Tag Archive for: Florida

Insurance Companies Limit Exposure In Florida, California. Will Texas Be Next?

An article in the New York Times on July 14 listed insurance companies limiting coverage or pulling out of disaster prone states.

  • Farmers said it will limit coverage in Florida
  • Eight smaller insurers have gone bankrupt in Florida in the last two years.
  • State Farm and Allstate have stopped selling policies in California, and Farmers has limited them there.

Separately, a Washington Post investigation found that some Florida policyholders had their claims cut by more than 80 percent after Hurricane Ian last year. The headline screams, “Insurers slashed Hurricane Ian payouts far below damage estimates…”

Risks Vs. Rewards of Living Near Water

I’ve written before about how the love of living near water can outweigh the fear of consequences that sometimes accompanies it.

If you google “benefits of living near water,” you will quickly find 1.9 billion results. Many of them are from residential developers near rivers, lakes, streams and seashores. They make health and emotional claims such as:

  • Lowers stress and anxiety
  • Increases in well-being and happiness
  • Lowers heart and breathing rates
  • Healthier lifestyle.

Now google “disadvantages of living near water.” You get half that number of results. They tend to cluster around:

  • Flood damage
  • Pollution
  • Erosion
  • Increased maintenance and insurance costs

For Most People, Rewards Generally Outweigh Risks

It’s not that people don’t recognize the disadvantages of living near water. It’s just that most enjoy the benefits more. AND they figure that insurance companies will make them whole should disaster strike.

But now, at least in some states, insurance companies seem to be caught in a squeeze between shareholders and regulators. And they’re making some tough calls that will force policy holders to re-evaluate whether the rewards of living near water are worth the risks.

As I scrolled through my library of almost 50,000 flood-related images last week, I wondered how long it might be before Texans experienced the same insurance problems now facing Florida and California residents.

Our love of water, buoyed by the courageous, optimistic spirit of Texans, leads many to take risks that I personally would not take.

Bolivar Peninsula Denser than Before Ike

In that regard, I remember the Bolivar Peninsula after Hurricane Ike. Ike’s storm surge brought total destruction to 30,000 homes in 2008. See the images below these first three satellite images. The satellite images show the same area before, immediately after, and 15 years later on the Bolivar.

Google Earth image showing residential area on Bolivar Peninsula the week before Ike struck in September 2008. Note large, open undeveloped areas.
Same area day after Ike. Total destruction. See ground-level shots below.
Bolivar Peninsula today

The Bolivar today has denser development than it did before Ike. Such is our collective love of water…that we quickly forget or overlook the destruction that happened just 15 years ago. Here’s what it looked like on the ground.

Destruction on Bolivar Peninsula After Hurricane Ike

This was an excellent opportunity to buy people out and turn this area into a national seashore. But that was politically unpalatable.
Power not only went down. The entire power infrastructure was taken out.
One of the few homes left standing.

We’ve spent the 15 years since Ike studying proposals to build an Ike Dike that could protect such properties. But in June 2023, the Houston Chronicle reported that it could be 2040 before construction completion of the $34 billion project.

Until then, it’s “swim at your own risk.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/18/2023

2149 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Lessons from Florida and Ian for Harris County

Best-selling Florida author/journalist Craig Pittman penned a poignant post for the Florida Phoenix about the state’s problems evacuating coastal communities before hurricanes. While the article uses evacuation to make a point, it’s really about a political culture that permits developments that put people’s lives at risk. It’s a cautionary tale for Texas, especially Harris County where flooding is such a huge issue and where the current leadership seems to have lost interest in mitigating it.

Ignoring Evacuation Standards

The title of Pittman’s article is “Development on Florida’s barrier islands made Ian evacuation virtually impossible.”

The story traces the approval of a high-rise development on a Florida barrier island that sought building permits, despite warnings that population density would lead to a 96-hour evacuation time.

Florida has a 16-hour evacuation standard. But only 9 of the state’s 45 counties can meet it. 

Florida Phoenix article by Craig Pittman

A loophole in Florida law lets developers mitigate evacuation delays with storm shelters. “They can do that by building new storm shelters, donating land for storm shelters, or donating money for storm shelters. In other words, it’s all about shelters, not about making it any easier to get off the island,” says Pittman.

“Dial a Prayer” for Buyers after Rebuilding

Then along came a hurricane named Ian – almost a Category 5 storm. Lee County (three barrier islands) didn’t issue evacuation orders until 24-hours in advance and at least 119 people died. 

