By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Whew! Tuesday, November 30 marked the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1. This year there were 19 named storms – in line with forecasts – but Florida was spared. Not only from a “major” hurricane, but also from a “mild” tropical storm–some of the worst property damage ever inflicted on Florida was caused not by fierce category five hurricanes but by slow-moving tropical storms that dumped more rain in a day than could drain in a week or more.The season’s finale comes as a relief for most longtime Floridians who have actually experienced a hurricane’s fury and who warily watch the Weather Channel’s worrisome bulletins all summer long as each sinister looking storm system moves off the coast of Africa and into the open Atlantic.Among those who can truly say they’ve experienced a storm’s full fury is 98-year-old Tallahassee resident Wilbur Jones. Back in 1935, before storms were given names, Mr. Jones was a youthful 23 and working in the Florida Keys. That’s when the so-called Labor Day hurricane, with its estimated 18-to-20 foot storm surge, literally swept over the fragile island chain, taking more than 400 lives.Among the dead were many World War I veterans. Desperate for a job during the Great Depression, they’d come to the Keys to work on a railroad line linking Key West to the mainland. An evacuation train, dispatched too late, was swept off the tracks.Wilbur Jones survived the storm – still regarded as the strongest ever to strike the United States — by treading water in an overturned railroad boxcar that had retained a small pocket of air. (A full account of Mr. Jones’s experience is detailed in Thomas Knowles’ 2009 book, Category 5: The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, published by the University Press of Florida.)Of course, there’s no guarantee that Mother Nature realizes she’s not allowed to send a storm after November 30. And Floridians’ relief over the fact that they lucked out in 2010 must be tempered by the blunt reality that we won’t always be so lucky.Moreover, there’s a key difference now that gives Floridians yet another reason to dread a storm: When previous disasters occurred, most Floridians could count on property insurance from mainline companies with worldwide resources to reimburse them for repairing damage and replacing losses.Now, however, that’s no longer the case. Given that the state government’s socialist experiment dubbed “Citizens Property Insurance” is Florida’s largest provider, one major storm in an urban area – or a series of lesser storms anywhere in the state – could bring about another kind of disaster, with the fiscal damage to the state’s treasury and taxpayers alike easily eclipsing the physical damage to the state’s public and private infrastructure.The good news is that by sparing Florida in 2010, Mother Nature gave Florida’s new leadership team a chance to begin fixing the state’s property insurance mess before yet another hurricane season begins next June. Let’s hope they do.For more information, visit JMI’s Property Insurance issues page to read Institute articles and white papers on the topic.