HURRICANE SEASON. Words which strike fear in the minds of most mortals. That is, at least, if one listens to all the hype and scary music on the local news channels… but is the annual fear and panic justified?

Facts and perspective: As with Katrina in 2005 and Camille in 1969, most damage is done by rising tidal waters (Katrina also had other issues with faulty dykes and a city below sea-level); but most human tragedies could have been significantly mitigated had the populace paid closer attention to warnings (remember the loss-of-life hurricane parties during Camille?) and had the authorities acted more responsibly and promptly.

Compared to Andrew of 20 years ago, were Charlie and Wilma all ‘that’ devastating. They were destructive, but their cat 2 & 3 ill-effects were still relatively limited in both scale and location. Andrew was the first ‘50-year’ storm to hit South Florida since the 1945 & 1949 hurricanes of Key Largo and West Palm, but unless you were in southern Dade, even its wrath was not particularly “far” reaching. Donna and Cleo made a pretty direct shot across Fort Lauderdale in the sixties (over 40 years ago with damages comparable to Wilma or Charlie), but tidal surges were only a few feet. And where were ‘our’ devastating tidal surges with Charlie and Wilma? Even Andrew’s storm surge was nothing compared to the 10’-15’ storm waters in other parts of the country. Which is not to say a foot or so of water in one’s home is not serious, but no one was even close to being stranded on rooftops. Why?

First, one has to be on the ‘right’ side of an approaching storm and, second, wide shallow continental shelves and concave coastlines allow storm-driven waters to build up to almost unimaginable heights. Broward’s coast, on the other hand, is convex and we have water depths of thousands of feet just offshore; so I would posit the notion we will never have those legendary tidal surges.

Between New England, the southeast and Texas there are 3600 miles of coasts exposed to possible storms. In any ‘season’, a handful might threaten US shores with less than half considered ‘major’. Looking at the ‘odds’, and recognizing one has to usually be within 20 miles of the storm’s center to experience significant losses, typically only about 1% or so of the coast is potentially affected. Think about it, how many hurricanes have really crossed our paths the last 50-60+ years? Wilma is one in over half a century for greater Pompano/Boca. Andrew? One in half a century for Miami. And it’s over 40 years since Fort Lauderdale’s Cleo.

Unlike tornados and earthquakes or most fires, where there is little notice and little one can do to quickly avert disaster, hurricanes are generally slow to develop. Should a hurricane be a threat, the local media will be all over it (scarily trying to boost ratings) and government will be providing all kinds of information days and weeks in advance. Still, there is always the chance this could be our lucky, or not-so-lucky, year. So, while there are no lines at grocery and home improvement stores, it is prudent to make plans now. This is not the article to elaborate on all that should be done (there are all sorts of information from any number of sources), but I would encourage everyone to do the research and take the appropriate preparatory steps.

Hurricane season can also wreak havoc on real estate closings – even if not a threat ‘locally’. When a tropical storm or hurricane enters what is commonly referred to as the ‘box’, most property insurance companies will not write or approve a policy; so make sure your insurance requirements are approved while the ‘coast is clear’. AND, if your buyer must close on another property first, inquire to make sure their buyer has their insurances in place as well. If they can’t get insurance and can’t close, you may not be able to either.

The purpose of this article is NOT to lull the reader into a false sense of complacency, but rather to take some of the angst and hype out of the equation. Hurricanes are dangerous and should always be taken seriously; even a category 1 or 2 heading in your immediate direction deserves one’s closest attention. Yet with a little knowledge, understanding, and perspective (even if calling for evacuation), with prudent pre-preparation there should be no need for panic or excessive anxiety.

This article has been contributed by
Charles T. Berkley, CPM, CSM, RPA,
realtor and mortgage consultant in Lighthouse Point.


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