BEWARE OF “HURRICANE AMNESIA”
One Calm Season Will Not Change Long-Term Trends
“From our perspective, it’s a good reminder of the risk that this country has for hurricane landfall. There’s a lot of hurricane amnesia that sets in when you go a long period of time without a major hurricane.”
Mike Brennan, Senior Hurricane Specialist, National Hurricane Center
As we move through the relatively calm Hurricane Season of 2018, a look back at 2017 serves as a vivid reminder of the damage that hurricanes can inflict on the built environment. 2017 set a variety of unwelcome records according to the staff of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami. Three Category 4 hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria, pounded the United States in a period of 26 days. That had not happened for 56 years. Harvey broke the record for rainfall during a tropical cycle when it dumped more than 60 inches of rain in Texas. In terms of “accumulated cyclone energy”, a measurement used by the NHC to tally the combined force of hurricanes during an individual year, it was the most active season in 167 years. And U.S. damages reached $265 billion, surpassing the old record of $211 billion set in 2005.
So far, this year’s Hurricane Season is providing some much needed relief from the pounding that many areas took last year. As of early August, the Tropical Meteorology Team at Colorado State University downgraded the forecast for the rest of the year, until November 1, from “slightly above average Atlantic hurricane season” to less than anticipated. Among the reasons they cite, the surface water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are lower than average, the coolest since 1981. This means tropical storms have less fuel to develop and intensify.
While this short-term break may provide welcome relief, any weather expert will tell you that one year of fewer hurricanes does not mean that the longer-term pattern of increasingly powerful and erratic weather events has ended. While there may be debate about its cause, the pattern of warming temperatures since the 1970’s has undeniably been accompanied by increased cataclysmic weather events. And one calm hurricane season will not change that long-term pattern.
So, in a way, Mike Brennan’s warning about Hurricane Amnesia is even more relevant than before. In his “after action” report following the 2017 hurricane season, Brock Long, the FEMA Administrator, wrote, “The challenges
we faced require that we innovate and deliver our programs differently. Looking ahead, we will take bold action to improve the Nation’s overall readiness and resiliency for future incidents.”
To that end, earlier this year, FEMA released their draft National Mitigation Investment Strategy to provide a “national approach to investments in mitigation activities and risk management across the United States”. According to the FEMA draft, their final investment strategy will be grounded in three fundamental principles: (1) catalyze private and non-profit sector mitigation investments and innovation; (2) improve collaboration between the federal government and state, local, tribal and territorial governments, respecting local expertise in mitigation investing; and (3) make data- and risk-informed decisions that include lifetime costs and risks. The investment strategy’s overarching goal, according to FEMA, is to improve the coordination and effectiveness of “mitigation investments,” defined as risk management actions taken to avoid, reduce, or transfer risks from natural hazards, including severe weather.
While FEMA will not release its final strategy report until the end of the year, this forward-looking resilience-focused Federal approach bodes well for the roofing industry. The experiences of the roofing industry in its inspection of many disasters over the years have confirmed that a well installed, inspected, and well-maintained roof is a linchpin of overall building resilience. As an organization, ERA has invested time and resources to gather and provide state-of-the-art information about various approaches to creating a resilient built environment. This past year, ERA established a new microsite, EPDMtheresilientroof.com, to provide the roofing industry with a one-stop source for information about resilience.
As of this writing, the funding for FEMA’s forward-looking approach to disaster mitigation is stalled on Capital Hill, as part of the FAA omnibus spending bill. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) would increase the federal investment in pre-disaster mitigation and increase reimbursement caps for state and local governments on a range of disaster costs. This legislation may not pass in its current form during this session of Congress. But the combined impetus of FEMA’s forward-looking approach as well proposed increased Federal funding for resilient building are two powerful harbingers of increased future investment in the built environment. This year, the Hurricane
Season may give us a one-year respite from its powerful storms. But we don’t see any pause in the powerful momentum that is building to create a resilient built environment.