NHC Director: Homes Meeting New Building Codes Fared Better in Hurricanes

May 12, 2005

Upgrading older homes to meet new building standards, which require new homes to withstand hurricane-force winds, is a key to surviving hurricanes, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, explained to more than 1,500 attendees at the general session of the 19th Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference on Wednesday afternoon in the Tampa Convention Center.

Mayfield said that Florida made a very positive step when it initiated state-wide building codes. He said that meeting the new codes and properly preparing before the first hurricane hits the coast will make life a lot easier for homeowners and their insurance companies.

Part of Mayfield’s presentation showed slides of various hurricane-hit areas, and side-by-side photos of demolished and unscathed homes. The homes built after new building codes went into effect showed little damage, while homes that did not meet the latest codes were destroyed.

“A hurricane is not just a coastal event. The strong winds, the rainfall and tornados can spread well inland and in Florida, and can very easily spread all the way across the peninsula. Some people relearned that lesson last year,” Mayfield explained.

Mayfield summarized 15 named storms and nine hurricanes, saying six were classified as major and five hit Florida, four as hurricanes. He pointed out that nationally, the storms affected 600,000 square miles and inflicted $45 billion in damages.

He displayed elaborate graphs and charts indicating how the U.S. fared during the past few decades saying, “We’ve had more hurricanes and tropical storms in the decade since 1995 than ever before, and we are in a very active period that could last another 10 to 12 years.”

Mayfield indicated he preferred not to use a crystal ball to attempt to predict the future. He left it up to other hurricane experts to predict how many more hurricanes there would be in the 2005 season than in 2004.

“You really can’t coordinate between when the hurricane season begins and what the season will bring,” Mayfield explained.

Mayfield said there are more lessons to be learned. For example, he urged homeowners not just to pay attention to the hurricane’s projected path, saying, “Everyone within the whole cone should be on alert.”

He said the National Hurricane Center is attempting to put better graphics on its website this summer and anticipates improving both its technological capabilities and its online statistics. In some cases, however, he said this upgrade would take several years.

Mayfield cautioned the audience not to focus on the black line normally appearing in such graphics. Mayfield noted that such tracking is an estimate at best and that hurricane-force winds and storm surges can and do fluctuate from hour to hour. He also cautioned that tornadoes are often an overlooked threat, with more than 321 occurring in 2004.

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