Florida hurricane danger: It’s not the wind, it’s the water | An editorial by Orlando Sentinel

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For decades, it’s been a pervasive trope: True Floridians don’t fret about the violent tropical weather, they just load up on snacks and adult beverages, hunker down and ride, then head out the next day to fire up their chainsaws and scavenge debris.

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Of course that has never been the case. The only Floridians who could afford to act with such blasphemous indifference were either woefully ignorant or already prepared, with barriers for windows and doors, adequate insurance coverage, stockpiles of necessary supplies, and a plan that covered known contingencies. They figured out that by the time the spaghetti maps and cones of uncertainty shrunk to head straight our way, it was too late to make any meaningful preparations.

However, as recent storms have shown, the threats are shifting. The annual hurricane season was only a few days away, and we already had Tropical Storm Arlene in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. Hurricane readiness in 2023 doesn’t look like it did in 2013, due to a terrifying reality: The greatest threat to life and property is water, not wind, and few places in Florida are truly flood-safe. , although many residents, especially in communities. miles from a coast, I have not faced this danger.

Even the staunchest climate change deniers cannot ignore the images of residents evacuating apartment complexes near the University of Central Florida by boat after Hurricane Ian, or the scenes of unprecedented flooding across Broward County in April. As sea levels continue to rise and the oceans warm, large storms named or otherwise will dump heavier and heavier loads of water across the state. Inland water bodies will overflow their levees, and the high, sandy ground that once allowed rainwater to sink rapidly into the ground (where it replenished the state’s fresh water supply) is rapidly being covered with buildings and asphalt to accommodate more than 1,000 new resident one day.

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All of this in the nation’s flattest state spells trouble. Florida’s flood maps are seriously out of date; in fact, the entire state is a flood zone.

Avoid a watery grave

The long tradition of hiding from windstorms has an ancestor in the old saying: Hide from the wind, flee from the water. Floridians who have relied on storm shutters, generators, and other investments to protect themselves and their property from gale-force winds and the resulting loss of electrical power must expand their plans to include the potential even the likelihood that shelter in place will be an increasingly risky proposition. If heavy rains are a threat, evacuation may be the only answer.

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Ian’s death toll showed the stark new reality. Of the 109 lives directly caused by that historic storm, more than 60% drowned. Nearly all occurred in coastal areas and occurred during the initial hurricane surge. As the storms become more violent, those surges will reach inland with floodwaters submerging single-story structures.

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Every Floridian needs an evacuation plan and the determination to avoid storms that could bring heavy rain. Everyone needs a checklist of things to pack for an evacuation—food, medicine, pets, essential paperwork, and more—and when emergency management officials say it’s time to go, go.

Another policy

Changing threats also lead to new costs starting with insurance.

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By most estimates, less than 20% of Florida homeowners purchase flood insurance. It’s not hard to figure out: The cost of property insurance has skyrocketed in the state, and legislators and Governor Ron DeSantis have responded with insultingly inadequate measures that mostly protect insurance companies’ profit margins. And they’ve mostly ignored reports of increasingly anti-consumer trends, such as a recent Washington Post investigation that found several insurance companies delaying and denying valid claims.

Asking Floridians to pay even more for flood insurance when they live on properties they’ve always considered high and dry is a tough sell, compounded by the fact that many state leaders are unrealistic about flood threats.

But doing without it could leave homes and business owners without the coverage they desperately need. Floridians who don’t have this coverage should add it if possible.

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One thing, however, will never change. Living in Florida comes with a responsibility: You are your first line of self-defense. That doesn’t absolve state leaders who make politics with climate change or cater to special interests with deep pockets, but there is no substitute for family preparedness.

It’s still a good idea to stock up on essential flashlights, non-perishable food, tarps and portable generators, medicines, and pet supplies. It’s smart to inspect roofs and cut dangerous limbs from trees, install shutters, or invest in plywood to cover windows and doors.

Floridians need to add another reality, however: None of these things will work if they’re underwater. And no matter where a property is located, the threat of flooding can no longer be dismissed.

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The Orlando Sentinel editorial board consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. This opinion piece was originally published by the Orlando Sentinel, which is a media partner of The Invading Sea website (www.theinvadingsea.com). The site publishes news and commentary on climate change and other environmental issues affecting Florida.

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