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After The Storms: A WMFE special on the impacts of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole

A white car in the middle of a flooded road
Amy Green
/
WMFE
Flooding in the Spring Oaks neighborhood in Altamonte Springs.

WMFE examines the devastation Hurricanes Ian and Nicole brought on Central Florida, and how some areas rebuild in an area that's known to flood as storms become more intense due to a changing climate.

During the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season two major storms — Ian and Nicole — brought historic inland flooding and coastal damage to Central Florida, along with billions of dollars in damages throughout the state. Now that the season is over, what next?

After the Storms, a special news presentation from 90.7 WMFE News, looks back at those affected by the storms and what's ahead for the region.

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Weeks after the storm, Central Floridians are still dealing with flooding and an uncertain future

On September 28, Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida at 3:05 p.m., just shy of a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. The storm thrashed parts of southwest Florida with devastating winds, heavy rainfall and catastrophic storm surge.

As the storm tracked north east, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. But with it came historical amounts of rain to the central Florida region which brought devastating flooding throughout the area. At least 130 people died in Florida, those deaths attributed to Hurricane Ian.

Just a few weeks later, Hurricane Nicole made landfall on Florida’s east coast, bringing a devastating storm surge and more flooding to inland areas.

"Several Osceola County neighborhoods had serious flooding after Hurricane Ian," said WMFE's Joe Byrnes. "But the Good Samaritan Society’s Kissimmee Village was the worst of all. And it wasn’t the first time. Kissimmee Village flooded five years earlier after Hurricane Irma."

 Maureen Kotch, left, and Luann Bishop are still looking for a home after flooding forced them from their apartment in Osceola County.
Joe Byrnes
/
WMFE
Maureen Kotch, left, and Luann Bishop are still looking for a home after flooding forced them from their apartment in Osceola County.

After Ian 523 Kissimmee Village apartments were permanently closed. They’re still standing, but they will be demolished and won't be rebuilt. All of those seniors lost their homes.

“We have nothing left, nothing at all," said Luanne Bishop. "No furniture, no nothing at all. No pictures, my family pictures, my grandchildren, my parents, my grandparents. I have nothing left.” Luann and her partner Maureen haven't found a new home yet.

 Tom and Mary Ann Simerville's dock remains underwater after Hurricanes Ian and Nicole brough record rain and flooding to the region
Amy Green
/
WMFE
Tom and Mary Ann Simerville's dock remains underwater after Hurricanes Ian and Nicole brough record rain and flooding to the region

In Astor, a tiny community northwest of Orlando, and it’s situated right on the St. Johns River, the flood water has receded. But WMFE's Amy Green reports residents are asking themselves a difficult question: Do they rebuild in an area that's known to flood as these storms become more intense and more frequent due to a changing climate?

"I don’t know that Florida is ready for major change when it comes to retreat," said Green. "What might be new with this hurricane season, though, is that usually when you hear people talking about adaptation and retreat, it’s in the context of coastal areas. I do think it’s interesting that you’re now hearing that in relation to inland communities like Astor."

Coastal and inland damage raises questions about rebuilding — and exposes region's infrastructure vulnerabilities

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole brought damage both to inland and coastal communities. Ian’s historic flooding exposed weaknesses in the region’s infrastructure and Nicole brought even more flooding to already inundated inland communities — and a devastating storm surge to the coastal regions.

"Right now, we are still in what I would consider the acute recovery phase," said UCF civil engineering professor Thomas Wahl. "It remains to be seen what the long lasting effects are in terms of rebuilding and future planning —also in the face of climate change — to hopefully avoid those extreme impacts, at least to some extent, in the future."

The impacts of two storms almost back to back exposed vulnerabilities in the region's infrastructure, both inland and on the coast.

"There has been a lot of development all across the state," said Wahl, "so the amount of impermeable surface where water cannot really infiltrate is increasing. And all of those in combination obviously, favor the occurrence of flooding events.:

Climate change will continue to bring more powerful storms more frequently. And that, said Wahl, is something everyone needs to keep in mind when thinking about the future.

"We cannot prevent the rain to come," he said. We can curb our CO2 emissions hoping that that at least to some extent it mitigates the impacts of climate change and reduces the negative impacts."

Storms bring more than just physical damage. Emotional impacts from loss and uncertainty are extensive

Along with physical damage, the Hurricane season brought emotional and mental impacts , too. From the loss of property to the uncertainty of the future, storms take a toll on people’s mental health.

Florida opened up its mental health hotline and offered residents free online therapy through BetterHelp, anticipating mental health problems after Hurricane Ian.

Then Hurricane Nicole followed shortly on its heels, bringing more emotional distress. And that uncertainty may carry over when thinking about the next storm season.

“I would definitely tell people to prepare, be prepared, the best thing you can do is prepare for it and continue to talk about it with your community. Not hold those things in and bottled it up," said Winter Park therapist Cherlette McCullough. "If you do start feeling those attacking thoughts are those feelings of like, oh my god, it may happen again, talk about it. Let's talk through those things.”

The economic cost of the storms

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole are estimated to have caused some $10 billion in damages. The storms shuttered businesses, forced people out of their homes, and pushed an already stressed home insurance industry to the brink.

"The property insurance market is in turmoil," said WMFE's Talia Blake, who covers Central Florida's economy. "The state legislature is planning a special session next week to work on stabilizing the market."

They’re expected to address issues like reducing the costs of litigation about insurance claims, improving claims handling, and addressing the stability of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance.

"But, while Citizens grows," said Blake "the private insurance market is all over the place."

Communicating the risk of storms and the "cone of uncertainty"

Central Floridians rely on meteorologists for the latest track of the storms and potential impacts of these tropical systems during the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Floridians are all too familiar with terms like “the cone of uncertainty” — but as the climate changes, the risks and paths of these storms are getting harder and harder to forecast.

"[The cone] does a good job of telling people where the center of a hurricane is likely to go. What it doesn't tell you is what the impacts will be away from the center," said Rob Eicher, a professor of meteorology at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

"The only thing that it's good at is showing you where the center of the hurricane is going to go, not the damage that it's going to do to areas outside of the center."

Current forecast models to a good job a predicting a storms path. It's strength at landfall is harder to predict.

"That remains a big challenge," said Eicher, in part due to climate change. "Notice recently that hurricanes are rapidly intensifying shortly before making landfall? That's something that is still a bit challenging to predict."

Copyright 2022 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Amy Green
Joe Byrnes