Florida unscathed again as hurricane season ends
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 12:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 12:46 p.m.
The Atlantic hurricane season ends today. For the third year in a row, a near record-breaking number of hurricanes and tropical storms formed during the six-month stretch.
Many experts issue forecasts on the eve of the hurricane season, which runs June 1-Nov. 30. How did they fare?
• Colorado State University: 10 named storms in the Atlantic, four hurricanes, two major (Category 3 or stronger.)
• The Weather Channel: 11 named storms, six hurricanes, two major.
• Accu-Weather: 12 named storms, five hurricanes, two major.
• Reality: 19 named storms, 10 hurricanes, one major.
• Named storms: 19 is well above the average of 12.
• Hurricanes: 10 is well above the average of six.
• Major hurricanes: One is below the average of three.
• Conclusion: “Based on the combined number, intensity and duration of all tropical storms and hurricanes, NOAA classifies the season as above-normal. 2012 was an active year, but not exceptionally so as there were 10 busier years in the last three decades.”
Source: National Hurricane Center
And for an unprecedented seventh straight year, no hurricanes hit Florida.
A total of 19 named storms formed this year, seven more than the historic average. The year tied 2010 and 2011 for the third-busiest season on record, exceeded by 28 storms in 2005 and 20 in 1933, according to information from Weather Underground.
In Alachua County the hardest hit from the storm season came in June, when Tropical Storm Debby dumped 12 inches of rain.
In all, 16.34 inches of rain fell during June 2012 — the record for the most rainfall ever in the month. Debby also caused some downed trees, potholes and rising river levels north of Alachua County.
The official hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. But this year the season started early, with the first storm's arrival on May 19, signaling a year that would defy forecasters.
Experts predicted that an El Niņo would squash storms late in the season, but the weather pattern never arrived. El Niņo, triggered by warmer than normal sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, sends strong winds over the Atlantic that blow hurricanes apart or prevent them from forming.
Of the 19 storms that formed this year, 10 became hurricanes, but only one — Michael — was a major hurricane. Its maximum winds reached 115 mph far out at sea.
Hurricanes Gordon and Sandy came 1 mph shy of reaching major hurricane strength. Gordon spun out to sea. Sandy brought its fiercest winds to the Bahamas, but its most significant impacts were felt in the northeast U.S. as it weakened, expanded in size, and merged with a cold front before making landfall on the New Jersey coast.
Sandy, which formed on Oct. 23, was the last active storm in the Atlantic this year and by far the most dramatic. The last storm to form was Tropical Storm Tony on Oct., 22, but it fizzled on Oct. 25.
Tropical Storm Alberto in May was followed shortly by Tropical Storm Beryl, another early arriver. Beryl struck the Florida-Georgia border with near hurricane force winds on May 27.
Although Florida received no hurricane damage, it did get pounded by heavy surf as storms passed offshore of the Sunshine State. Tropical Storm Debby caused major beach erosion along the Gulf Coast and widespread flooding in the northern part of the state.
Before becoming a hurricane, Isaac also caused a great deal of flooding on the state's east coast.
No insurance help
Despite Florida's good fortune in the hurricane department, don't expect property insurance rates to drop anytime soon.
Just consider the theme of an insurance industry conference this week: “Staying the Course.”
In Florida, property insurance has been on a course of higher rates and efforts to kick people out of state-run Citizens Property Insurance.
In keeping with that theme, industry officials said homeowners can expect rates to continue their upward trend in the near future, although one prominent Florida political leader warned them Thursday not to increase premiums by too much too fast.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said insurers should not push for changes next year that will be too costly for homeowners, because many Floridians are still struggling financially.
Atwater said median household income has declined 6.5 percent statewide since 2004, but the average household is paying 67 more percent more for property insurance.
Property insurance now eats up 4.6 percent of the average household's income, compared with 2.6 percent in 2004.
“We cannot expect that our urgency to the right market, as any one of us might see it, can outpace the ability of the consumer to adjust to the cost,” Atwater said.
Many insurance business leaders insist they still are not making enough money to cover their costs, despite the absence of a direct hurricane hit on Florida. They use terms like “rate inadequacy” and “rate suppression” to describe the problem, and pointed to a variety of reasons for the industry's struggles during the annual Florida Chamber of Commerce Insurance Summit.
Blame went to regulatory efforts by former Gov. Charlie Crist to hold down rates, competition from Citizens and a big uptick recently in non-hurricane loses stemming from sinkholes, water damage and other issues.
“We haven't yet gotten to a place where the premium dollars that are coming in are adequately covering the risk,” said Don Brown, an insurance agent and former state lawmaker who works as a consultant for two of Florida's largest property insurance companies.
The chamber event is meant to help set the stage for the annual legislative debate over insurance issues in Florida. The Legislature will convene for its 60-day session in March.
In recent years the chamber has worked with insurance companies on a series of bills designed to shrink Citizens and move more policies into the private market.
The efforts have included a strong push – so far unsuccessful — to lift the 10 percent annual cap on Citizens' rate increases.
Private insurers complain that Citizens' rates are too low to cover claims after a major disaster, and that competition from the company prevents them for charging adequate rates.
But consumer advocates say Citizens has helped protect homeowners from massive rate increases and note that the company has enough resources to pay claims in all but the most catastrophic event.
Citizens' new CEO Barry Gilway told the conference attendees on Thursday that raising the company's rates is one of his top priorities, although he added that price increases must be incremental.
Gilway said Citizens has taken 31 steps to make the company less attractive to consumers by no longer covering certain risks, from car ports and pool cages to expensive homes. But each coverage reduction was “designed to make up for the one issue that we truly have to face ultimately, and that is that we have rate inadequacy.”
Citizens raised the price of a typical homeowner's policy by 10.8 percent this year, 6.2 percent in 2011 and 10.3 percent in 2010.
Some private insurers have enacted even larger increases. State regulators allowed increases of up to 18 percent for private companies this year and more than 30 percent for multiple insurers in 2011.
Despite the increased revenue coming in, many Florida insurers have done a poor job of growing reserves and improving their overall financial stability, analysts say.
Through the first six months of this year, five of the state's 10 largest private Florida-based insurers reported underwriting losses, according to data from the state Office of Insurance Regulation. Four of the five companies received rate increases in 2011. Reserves used to pay claims declined at three of the five over the last year.
Of the 10 companies, only one improved its financial picture enough over the last two years to warrant an upgraded rating from Weiss.
Kate Spinner and Zac Anderson write for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a sister paper of the Sun. Jim Ross can be reached in Ocala at 352-671-6412 or email@example.com