Florida On My Mind - But What About Those Hurricanes?

Aaron Baker

In recent years, many Americans have left the Northeast and other US areas for popular Florida destinations.  With nearly 1,000 people moving to Florida every day, the demand for information about hurricane risks is higher than ever.

Fortunately, hurricane data is now easier to access and understand with AreaHub, a one-stop nationwide database of climate and environmental hazards in the United States that allows users to evaluate a specific address or region.  What is the risk of a strong hurricane in where you live or plan to move, and how can you be prepared?  Accurate, area-specific, and up-to-date information can help you better understand and prepare for hurricanes in the area of Florida that is right for your family.

Florida has been hit by 121 hurricanes since 1851 including 37 major hurricanes--more hurricanes than any other state.  In addition, the frequency, intensity, and duration of hurricanes in the North Atlantic, including the frequency of strong hurricanes (Category 3-5), have all increased since the early 1980s.  In the future, hurricane intensity and rainfall are expected to continue to increase due to climate change.  

Researchers at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center use an analysis tool to quantify the chances of a hurricane strike that they call the hurricane return period. The hurricane return period is the expected number of years between successive hurricanes that are projected to pass within 50 nautical miles of a specific location, and NOAA uses data from all hurricanes between 1886 and 2010 in the analysis.  For example, a location with a return period of 20 years could expect five category 3 or higher hurricanes to pass within 50 miles over the next 100 years.  The map below shows the return periods for major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). The four most populated metropolitan areas in Florida are at risk -- Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando.  Miami, near the southern tip of Florida, has the highest risk of hurricanes.  Moving north to Orlando and Tampa, the risk decreases and then continues to decrease further north in Jacksonville.

Major Hurricane Return Period (NOAA 1886-2010)

The return period for all categories of hurricanes is 15 years or less for the entire Florida coast and between 14-19 years for major hurricanes in southern Florida.  Making decisions about where to move in Florida involves a broad set of considerations.  Natural hazard risk and other environmental information available on AreaHub can better inform you about the issues or risks of an area.  Area information may have implications for your safety, the potential for property damage, and the likelihood of having to temporarily evacuate.  

Because flooding from storm surges and extreme rainfall are the two important factors for safety and property damage, locations further from the coast will most likely be safer and suffer less hurricane-related property damage compared to locations on or closer to the coast.  As a result, Orlando has the lowest risk of hurricane-related flooding because of its inland location near the center of the state. Not all inland areas are safe, though, depending on topography.  Closer to the coasts, storm surges can flood communities several miles inland.  In addition to hurricane risk, AreaHub also displays flood information for a specific county or region.

Emergency services, reliable evacuation routes, and the degree of storm-proofed infrastructure (including sea walls) varies by location and may affect safety and potential damage.  Each Florida County has an emergency management program accessible through the Florida Division of Emergency Management.  Additional information to prepare for hurricanes can be found in AreaHub’s hurricane information.  Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando all have plans that include evacuation routes, alert systems, and emergency services.  While flooding in Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa is more likely to be higher, all three cities have major infrastructure improvement plans under review including the construction of seawalls.

Florida is a beautiful state with spectacular weather and beaches but numerous factors, including hurricane risk, should be considered when living in Florida. With access to hurricane information and other climate, industrial, and pollution hazards, AreaHub can help better inform you before you make decisions for the wellness of your family and invest in real estate.