June 1 marked the beginning of the 2012 hurricane season, which will continue all the way into November. And while Floridians got a slight taste of what a storm can do – in very mild way, in the form of Tropical Storm Beryl, which brought heavy rains to the state last month and was eventually downgraded to a tropical depression – the fact that Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since 2005 has some state and county leaders concerned that residents are getting complacent.
The biggest concern: that if the state does unexpectedly get hit by a major storm, the first in six years, far too many Florida residents won’t be prepared, because they don’t think it’s likely to happen.
That’s why Gov. Rick Scott was in Miami on Friday, reminding Sunshine State residents that a hurricane could make land this summer, and it’s also why the Florida Chamber of Commerce is urging everyone to check their homeowner’s policies to see if they’re fully covered for a natural disaster.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently called for a “near-normal” hurricane season from its laboratory in Miami. The agency’s Climate Prediction Center forecast a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms this season, of which four to eight could gain enough strength to become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher.
The agency predicted that one to three of those will become major hurricanes, ranking as a Category 3 or higher.
Florida has certainly been vulnerable in the past, no more so than in 2004. Between Aug. 13, 2004 and the middle of September that year, no fewer than three major hurricanes hit the state within a matter of weeks. The first was Hurricane Charley, a fast moving storm that cut straight across the state with winds up to 150 mph, making it a Category 4 hurricane. The storm made landfall in southwestern Florida at maximum strength, the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Damage in the state totaled more than $13 billion.
The next two, Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Jeanne, were slow moving but still destructive.
Frances was a Category 4 storm that passed over Central Florida just three weeks after Hurricane Charley, causing significant damage to the state’s citrus crop. The damage total from this storm was $12 billion.
Hurricane Jeanne was a Category 2 storm, blamed for at least 3,006 deaths in Haiti, and the storm also caused seven deaths in Puerto Rico, 18 in the Dominican Republic and at least four in Florida, bringing the total number of deaths to at least 3,025. Jeanne caused $6.8 billion in property damage, the 13th costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
Since then, however, Central Florida has been hurricane-free.
In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Gov. Scott noted that his administration and the state government have been gearing up for the possibility of a serious hurricane season – and he urged residents and businesses to do the same.
“We want to ensure that everyone is prepared in case a tropical system threatens Florida,” Scott said. “At the state level, our emergency managers are working to make sure we are prepared to provide a rapid and coordinated response in case of an emergency.”
There’s another reason Scott was in Miami: the anniversary of one of the state’s worst hurricanes.
“With this year being the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew,” Scott said, “we have an especially poignant reminder of the importance of getting a plan to ensure our safety.”
Hurricane Andrew was the highly destructive storm and third Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the United States. It hit south Florida in August 1992, causing more than $26 billion in damage.
On Friday, Scott kicked-off the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season, and declared the week of May 27 to June 2 as “Hurricane Preparedness Week.”
The 20th anniversary of Andrew’s extremely destructive path was one reason why Scott was in Miami, on a trip that included a visit to a local Home Depot store to demonstrate that disaster supply kits can become invaluable during a storm.
During a press conference there, Scott built his own disaster supply kit at the Home Depot store.
“As we officially start the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season, I encourage all Floridians to be prepared to respond to any natural disaster,” the governor said. “We have already had two named storms hit our state and with the recent arrival of Tropical Storm Beryl. We are reminded that Mother Nature can be unpredictable.”
He also reminded everyone of how much damage Hurricane Andrew left in its path.
“Twenty years ago, Florida was forever changed following the devastation Hurricane Andrew had on our state,” Scott said. “That disaster made us change the way we prepare and respond to a disaster, and is a constant reminder to never underestimate the impact a storm can have on Florida’s families and businesses.”
The Florida Chamber of Commerce has taken a similar cautionary approach, issuing a press release warning people that Florida’s publicly-funded insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance, probably doesn’t have the funds available to pay out claims to everyone it covers in the event of a serious hurricane.
Calling Citizens “a bad insurance policy,” the Chamber added, “As the voice of business, we are leading efforts to stabilize Florida’s insurance market to ensure our state is financially prepared to weather the storm. As we travel across the state meeting with opinion leaders, insurance reform is a discussion at the top of the list.”
The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Insurance Coalition has also been urging business owners and homeowners alike to sign-up for alerts and updates on property insurance issues at www.FloridaChamber.com/grassroots.
The Chamber has also issued a “Fast facts” sheet noting that Florida is the most vulnerable state in the nation to hurricanes, since this state has 1,200 miles of coastline – compared, for example, to Georgia, which has just 193 miles.
The Chamber also noted that if a one-in-100 year storm hits Florida, assessments could be levied against businesses, charities and consumers for up to 30 years, “basically the largest tax increase in state history – a hurricane tax,” the Chamber warns.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 until Nov. 30. Residents can log on to www.FloridaDisaster.org for the latest information on the hurricane season, to learn more about disaster preparedness, and to find out what the state is doing to ensure that Florida is fully prepared for the worst that Mother Nature could bring.
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