Hurricane Michael: Why it may cause less damage than Florence

Despite carrying winds topping 150 miles per hour, Hurricane Michael could end up causing less economic pain in Florida and other affected states. The reason? The sheer speed of the Category 4 storm.   

The damage is expected to total between $2 billion and $4.5 billion, according to CoreLogic. Last month's slower-moving Hurricane Florence caused $38 billion in damage, while Hurricane Harvey in 2017 resulted in property losses of $125 billion as it pounded Texas and Louisiana for days.

Unlike Hurricane Florence, Michael is a fast-moving storm that's likely to maintain its intensity even after making landfall Wednesday afternoon, according to Risk Management Solutions. While Michael is expected to dump up to a foot of rain in some places, it is projected to move relatively quickly across Georgia and North and South Carolina without creating massive flooding.

Last month's slower-moving Hurricane Florence caused $38 billion in damage, while Hurricane Harvey in 2017 resulted in property losses of $125 billion as it pounded Texas and Louisiana for days.

Modeling and analytics firms are used by insurers and state and local governments to predict where emergency resources are most needed and to assess potential damage.

Palm trees are seen during a Hurricane Michael in Panama City

Palm trees are seen during a Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media. 

SOCIAL MEDIA / REUTERS

The worst destruction was expected to occur where Michael made land in Florida between Mexico Beach and Panama City, as well as the nearby state capital of Tallahassee, where the government shut down for the day. Estimated 14-foot waves called "storm surge" were driven ashore by high winds and the shallow waters just off the coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

"Shallow water is worse because the water is trapped and has no escape," said Dr. Tom Jeffrey of CoreLogic.  

CoreLogic has found that at least 57,000 coastal homes, as well as high-rise condos and businesses, were at risk from Michael. The total reconstruction value if all these homes were actually destroyed could amount to $13.4 billion. Its figure for total possible damage includes single-family residential homes, manufactured and mobile homes, as well as cabins, but it doesn't include damage to other structures..

Since the Sunshine State has been battered by so many hurricanes, including the destructive Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Floridians are better prepared to handle flooding than virtually any other state. Florida homeowners have bought about one-third of the 5 million flood insurance policies issued by the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program. That's more than twice as many as Texas, the next closest state. 

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018.

STEVE NESIUS / REUTERS

Florida also has a vibrant private flood insurance market for homeowners and businesses to purchase coverage.

Put in perspective by Lynne McChristian, who teaches about insurance at Florida State University at Tallahassee: "If the entire state were to sink, Floridians would collect $442 billion in flood insurance."

That may be small comfort, however, for the 120,000 Floridians, many of them in Panama City, who faced mandatory evacuations as Michael approached. 

  • Ed Leefeldt

    Ed Leefeldt is an award-winning investigative and business journalist who has worked for Reuters, Bloomberg and Dow Jones, and contributed to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He is also the author of The Woman Who Rode the Wind, a novel about early flight.