Ian’s impact: from predictions and preparation to property insurance and politics

Ten days ago, few could have guessed the many ways Hurricane Ian would change Florida’s future. This week we take a look at how Ian has influenced everything from forecasting to storm preparation and from property insurance to political campaigning.

Five days of dramatic forecast shifts for Fort Myers

Within five days before Ian landed, the residents of Fort Myers were faced with difficult decisions based on Ian’s unpredictable path and strength. The storm’s path and strength varied significantly, likely causing many to delay or pause their storm preparations over the weekend while officials focused the majority of their storm preparations and warnings on Tampa and larger communities that are directly in the forecast for a crucial period were away.

It’s worth a quick look back at how things have changed so dramatically.

At 5 a.m. Friday, September 23, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that Tropical Storm Ian would become a hurricane, targeting somewhere between Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. governor Ron DeSantis wasted no time in declaring a state of emergency for 24 counties along the path of the potential storm. At 11:00 a.m., the NHC revised the forecast to predict that Ian would become a “major” hurricane (Category 3 or greater) before making landfall. But where did it go?

But in the days that followed, the path faltered. From that initial warning through 11 a.m. Tuesday, Fort Myers residents and local officials had every reason to believe they could be spared a serious hit. Ian’s planned course shifted dramatically north, initially targeting Tallahassee, with residents of Fort Myers and even Sanibel Island breathing a sigh of relief after the NHC’s “Cone of Uncertainty” showed they were just outside the storm’s potential path .

It wouldn’t last. Gradually, Ian’s path slowly drifted south, but still only as a Category 2 storm or below.

As of 5 a.m. Tuesday, the storm was still generally targeting Tampa, 100 miles north. It wasn’t until 11 a.m. Tuesday, just 28 hours before landfall, that Ian began to show a southward drift that would eventually put the heart of the deadly storm on a direct path to Fort Myers.

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That shift between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday was dramatic — both in terms of the hurricane’s path and its strength. There’s a big difference in how people — including officials and local residents — react to a Category 2 storm making landfall over 100 miles away and a direct hit from a Category 5 storm. And while it is wise to err on the side of caution, a delicate balancing act is required lest the public be unnecessarily lulled into false alarms or panicked. State and local officials and Fort Myers residents were thrust into a difficult situation without warning.

Media reports from various outlets Sunday morning put the Florida death toll from a low of 44 to as high as 70 from Ian, and that number could be rising.

Will Ian arrange a special meeting on property insurance in November?

A handful of insurance journals have already published some raw exposure data for a handful of insurers who are making their data public, and that’s not pretty. Most estimates focus on the hardest-hit counties according to Ian’s entourage, including Manatee, Sarasota, Desoto, Charlotte and Lee, and include six different companies, including state-backed Citizens, with very preliminary estimates of about 225,000 expected claims with a potential exposure of approximately $3.8 billion. If that estimate is correct, it’s a painful but survivable number for citizens.

But that’s a pretty big “if”.

Other companies include USAA and its subsidiaries with approximately $6.8 billion of total exposure, Cypress Property and Casualty Insurance with $4.4 billion of risk, Allstate’s Castle Key Indemnity Company with $4.3 billion Dollar and TypTap Insurance with an estimated exposure of $3.7 billion. All in all, that’s about $23 billion and doesn’t include a number of Florida insurers that don’t publish their data. Overall exposure will no doubt be significantly higher. Many of these estimates were made before the reality of Ian’s power was fully known. And flood damage is likely excluded from most of these damage estimates, meaning many homeowners uninsured in the event of a flood will have to seek relief from the federal government.

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What is well known is that Florida’s property insurance woes will dominate the headlines for the coming months, putting increasing pressure on state legislatures to do something to address the growing problem of rising premiums, tight coverage and the future – certain financial implications of Ian.

After every major disaster, scammers descend on affected areas to prey on victims or make their claims to take advantage of insurers. Whether it’s contractors promising water damage mitigation, roofers taking advantage of the state’s lenient “attribution of benefits” provision, or attorneys eager to compile a list of plaintiffs to pressure insurers into quick settlements, there’s big bucks change hands in the coming months.

All of this adds up to a situation that could require quick action to meet the needs of homeowners and insurance companies, both of which need each other to coexist in Florida.

The 2022 governor’s race is completely out of Charlie Crist’s control

Even before Hurricane Ian made landfall last week, destroying homes and livelihoods en route, Charlie Crist was doomed to lose his third national election next November. Crist, underperforming in every credible poll and badly underperforming in fundraising, needed something, anything, to change the game, shake up voters and give his dying political career a much-needed boost.

The conventional wisdom of many pundits is that Hurricane Ian gave Charlie Crist a chance. You are wrong.

Only if Gov. Ron DeSantis screws up, and badly, could Charlie Crist stand a chance. And if that doesn’t happen, this campaign is now completely out of Crist’s control. He’s now relegated to the task of trying to be seen on TV handing out water in the disaster zone from now through November, trying to outdo DeSantis by showing that he cares. Meanwhile, DeSantis will control much of the news cycle for the final five weeks of the campaign.

Crist’s situation is not unlike that of a football team that is several points behind towards the end of the game. DeSantis has the ball, and Crist needs not just a turnover and a touchdown, but several of both.

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That’s because Floridians have historically proven to be extremely lenient and bipartisan when it comes to hurricane response — as long as their governor shows true leadership. Case in point: After Hurricane Wilma made landfall in October 2005, leaving a trail similar to Ian’s, millions of South Florida residents desperately sought ice and water. Delivery trucks had been delayed by fuel shortages and some miscommunication between FEMA and state emergency planners. At designated distribution points, citizens waited for hours for shipments that never arrived. Then-Governor Jeb Bush suddenly found himself in the unwanted position of comparing his response to the similar failures of Hurricane Katrina, which had made landfall just two months earlier.

Instead of pointing the finger, Jeb Bush admitted the mistake. Here’s how the AP reported it:

Gov. Jeb Bush yesterday blamed himself for frustrating delays at centers distributing relief supplies to victims of Hurricane Wilma, saying criticism of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was misguided.

“Don’t blame FEMA. That’s our responsibility,” Bush said at a news conference in Tallahassee with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who oversees the agency.

And the result? According to a Quinnipiac poll of voters on the state’s response to Hurricane Wilma, approval fell from a year-over-year high of nearly 80 percent after the extremely destructive hurricane season of 2004 to… drum roll please… a low of 69 percent. Of course, any politician with a job approval rating of 69 percent does pretty well, even among members of the opposing political party.

The task for DeSantis is pretty simple from now until November. Communicate as much as possible. Run the reaction and recovery. When mistakes are inevitably made, don’t point the finger. own them Finally, don’t get caught playing political games. The race is now firmly under DeSantis’ control and all he has to do is do the job we hired him to do.