Studies show many coastal residents, such as those on Boca Grande, don't know enough about the dangers borne by rising waters.
This hurricane season up to 18 named storms are expected, with six to 10 of those reaching hurricane status (74-mph winds) and three to six of those having the potential to become major hurricanes (winds in excess of 111 mph). It's been five years since a major hurricane made a U.S. landfall, which means we're overdue.
The last major hurricane making landfall on the continental U.S. was Wilma in 2005. Hurricane Ike, which struck Galveston in 2008 and is listed as the third most costly Atlantic hurricane, was "only" a strong Category 2. That should give any Boca Grande resident pause.
The most concerning study was one where people along the coast were asked to name the elevation of their homes above sea level. Less than one in five got the number right - and more than half of those asked didn't even try to hazard a guess. Combine this with a separate study that showed how much people don't know about storm surge (higher tidal water pushed ahead of an approaching storm), and the problem becomes clear: Many people who live along the coast don't know how much risk they face involving rising tides and crashing waves, and they may not listen when the call comes to evacuate in the face of a storm heading their way. It's estimated 11 million people live in places at risk for storm surge. There's no good reason for any of them not to know their property's risk to rising tides and potential for flooding based on the severity of the storms. To find out how high your specific property is: 1. Check if your property was surveyed to be sold. Many coastal areas list land elevation as part of the property details. 2. Most coastal communities are part of the National Flood Insurance Program, which enables resident to access to federal flood insurance to cover up to $250,000 of a property's value. Boca Grande has been mapped to determine flood-risk areas, which may also yield an elevation map for your lot. If you have a flood insurance policy, the lot elevation may be part of its documentation, since it's part of how they determine rates. 3. If all else fails, check with the Lee or Charlotte county government surveyor who may be able to determine elevation for a fee). While doing this research here's three more things to do: 1. Determine the storm surge category your property is listed under by the severity (wind speed) of the storm. 2. Look at potential flooding-risk areas in your neighborhood such as roadways that could pose problems. 3. Know evacuation route flooding risks. Your lot could be high and dry, but if you decided to evacuate in the face of an approaching storm is any part of your route to safety at risk for being under water when you have to drive through it? Wider beaches, tougher buildings and better infrastructure have made it easier to survive a hurricane on Boca Grande. But a big storm pushing a lot of water ahead of it can overwhelm even the most prepared coastal areas if the conditions are right for a disastrous deluge. A storm's surge can be the most damaging part of a hurricane, and the relentless rise of the waters can be the most dangerous part for residents. The bottom line: Storm surge is a real risk in coastal storms, but understanding its impact on your plans and preparing ahead for dealing with it makes it a risk we can manage.
The Gooderhams represent the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.