It's the afternoon after the direct hit of category 4 tropical cyclone (typhoon) Saola on Hong Kong. As I predicted yesterday, there were no deaths, no landslides, no power or internet outages and mostly just minor damage. So why am I still thinking about this?
Roughly 11 months ago, my parents' new house was hit by a similar storm in the south of Florida. Tropical cyclone (hurricane) Ian was a category 4 storm when it made a direct hit in their area. In contrast to Saola's effect on Hong Kong, there was massive damage and 149 total deaths. Their own house, newly built and only a couple years old had the ceilings collapse after the roof failed and water got inside.
A year later, we as a family are still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ian. Insurance paid out quickly and of course covered everything but the damage was so widespread in that area of Florida that only in the past month...10 months after the damage...have construction crews repaired the roof so that other workers can start to repair the interior damage.
While, for our family, the financial costs have been covered, there's nothing that can be done about the year of time that's been lost dealing with the damage.
The difference in effect of tropical cyclones in Hong Kong and Florida can't be written off as the difference between living on a rock vis living in a swamp. 11,000 people died on this rock that is Hong Kong during a typhoon in 1936 and zero died on the same rock yesterday despite a much larger population. The rock didn't change, but people's behavior did.
Tropical cylones, of course, are not unexpected in Florida and areas around the Gulf of Mexico. Yet every few years during my lifetime, a massive storm causes tons of damage, death and homeless somewhere in that region. FEMA is called out, lots of grandiose statements are made by politicians, but nothing seems to change. A few years later and it happens again somewhere else. Yet people don't seem interested in changing their behavior...my own family's included.
The problem behavior in a place like Florida is pretty obvious. Houses are way too spread out to be able to realistically protect them with the massive investments in infrastructure that a densely place like Hong Kong can. Single family and small multifamily dwellings made by random contractors for a couple hundred thousands dollars just aren't as strong as hundred million dollar high rise buildings whose plans have been gone over with fine-tooth combs by expensive engineering firm, investors and insurers. Lightly used Florida county roads aren't backed by the multi billion dollar drainage systems that keeps the roads on Hong Kong Island free of water.
The list goes on and on but ultimately it can be summarized as people making a lifestyle choice. By choosing to live in the single family home on the Florida coast, you're also choosing that with high probability you'll at some point spend a bunch of time dealing with a hurricane-wrecked house. It's not the choice I would personally make, but for some, the lifestyle seems to be worth it.
The lesson here is that predictable natural disasters, are not natural at all, but the inevitable outcome of poor human choices. If you chose to live in a wooden house in a place where the wind blows down wooden houses, wind is going to blow down your wooden house. That's your fault, not mother nature's!