AIR Worldwide: Charley Paved Narrow, But Destructive Path Across Florida

August 17, 2004

With an expected insured loss of $6-10 billion, Hurricane Charley’s assault on Florida will likely rank as the second costliest in U.S. hurricane history.

While devastating both in terms of damage and lives lost, things could actually have been much worse, according to AIR’s post-disaster survey team, currently in Florida assessing the damage. AIR Worldwide is a risk modeling firm that helps companies manage the financial impact of catastrophes.

“The path of destruction is extremely narrow, but within that path, damage is extensive,” said wind engineer Dr. Atul Khanduri, the leader of AIR Worldwide’s post-disaster team, who is currently surveying damage in Lee and Charlotte Counties.

This is not atypical, according to AIR meteorologist Dr. Peter Dailey, also in Florida. “As hurricanes become more tightly wound, they naturally become more intense, particularly near the center of the storm,” said Dr. Dailey. Hurricane Charley made landfall as a Category 4 storm with wind speeds of 145 mph.

Still, things could have been far worse, according to Dr. Khanduri. “Charley moved through the area with unusual speed for a storm in this region, so buildings were not subjected to high winds for a protracted period of time. That fact, along with the compact size of the storm and the fact that it made landfall in only a moderately populated area kept losses lower than they might otherwise have been.” AIR estimates that had Charley hit Tampa, as originally forecast, insured losses could have exceeded $15 billion.

Dr. Khanduri estimates that Charley’s narrow radius limited the area of most severe damage to a band approximately 20 miles wide. On the other hand, the storm’s fast forward speed meant that hurricane force winds were maintained throughout its path across Florida.

Dr. Khanduri’s initial report indicates a marked difference in the resiliency of structures built since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew and those built before. “The new building codes introduced in Florida after Andrew have clearly paid off.”

As expected, mobile homes did not fare well. In the hardest hit areas mobile home losses are close to 100 percent.

“As Charley roared through the mobile home parks in the area – and there are many – it left behind miles and miles of twisted metal. This is the level of damage we would expect from a Category 4 hurricane,” said Dr. Khanduri.

Damage to commercial properties was mixed, with engineered buildings faring relatively well.

Conversely, commercial structures with light metal roofs performed poorly as expected and, for these, contents damage is likely to be significant.

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