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The persistence of hurricanes

August 29 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I grew up on the east coast of the United States. Our summers were routinely spent in places like Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard or Rhode Island. I've visited family on Nantucket on an annual basis for the majority of the twenty years. And like seemingly everyone else on the east coast... I also spent a fair amount of time in Florida.

I share these things because I want to provide a platform for the following commentary on hurricanes persistent and cyclical impact on these coastlines.

Permanent structures should not be built in known regions of volitile weather patterns.

From my seat, it's almost that simple.

When you talk with locals in coastal Florida you repeatedly hear the same themes when it comes to permanent structures in hurricane-frequented zones. You hear statements like "there was never anything built here until recently. we had dunes to soften the blow of big storms and hurricanes and now the storms just slam into these houses and hotels"... or "there were fishing shacks out here for decades and longer. They were temproray by design because the fishermen knew they'd get blown down during hte next big storm."

I was in North Carolina a few weeks back and a friend shared that those houses on poles used to actually be on large sleds... they would be pulled away from the volitile oceanfront during large storm events and hurricane season.

Yet if you go to these regions today, especiually coastal Florida, you see massive structures built on the soft sand that buffers the waves. In some cases structures are built 20 - 30 feet from teh ocean. Note that I"m not talking about structures built years ago and have seen natural erosiion drive sand away... I'm talking about net new construction built that close.

We recently had a Florida conference in _____. The hotel we were in had just been reopened after being shut down for years after storms had casused extensive damage. The hotels on either side of us were all boarded up and didn't look like they'd be opened any time soon. Again, their damage was due to hurricanes and storms. I spoke to locals about hte storms, where they routinely came to land, etc... I was trying to understand the logic or lack of logic behind the construction. They shared that even if the storms didn't hit land structures close to teh ocean would get pounded. They told me about storms that stay offshore and just pound structrues for a day or two... or three.

Now, I know that there is the simple investment side of this equation. Builders will build where people will buy. They don't exist to create a structure that will last a certain number of years, etc... they exist to build and sell structures. Often times they are building and selling to people that are from elsewhere. They sell to people without a clue as to what a hurricane does adn how often they hit these coasts. They take advantage of others naivity, cut and run.

Further I'm aware of recent changes in the insurance industry (many insurance providers have pulled out of such areas due to the lack of soundness of insuring a structure that will almost postitively suffer from repeated large storm damage... and that teh Federal authorities for some unknown reason came in and agreeed to insure these same strucures).

I know all these things and yet I still, repeatedly find myself completely stumped as to why we see the hurricane carnage on TV year after year after year.

If you live near a live volcano and build your house at the base, expect lava. If you build in a flood plain, expect floods. And if you live in a zone frequented by hurricanes, expect hurricanes.

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