Florida and Citizens Insurance Survive another Hurricane Season

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 | 0 comments

By: Jim Turner | Posted: November 30, 2011 10:24 AM

Unless a sudden tropical storm quickly swirls into life in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea or Atlantic Ocean, Florida — with its growing dependence on Citizens Property Insurance — has survived another hurricane season.

The hurricane season ends today. Mark 2011 as the sixth consecutive year Florida has avoided a direct hit from a named storm.

Overall, the Atlantic hurricane season had 19 named storms, seven of which became hurricanes and three that grew into the major hurricane category. The storms resulted in 120 deaths and more than $11 billion in property and infrastructure damage, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Two deaths in Florida were attributed to Hurricane Irene.

“Irene broke the ‘hurricane amnesia’ that can develop when so much time lapses between landfalling storms,” Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, stated in a release. “This season is a reminder that storms can hit any part of our coast and that all regions need to be prepared each and every season.”

The worst storm of the season was Hurricane Irene, which slammed the Northeast in late August, causing 56 deaths and $7.9 billion in damage.

Florida’s luck has continued to hold since the 2004 and 2005 seasons, when eight hurricanes crossed the state.

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For 2011, Florida had three storms that kicked up more than just waves for surfers: Tropical Storm Arlene, Irene and Tropical Storm Lee each brought rain.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Arlene in early July brought needed rains to Florida, while outermost rain bands and accompanying winds of Irene produced scattered power outages and rough surf that was blamed for the deaths of two surfers in Volusia County and injuries to eight at the Boynton Inlet.

Irene was also the only storm that caused property damage in Florida — outside of rain damage, a lifeguard tower in Lantana was swamped.

Meanwhile, this summer a Senate insurance committee reported that a repeat of the 2004-05 hurricane seasons would cost the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance $7.6 billion in claims.

Gov. Rick Scott has directed the Citizens board to come up with a proposal by the Dec. 6 Cabinet meeting on how to reduce the size and risk of the insurer on all Floridians as a severe storm would require homeowners to pay prohibitively high deductibles.

“Our plan is relying on something that can’t happen … relying on people who can’t write a check,” Scott said in directing Citizens to revamp its size in October.

The state is also looking to reduce its Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.

The fund should have $8.4 billion on hand as the hurricane season ends and has projected covering an additional $10 billion through bonds.

However, Jack Nicholson, the chief operating officer of the fund, told Cabinet members on Nov. 15 that volatile world finance markets may make it difficult to find investors to reach the fund’s target.

The season did see one area of improvement in the field of hurricane predictions.

NOAA displayed increased accuracy in forecasting, as Irene’s eastern North Carolina landfall and path northward were accurately predicted more than four days in advance through information obtained from weather satellites, hurricane models, aircraft observations, and other data.

“Improving intensity forecasts is a focus of ongoing research and is part of NOAA’s Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project,” said Frank Marks, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division. HFIP bridges research and operational components to better anticipate rapid changes in storm intensity and its goal is to extend track forecasts from the current five days to seven days.

NOAA will issue its initial outlook for the 2012 hurricane season in May, just before the official start of the season on June 1.

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