Southeast U.S. Told to Prepare for More Hurricanes
The question is not whether the hurricane season beginning on June 1 and lasting through Nov. 30 will be above normal, but how much above normal it will be, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is urging residents in hurricane-prone areas to make preparations.
“For the 2006 north Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA is predicting 13 to 16 named storms, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which four to six could become ‘major’ hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher,” said Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, on May 22 in conjunction with National Hurricane Preparedness Week.
Lautenbacher said that NOAA is not forecasting a repeat of the destructiveness of last year’s hurricane season, which sent a record four major hurricanes slamming into the southern coast of the U.S., but there is a high potential for hurricanes striking the U.S. and there is an 80% chance the season will be above normal. In its May forecast for the 2005 hurricane season, NOAA forecasted seven to nine hurricanes, with three to five of them expected to be major.
On average, the season produces 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, including two that are major. The vast majority of these storms typically materialize between August and October.
“Warmer ocean water combined with lower wind shear, weaker easterly trade winds and a more favorable wind pattern in the mid-levels of the atmosphere are the factors that collectively will favor the development of storms in greater numbers and to greater intensity,” NOAA advised. “Warm water is the energy source for storms, while favorable wind patterns limit the wind shear that can tear apart a storm’s building cloud structure.”
A similar forecast was issued in April by the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project. Based on 52 years of statistics, the annual forecast, the 23rd in the project, noted that it is statistically unlikely that the coming 2006 and 2007 hurricane seasons will have as many major hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. as in 2004-2005.
However, the Colorado State researchers noted that until the last couple of years the Southeast U.S. for almost four decades was actually experiencing significantly milder hurricane seasons than previously.
“Most Southeast coastal residents probably do not know how fortunate they had been in the 38-year period (1966-2003) leading up to 2004-2005 when there were only 17 major hurricanes (0.45/year) that crossed the U.S. coastline,” the report from Colorado said. “In the prior 40-year period of 1926-1965, there were 36 major hurricanes (0.90/year or twice as many) that made U.S. landfall. It is understandable that coastal residents were not prepared for the great upsurge in landfalling major hurricanes in 2004-2005.”
Insurance Reform in Florida
Among efforts to make residents better prepared for hurricanes, Florida Governor Jeb Bush on May 16 signed a property insurance reform bill that provides $250 million to make older homes more storm-resistant, the first program of its kind in the nation.
The new state program will provide free inspections to determine the vulnerability of homes to wind damage. Home owners of primary residences valued at less than $500,000 that can benefit most from a retrofit will be eligible for a grant equal to half the cost of the project, up to $5,000.
The legislation also provides $250 million to insurance companies to help improve the insurance marketplace in the state, and it is hoped that the money will generate as much as $1 billion in private insurance during the next two hurricane seasons.
Starting next July, the law also allows private insurance companies to adjust rates by 5% statewide and 10% in regions.
During 2004 and 2005, private insurance companies collected an estimated $18 billion in premiums from 11.9 million residential policyholders in Florida, including more than 1 million mobile home owners. During the same period, private insurance companies paid out $38.5 billion in claims for damages.
For information on disaster relief resources available from NAHB, e-mail Ken Ford, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8228.