Even more astounding is that these figures only show the insured property loss, and they ignore any flood damage covered by the federally administered National Flood Insurance Program. The potential cost of property damage only grows over time. Estimates suggest that a hurricane like the one that devasted Miami in 1926 would cause about $130 billion of damage today.
Even though the financial costs of hurricane damage are alarming, the greatest concern must be the potential loss of life. After watching scenes of the most intense area of Dorian hovering directly over the Bahamas, I am reminded of the risks that these storms can pose to people. With current technology, we can track these violent storms with much greater accuracy, and when evacuations are ordered they should be taken with seriousness to protect what matters much more than property.
Records of hurricanes in the United States date back to the early 1800s, and while they can be unpredictable, the one thing we can be certain of is that they will form again. To combat the risks presented by hurricanes, property owners along the east coast can purchase homeowners insurance, flood insurance, windstorm insurance, or some combination thereof.
Although we appear to have dodged a direct hit to the US, this hurricane provides a strong reminder that if you live on the coast in the path of these disastrous storms, you should be sure to protect your property with insurance, and your life by leaving when evacuations are ordered.