Monday, January 02, 2006

Hindcasting Wind vs. Water

"In almost every instance, you're going to find that a significant amount of damage was caused by the wind before the water ever got there."
-- Ron Peresich, Boloxi hurricane victim
It's hard to imagine if you don't live in the South, but as the new year gets underway hundreds of thousands of Americans along the Gulf Coast and in Florida are still living in temporary shelters, hotel rooms, or tents while trying to collect on their property insurance policies. On Pensacola Beach, an estimated 400 homeowners are still being stiff-armed by their insurance companies, nearly a year and a half after Hurricane Ivan.

An AP dispatch reprinted in Sunday's Picayune (MS.) Item offers one of the more practical and succinct reports we've seen about how homeowners can successfully fight the insurance industry's coordinated claims-denial strategy. The context is property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, but it could just as easily be applied in the context of hurricanes Wilma, Dennis, or Ivan.

The question storm damage insurers always want to ask is: 'Was wind the culprit, or water?'
Because of Katrina's unprecedented destruction, it is a multibillion-dollar question for the insurance industry. Companies have hired engineers to provide the answer, one property at a time, even when a slab is the only evidence left.

Property owners must either settle for what's offered, or hire their own experts, including attorneys and engineers, and find eyewitnesses to document wind damage.
A number of property owners personally witnessed the destruction of their homes. Almost invariably, they report that destructive high winds long preceded the flooding water.
Bay St. Louis resident Kelvin Schulz, whose mother-in-law died during the hurricane, saw the wind cause plenty of damage before water swamped his beachfront neighborhood. One neighbor, who was left with only a slab, is relying on him as a witness to her wind losses.

“The wind came in and did a tremendous amount of damage,” Schulz said, “and then the water just finished it off. The only thing the insurance companies are doing is adding insult to injury. A lot of people had losses prior to the flooding, but you can't prove that because it washed away.”
Can't prove it? Not so fast... It can be proved even if you had the good sense to evacuate beforehand and therefore cannot be your own eye witness.

The U.S. Navy and NOAA have prepared "Preliminary Storm Surge Hindcasts" for every recent hurricane, modelling the exact timing and extent of damaging winds and flooding waters. The Hurricane Katrina Hindcast is available here, courtesy of U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss). (Congressman Taylor's web site has other useful storm recovery information as well.)

Apparently, the "hindcast" was prepared by the Navy Meteorological and Oceanography Command at the Stennis Space Center in Biloxi. Surface wind analyses for other hurricanes also have been compiled by NOAA's Hurricane Research Center.

In most cases, it will take an expert to analyze the data. But it's worth it. Here's how Tim Destri of NOAA's National Weather Service summarizes the data --
“It's always the wind, no matter what insurance (companies) try to tell people. You almost always get some damaging winds before the water starts coming.”
When you think about it, hindcasting will save lives, too. How many homeowners, burned once by their property insurers, will insist on staying home the next time a hurricane comes along, just so they can personally collect proof enough to satisfy their insurance companies?

Related Posts

The Insurance Storm

Insurance Struggles 'Worse Than Ivan'

Parsing of the Peril

Citizens' Ministry of Truth

Wind vs Water Rematch

Quote of the Week

Mississippi Beating

'Mired in Mud'

Slow Rolling In Mississippi

Trent Lott Sues State Farm

No comments: