Bubil: Consumer lessons on storm surge


CoreLogic's recently released 2014 Storm Surge Report might have alarmed a lot of homeowners.

Unnecessarily, in my opinion.

The report estimated that 6.5 million homes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts have some risk of damage from a hurricane-related storm surge, with a total potential loss of $1.5 trillion.

"When you say '6.5 million properties and $1.5 trillion total damages,' to be honest, all that is is a headline," said Thomas Jeffery, senior hazard scientist for CoreLogic Spatial Solutions, in an interview with the Herald-Tribune. "For the individual property owner, that is more than they would want to know.

"But when we look at the individual MSAs, our numbers have real meaning. If a hurricane were to make a direct hit, it could affect a substantial number" of homes on CoreLogic's list.

For example, in the North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota metro area, the number of houses and condominiums at risk of destruction by storm surge is 228,000, with 142,000 of them having high, very high or extreme risk, according to CoreLogic. These properties represent $42 billion in reconstruction value, excluding land, driveways and foundations.

CoreLogic sells such information to insurance companies and other financial services firms so they can assess risk before they invest.

My interpretation of such data is simple: Don't lose sleep over it. The chance of losing 228,000 homes in a storm surge is slim.

CoreLogic may as well have estimated how many buildings would be destroyed if a 5-mile-wide asteroid landed in Kansas. Yes, $1.5 trillion could be destroyed by Katrina-like storm surges, but it would take a lot of Katrinas to pull that off.

The situation in flood areas is actually getting better, not worse, as old houses at grade are being replaced by elevated houses. The large new houses in velocity zones along the coast, by FEMA requirement, are elevated so that the main living floor is 12 to 15 feet up, or higher. They have breakaway walls at ground level so storm surge can wash beneath the building with minimal damage.

CoreLogic admits, "depending upon the amount of surge water from a given storm, there may be less than 100 percent damage to the residence, which would result in a lower realized reconstruction cost."

Jeffery added, "Even a low-category hurricane or strong tropical storm can ... cause significant destruction of property." Not to mention the serious denting of your wallet by high insurance premiums. He agrees that property owners should take the small steps to minimize financial exposure to storm surge.

"It starts with understanding your property's location in relation to the risk," he said. "That is vitally important."

Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Wayne Sallade took note of a key omission from the CoreLogic report: potential loss of life.

"I don't care about your stuff," said Sallade. "But this is 2014, and we should not lose one life to hurricane winds and storm surge."

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: July 27, 2014
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