Hurricane Andrew hit Florida’s coast 20 years ago Friday, but the repercussions are still reverberating, from forecasting accuracy to the way insurance companies issue coverage policies.
The Category 5 storm killed 15 people in Miami-Dade, left 150,000 homeless and brought some of the best and the worst reforms, from stronger building codes to an insurance model that puts taxpayers on the hook for catastrophic losses, according to news reports.
Entering the eye of Hurricane Andrew in a research aircraft on a Saturday in August 1992, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Frank Marks realized the storm had increased in strength and was making a beeline for South Florida, according to the (Sarasota) Tampa-Tribune.
But it would be hours before experts at the National Hurricane Center got that critical information and Sunday morning before the public heard.
Had current technology been available before Andrew struck, hurricane warnings for Miami-Dade County would have gone out two days before the Category 5 storm made its historic landfall 20 years ago, giving people time to prepare for its arrival.
Scientific advancements have enabled weather experts to now make predictions five to seven days ahead that are as accurate as those that were made three days out 20 years ago. That facilitates better emergency management decisions — with life safety and cost implications — about evacuations and other preparations.
Until Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Andrew was the costliest natural disaster in American history. The storm flattened entire neighborhoods south of Miami, causing $26 billion in damage.
The destruction led to a vast array of improvements — stronger building codes, sharper forecasting, earlier public warnings and better emergency management procedures — but left Florida’s property insurance market in shambles, according to the Florida Current.
The state remains vulnerable as more residents move to the coasts and build bigger homes, as the public becomes lax about evacuations and as homeowners assume greater financial risk as a way to afford spiking insurance premiums.
Renewed debate in Congress about raising premiums for state-run insurance company Citizens has scared recession-weary Floridians — who already pay about $4,000 a year in windstorm premiums on a $200,000 home — into thinking they will be priced out of the peninsula, according to Time Magazine.