When Hurricane Idalia struck Florida on August 30, it became the eighth significant hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast in the past six years. This event may not be the last, as the Atlantic hurricane season has not yet reached its peak, and the Gulf of Mexico is experiencing historically high temperatures.
However, amidst the efforts to reconstruct heavily impacted areas like Pasco County, more and more experts are thinking that Hurricane Idalia may push some Florida towns to relocate.
Climate Challenges in the Gulf Coast
The Gulf Coast is facing one of the fastest rates of sea level rise globally. This exacerbates the dangers posed by storm surges and floods, especially for communities situated in low-lying areas.
Moreover, many insurance companies are withdrawing from certain Gulf states. This leaves homeowners and businesses with higher risks. It also leaves them with limited options to finance their recovery in ways that would enhance the resilience of buildings against future storms.
Jesse Keenan, a professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University’s School of Architecture, questioned whether it’s wise to rebuild these areas knowing that they will likely be affected by future hurricanes.
According to experts interviewed by CNN, the entire Gulf Coast is dealing with a convergence of climate-related challenges. These include rising sea levels, more intense storms fueled by warmer waters, and reduced availability of insurance coverage in states like Florida and Louisiana.
Jeremy Porter, the head of climate implications at the research group First Street Foundation, states that some communities have reached a point where they need to consider relocation instead of rebuilding. Looking at the current trajectory of climate risks, many more communities are expected to reach this tipping point within the next few decades.
The Loss of Insurance
Large insurance companies have largely withdrawn from Florida, leading to smaller insurers going bankrupt. As a result, many homeowners are now reliant on Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which serves as the state’s insurer of last resort.
While there are uninsured areas in all 50 states, California, Florida, and Louisiana are considered the main hotspots where the number of uninsured homeowners is growing. This trend can be attributed, in part, to major disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires.
All three states are affected by various factors that lead to similar outcomes. As the number of private insurers offering flood or wildfire policies decreases or goes bankrupt, more people are forced to rely on the state-supported insurer of last resort. In these circumstances, they often have to pay higher premiums for more limited coverage.
In Louisiana, for example, a survey conducted by Louisiana State University found that 17% of homeowners insurance policyholders had their policies canceled last year.
Another issue is the repeated need to reconstruct flood-damaged infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
Although Idalia affected a less populated area than Hurricane Ian, it was the strongest storm to make landfall on that stretch of Florida coast in over 125 years. The damage inflicted on cottage-like homes, which were swept away by Idalia’s massive storm surge, highlights their inadequate resilience.
One potential solution proposed by Porter is to construct homes that are elevated and better equipped to withstand hurricanes. However, implementing this approach requires a combination of updated building codes and a robust insurance market in order to extend this option to all homeowners, regardless of their financial means.
According to Keenan, the impact of storms like Idalia in Gulf Coast raises concerns about where to rebuild, particularly in island communities such as Cedar Key, which rely on bridges for access. These areas face significant challenges due to limited infrastructure connectivity to the mainland, often relying on a single road for transportation.
Municipalities in these regions must borrow funds for road construction and maintenance, considering the increased costs associated with climate change.