As the recent 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew spewed painful reminders of Mother Nature's nasty potential, forecasters have eased earlier hurricane forecasts, saying now that the rest of the year will likely not be as active as earlier anticipated. But that doesn't mean you don't need to worry if you live on the coastline. After all, Andrew hit during an otherwise quiet year.
A consensus of scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, Hurricane Research Division, and National Hurricane Center say that because of the strengthening El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, the 2002 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to feature normal to below normal overall activity.
So, the probability of a below-normal season has increased from 20 percent to 40 percent compared to the outlook issued back in May. The likelihood of an above-normal season has decreased from 35 percent to 10 percent, and the probability of a near-normal season has increased slightly from 45 percent to 50 percent.
In a separate forecast made last month by William Gray and Colorado State University, a revised forecast reduces the May prediction of 11 named storms - the biggies, like Andrew - six hurricanes and two major hurricanes to nine named storms, four hurricanes and one major hurricane.
"This is good news for coastal residents. However, this does not mean that there will not be significant United States and Caribbean hurricane spawned destruction," said Gray. "For example, 1992's Hurricane Andrew was the only major storm in a very inactive year but came ashore in south Florida and Louisiana and caused extensive damage."
The Colorado State forecasters say there is a 49 percent probability of one or more major hurricanes hitting somewhere along the U.S. coastline this year.
However, all forecasters warn that normal or below-normal activity can still have dire consequences if a hurricane hits a populated area.
Far more damage can be done by one major hurricane hitting a heavily populated area than by several hurricanes hitting sparsely populated areas or not making landfall at all, according to the National Weather Service. Hurricane-spawned disasters can occur in years with near-normal or below-normal levels of activity.
And the fact that an increasing number of residents are living and vacationing on the U.S. coastline means the danger potential is even greater should a hurricane hit an inhabited region. There are some 45 million permanent residents along the hurricane-prone coastline - and it continues to grow, according to the NWS.
The fastest growth has been in the sunbelt from Texas through the Carolinas. And Florida, where hurricanes hit the most in the U.S., leads the nation in new residents. Holiday, weekend, and vacation times often swell the population in coastal areas 10- to 100-fold.
In addition to the population increase, the amount of money spent on seaside homes has soared as well. In fact, Hurricane Andrew's 1992 total losses of $26 billion would cost in excess of $41 billion today, Christopher Landsea, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, told www.insure.com.
Meanwhile, as 10 years have passed since Hurricane Andrew tore through Florida and Louisiana, killing 23, leaving 135,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and 86,000 people out of work, homes are being built to better withstand hurricanes and other disasters, according to the National Association of Home Builders Research Center.
One of the most critical changes is the more stringent requirement for roof sheathing nailing. The Research Center staff studied several hundred homes immediately after Andrew hit. About 70 percent had moderate to severe roof sheathing loss, which leads to most other structural problems.
One of the first things you should do if you've recently bought a home in a flood-prone area is ask your local emergency management office of American Red Cross chapter about the potential for hurricanes in the area and how you can best protect your family and your home.
You'll also want to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. Homeowners' policies don't cover flood damage; a separate policy under the National Flood Insurance Program is usually required.
One other important point about flood insurance - it takes 30 days to go into effect.