Expert Has ‘Bad News:’ 06′ Hurricane Season Could Repeat 05′

By | February 10, 2006

There is no reason to expect any change in hurricane patterns in the near future, the number of hurricanes have been increasing since 1995 and will continue to do so for the next decade or two, according to Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Mayfield admitted he was the bearer of “bad news” as he cautioned more than 1,000 insurance adjusters, mediators and attorneys attending the Feb. 8 to 11 Seventh Annual Windstorm Insurance Conference in Orlando to prepare for what very likely will be a 2006 repeat performance of 2004 and 2005. Mayfield even suggested that due to the La Nina effect, there could be more hurricanes in 2006 than there were in 2005.

“Homeowners in areas where previous hurricanes have damaged their property need to complete minor repairs before the next hurricane season,” Mayfield explained. “What seem like small items, a loose shingle for instance, will be weaknesses if another hurricane comes through, and could result in major damage if not repaired now.”

Everyone in coastal areas, and even homeowners living away from the coast need to prepare now for the 2006 hurricane season, Mayfield told the overflow crowd attending the conference. The event was so popular this year that a second conference room, to which the presentations were broadcast on closed-circuit television, had to be set up to accommodate attendees who could not fit into the main area.

“Hurricanes are not just coastal events,” Mayfield said, “when a hurricane moves onto land with it come heavy rain and tornadoes that can devastate inland areas far inland from the center of the hurricane.

He showed maps indicating the paths of 2005’s major hurricanes and proved his point by showing that one person was killed in a Hurricane Katrina-spawned tornado, in Georgia, hundreds of miles from the eye of the hurricane.

Evacuations essential

Another weakness Mayfield observed during the 2005 hurricane season was the unwillingness of homeowners to evacuate areas in which the cone-of-probability showed hurricanes could strike.

“Only 10 percent of residents in the Keys, for example, evacuated,” Mayfield said. “That isn’t good enough. If a major hurricane had moved in there would have been major problems.

“If it looks like there is going to be a tidal surge, you have to flee the water, Mayfield explained. “If there is a large storm surge, it doesn’t matter how well a house is built, or what it is build from, the flooding is going to enter the house and no matter how tall you are, it won’t help.”

Hurricanes are unpredictable

While hurricane tracking procedures have become more accurate, Mayfield emphasized that even the most experienced hurricane trackers at the center expect hurricanes to do erratic things and their paths are unpredictable.

He showed graphs showing that over the past 12 years, Hurricane Center predictions have improved by 50 percent.

Mayfield said he fears that one day we will expect a category one hurricane and wake up to a Katrina. He pointed out that while Katrina was in the Gulf of Mexico, it went within 24 hours from a category one hurricane to a category five.

“Luckily, before it hit New Orleans and Mississippi, it lost strength,” he said.

Mayfield pointed out that New Orleans was to the west of where Katrina made landfall, which is supposed to be on the weak side of the hurricane. He said the strongest winds hit Mississippi. Katrina reached category five velocity before going ashore, but Mayfield said New Orleans felt category three winds from the storm.

He showed numerous photos of damage done by Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi. He cautioned everyone, if you decide to ride out a hurricane at home, make sure you buy a hatched and an ax to take up into the attic with you so that if the water rises into the attic you can cut your way out through the roof. He said many deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina were due to people who were trapped inside their attics with no way to escape.

Mayfield showed topographic maps illustrating parts of New Orleans that were flooded and several large areas were nowhere near the levee breaks.

“Some areas of New Orleans that were flooded had nothing to do with breaks in levees,” Mayfield said. “Neither did any of those on the Mississippi coast.”

Hurricane Center in the forefront

The National Hurricane Center sponsors hurricane workshops and has already held two this year; it will participate in the May 21 to 27 National Hurricane Preparedness Week; has set up a hurricane hotline; and has a hurricane liaison team that briefs local emergency centers about how to prepare for hurricanes.

Mayfield concluded by saying that city building officials should prepare for future hurricanes by toughening up building codes. When implemented, he said improved building codes will reduce the number of structures destroyed during hurricanes and reduce insurance claims due to more structurally sound construction.

The Windstorm Insurance Conference continues Feb. 10 and 11 with a wide assortment of workshops and general sessions. Friday’s general session features two sessions kicking off with an 8 a.m. ABA/TIPS Panel on “The Catastrophic Loss: The Integral Roles of Adjuster and Expert.” An ethics presentation follows at 9:15 a.m. “Why ‘Good Enough’ Never Is,” with Dr. Dale Henry.

Saturday morning sessions, beginning at 8:30 a.m., will feature the annual business meeting and presentations on “Victors Without Victims: Managing Conflicts for a Positive and Ethical Outcome, by Audrey Nelson Ph.D., and “What Katrina and the Human Spirit Have in Common,” by former University of Florida star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel.

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