Pittman ends with this sage advice regarding rebuilding in the same place. “You know the elected officials will be bowing to whatever those developers want. So, here’s my suggestion. They should approve building in those areas that Ian destroyed, but with one requirement. Every single would-be buyer should get a photo showing exactly what that spot looked like after Ian hit.”

“Then, if they still want to buy there, give them the phone number for Dial-A-Prayer. They’re going to need it, because if another Ian hits, the only one who can help them is Jesus.”

Similarities with Texas: Ill-Advised Political Decisions

Houston had a disastrous experience with evacuation during 180 mph Hurricane Rita. Evacuation attempts were tied to 107 deaths of Houston-area residents alone. Now, we don’t even try to evacuate from wind anymore. But as I read Pittman’s article, I thought of posts I have written about our ill-advised development practices that put people in harm’s way or that contribute to flooding. Some of the highlights include:

Light pole along evacuation route for Hurricane Harvey. A proposed high-rise development (that failed) would have had thousands trying to evacuate through this area. Photo by Jim Balcom.

How soon we forget!

Lessons for Harris County

Five years after Harvey, we’ve squandered an opportunity. Articles like those above are becoming more common, not less. As fear of flooding has receded, so has the zeal to hold developers to higher standards. And the pace of flood-mitigation efforts has slowed. We’ve squandered our best chance – perhaps ever – to address flooding.

For example, fourteen months after the Texas General Land Office notified Harris County that it would get $750 million to mitigate flooding, the County has yet to submit a plan for how it would spend the money. 

In fact, the county has yet to identify a single project in the plan. Lina Hidalgo, the Harris County judge, gave the project to her Community Services department instead of Flood Control. So far, Community Services has only identified a process for determining the plan. The department is still waiting on “direction from leadership” to identify projects that add up to $750 million. 

Duh! Did someone think of listing all the unfunded flood-bond projects? This is what I mean about the loss of zeal on the part of the county leader. 

The Public-Safety Threat and What to Do About It

Potential flooding is as much of a public-safety threat as crime. Harvey stole $125 billion from people and businesses. That’s more than $30,000 for every person in Harris County. It’s time we took flooding seriously again. We need to regain our sense of urgency about flood-reduction efforts. That’s why ReduceFlooding has endorsed Alexandra del Moral Mealer for County Judge. She is laser-focused on the issues that matter most in Harris County.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/18/22

1876 Days since Hurricane Harvey 

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Eta Slimes Florida With Foot of Rain So Far, Sets New Record, More Storms May Follow

After killing more than 100 people in Central America, Eta made landfall across the Florida Keys overnight and has now moved west into the SE Gulf of Mexico. Numerous curved bands continue to rotate into southern Florida where more than 13 inches of rainfall has been recorded. Eta is the 12 landfalling tropical system on the US coast this season…the previous record was 9 in 1916.

This morning’s satellite image shows the eye of Eta visible in yesterday’s images has collapsed.

Meanwhile, two more storms are brewing in the Atlantic. One is heading away from land. The other, which has a 50% chance of formation in the next five days is moving into the central Caribbean.

Discussion of Eta

Eta’s made landfall on the middle Florida Keys late yesterday evening and has continued westward across Florida Bay and is now over the SE Gulf of Mexico. Eta has maintained well-defined circulation. The wind field has also expanded with tropical storm force winds extending well away from the center and well north along the Florida coast. 

The official forecast from the NHC takes Eta toward north Florida, but much divergence remains among the models.

ETA’s Track 

Eta will move west to WSW for the next 24 hours, then meander over the SE/E Gulf of Mexico into the middle of the week. The storm could stall over the warm waters of the Gulf loop current. But by later this week, a strong upper-level trough should turn Eta north and then northeast back toward Florida. However, forecast models vary widely. Confidence is low regarding the track forecast. Large changes remain possible. Little consensus exists between weather models.

TropicalTidbits.com shows wide divergence of models.
The South Florida Water Management District shows even less consensus.

Eta’s Intensity

Even though Eta is moving over warm waters, wind sheer and surrounding dry air should keep it in check. The official forecast brings Eta to a minimal hurricane over the SE Gulf of Mexico before weakening again late in the week. 

Other Storms

Two other areas of interest have developed in the Atlantic basin and 97L over the eastern Atlantic has a high chance of developing into a tropical system while the tropical wave approaching the Caribbean has a medium chance of developing later this week. The next tropical storm will break the previous record for the most tropical storms in an Atlantic hurricane season.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/9/2020

1168 Days since Hurricane Harvey