668,000 Florida homes at risk from Hurricane Dorian

By Ed Leefeldt

/ MoneyWatch

Dorian threatens real estate worth billions

Hurricane Dorian's triple punch of wind, rain and storm surge could cause tens of billions of dollars in property damage if it maintains its current ferocity and barrels into the Florida coast, experts predicted Friday as they tracked the Category 3 storm's path.

Dorian may intensify into a Category 4 firm, with potentially catastrophic wind speeds of 140 miles per hour, ahead of making landfall. But even a Category 3 storm, where winds reach 129 mph, puts 668,000 single- and multi-family homes in the heavily populated state of 21 million at "potential risk," according to CoreLogic, which predicts disaster losses. Those residences have a total reconstruction cost of $145 billion.

As with all hurricanes, many variables come into play in assessing the risks. One is the "Bermuda High," a subtropical area of high atmospheric pressure that could push Dorian toward Miami, instead of its current target of Port St. Lucie. If Dorian grows stronger, it could even push on toward Cape Canaveral, Jacksonville and into Georgia or even the Carolinas, according to CoreLogic meteorologist David Betten.

Danger of "King Tides"

Another factor that could affect the extent of damage is the tide. Two super high tides in Florida, called "King Tides," are expected at nearly the same time as Dorian, CoreLogic storm surge analyst Shelly Yerkes said. These King Tides would worsen Dorian's storm surge, potentially causing even more damage to the state's coastal homes. The number of people living along the coast has risen by more than 4 million since 2000, according to U.S. Census data, and 98 percent of Floridians live in coastal counties.

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Meanwhile, up to 15 inches of precipitation in some areas could flood rivers and lakes, which would dump their water into the ocean at the same time the storm surge rolls in. That would likely create a huge backwash that could cause more damage.

"Only one inch of standing water in a home can cause $25,000 worth of damage," Yerkes said. Even inland, many homes in Florida are less than 10 feet above sea level.

Florida residents preparing ahead of Hurricane Dorian

Due to its history of hurricanes, Florida is more prepared than most states for big storms. "Six of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have impacted Florida," Loretta Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, which represents the industry. The state leads the nation with nearly 2 million flood insurance policies in force.

But as CoreLogic points out, this only represents coverage for about one third of the state's homes and businesses. The rest just have "wind damage" coverage. Depending on how long the slow-moving Dorian – with a current speed of just 12 mph – stalls over the state, rain could be a bigger loss-maker than wind, as happened in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston.

First published on August 30, 2019 / 5:41 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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