It’s not over yet, but the record-breaking Hurricane Season of 2020 has taught us several things already. For one, we know it’s possible to have several named storms form within a 24-hour time period; it’s possible to have 10 (or more) named tropical storms in September alone; and it’s possible to have five storms whirling in the Atlantic at the same time.
Besides tying or breaking storm records, this season has also shown us how vulnerable we are. The reinforcements and preparations we’ve relied on to protect our homes, businesses and communities are not strong enough to withstand the sustained powerful winds, torrential rain or powerful storm surge accompanying the latest hurricanes. The damage throughout Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas has been devastating.
It is very unlikely that we will return to more “normal” hurricanes in the future. In fact, scientists predict that this abundance of devastating storms is the new normal. What challenges does it seem we are now facing? How prepared are we for these new challenges?
In the past 15 years, weather forecasts have become much more reliable, yet predictions of tropical storms’ trajectories, strength and dangers are still often inaccurate, especially a week or more before a storm is expected to hit land. Hurricane Sally, which made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 hurricane in September, is a case in point.
Sally began as a topical depression near Key Biscayne, Florida, and over a period of four days, moved slowly away from the Florida peninsula toward Louisiana and Mississippi. During this time, the storm intensified, weakened and then re-intensified into a Category 2 hurricane. It also changed course and finally slammed into the Alabama coast near Gulf Shores at peak intensity on September 16th.
Some coastal communities had been evacuated, but the strong winds that drove them from their homes were not the biggest problem – flooding was. The slow pace of the storm led to torrential rain, with coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle getting more than 30 inches in one day. Widespread surge and overflowing rivers and streams caused catastrophic flooding for days after the storm weakened, leaving thousands of people stranded, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power, and an estimated $7 billion in damage.
Many homes and facilities built since the 1990s have been constructed specifically to withstand hurricane-level winds. However, recent storms have exposed their vulnerability to the ravages of extreme winds and floods.
Hurricane Laura, for example, was a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. Instead of weakening before making landfall like most storms, Laura intensified as it approached the Louisiana coast. Many buildings escaped flood damage but were torn apart by the wind. Tornado-like winds blew off roofs, shattered windows, and knocked trees into homes.
The storm gradually weakened as it moved north, but it left catastrophic destruction in its wake. Communities near industrial facilities were particularly threatened, since levees and other critical infrastructure were not built to withstand the type of surge accompanying storms like Laura. Chemical plants and other industrial complexes are also prone to fires and explosions that endanger their neighboring communities.
People whose property has been damaged during Hurricane Season 2020 are just beginning to grasp the extent of damage and the effect it will have on their lives. However, those who suffered from Michael’s damage in 2018 will tell you that recovering from storm damage is onerous at best.
Michael’s victims in the Florida Panhandle faced delay after delay in getting help to repair their property. Filing forms for government aid and claims for insurance payments was laborious and frustrating. A year and a half after the hurricane hit, many property owners had still not received payments to help them repair their homes and businesses. In short, they were emotionally and financially drained before 2020 even began.
While insurance companies have increased their rates significantly in the past year, their coverage for storm damage has not improved. They continue to deny legitimate water damage claims, underpay roof and other wind damage claims, and delay payment for hurricane damage claims.
There’s not much we can do to prevent intense storms from developing and hitting Florida, but there’s a lot we can do to prevent insurance companies from not treating policyholders fairly, handling property damage claims expeditiously, and paying to repair or replace damaged property. The experienced Florida hurricane damage attorneys can answer your insurance questions, help you get the settlement you want, or, if necessary, fight in court to get you the payment you deserve.
Chavez, N., Hanna, J., & Burnside, T. (2020, Sept. 17). Sally drenched parts of Florida with “4 months of rain in 4 hours,” officials say. CNN.
Hurricane Laura swept ashore as one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S. (2020, Aug. 27). The New York Times.
Pederson, J. M. (2020, Sept. 24). Hurricane season 2020: One nonstop record-breaking year. Orlando Sentinel.
Witman, S. (2020, Sept. 25). A hopeful forecast: More accurate long-term weather predictions. The New York Times.