Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Etc.

Sunshine, Blue Sky, and Spectacular Sunsets: That’s why I moved to Florida. Oh, lest I forget, I need to mention some other important objectives: unlimited golf and no more snow or wind chills below zero. Then along came Hurricane Irma!

It’s not like my wife Kristy and I weren’t aware of the potential damage from hurricanes. We had just taken possession of a house we had built in Cape Coral when Hurricane Charley ($ 16.3 billion in damages) struck the area in 2004.

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This is my observation of the analysis, preparation, and the response by government agencies, businesses, and the general population to the hurricane threat and what the future holds.

It’s all about the data: Mother Nature can be capricious and even though predicting the path and severity is not an exact science, the U.S. and European models for Hurricane Irma came very close and they were able to make adjustments along the way. The forecasting seems to get better every time and I attribute that to the constant monitoring and analysis of a very complex data model. Every hurricane is different. Harvey, for example, stalled over Houston and dumped an enormous amount of rain. Irma, however, was originally anticipated to head to the east coast of Florida but shifted to the west after touching Cuba as a category 3. It elevated to a Category 5 and hit the west coast at Marco Island and Naples. It then traveled north right up the center of the state. Irma was huge, wider than the state. Along the way it was downgraded to a tropical storm, yet Jacksonville was hit hard with storm surge.

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Hurricane forecaster, Phil Klotzbach, recently commented; “Harvey, as well as the damage that Irma had done in the Caribbean, caused people to take this storm very seriously.” Those that didn’t paid the price.

So, as of 9/12, let’s review what is happening with Hurricane Jose. Two of the most robust computer models meteorologists use to determine the odds of landfall— the GFS, which is the American forecast model, and the ECMWF, the European model—keep Jose over the ocean. But models can have trouble forecasting unusual tracks such as Jose’s expected path. There is generally not a dominant weather feature that is steering the storm, so model forecasts can vary widely between each other and from run to run. The National Hurricane Center recognizes this issue in its early forecasts for Jose, saying “there is a lot of uncertainty in the intensity forecast.” Considering we are just at the peak of the hurricane season, which has been predicted to be a very active season, we have to be diligent and prepared.

The takeaway for the mortgage industry is that it is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of what data is important to your organization, that this data is well-defined, and you have confidence you are collecting it properly. In addition, your data model must be continuously monitored and you need to be able to adjust it as necessary.

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Proactive, reactive and inactive: Everybody in Florida fits in one of these categories.

Sometimes it is best to consider alternative strategies. Kristy and I were very proactive when looking at our options for Hurricane Irma. This looked like a monster storm and it certainly turned out that way. We closed down the house and left on Wednesday, September 6th. We avoided the I-75 parking lot and took the old way (US-41) north. This took us through lots of little towns, but there was little traffic and gas was readily available. We stopped for two nights in Albany, Georgia, and continued to Columbus, Indiana, where we plan on staying until power is restored. As they did in other areas in Florida, the police went through our neighborhood ordering the few remaining people to leave. They were not going to respond to 911 calls and put their officers in danger.

The reactive ones tried to wait it out because of the earlier forecasts that predicted an East Coast track for Irma. When they finally decided to leave, they encountered problems: finding gas and stop-and-go traffic on I-75. Hotel vacancies were basically nonexistent in northern Florida and across the southern parts of Alabama, Georgia, etc.

The inactive ones decided to bunker down, even as all of southern Florida issued mandatory evacuations. Many in this group did not have the means to leave and some were forced to go to rescue centers.

How would you define your organization, especially, as it pertains to technology? Are you ahead of the herd? Remember, if you are not the lead dog, the view never changes. Are you just a follower? Maybe you are waiting for other organizations to blaze the trail so you can follow their lead. Or are you just maintaining the status quo? If so, you may wake up one day and wonder what happened to your business.

At this point, I can’t say enough about the unbelievable effort and collaboration of the federal, state, and local authorities in managing the preparation for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and their aftermath. They are getting better with each hurricane. Texas and Florida were the latest benefactors. The aid from other states sending in personnel to get power back and debris cleared enables people to get back to their homes to assess the damage and begin the task of getting back to normal.

“The number of people killed in hurricanes halves about every 25 years, in spite of the fact that coastal populations have been increasing, because of what we’re doing with forecasting,” said Hugh Willoughby, a professor of meteorology at Florida International University in Miami. The modern science of hurricane monitoring and preparation, which has saved countless lives through forecasting, satellite monitoring, and government planning, has dramatically improved in recent decades.

The coverage from the major media stations was extraordinary and allowed the evacuees to monitor the storm from afar. The use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram let everyone stay in touch with families and friends.

With estimates of 70 deaths and $180 billion in damage from Harvey, 68 deaths and billions of damage from Irma, two thirds of 21 million Florida residents without power, the road back to recovery will be challenging, but manageable.

The focus on data, the absolute necessity to be proactive, and the need to work collaboratively with customers, partners, and vendors should be top of mind for every mortgage lender today. Integrated technology is a necessity. Think differently.

I will leave you with one final thought. It might be time to go to the moon, retrieve the golf balls, and return the rocks. We have upset the whole balance of nature.

About The Author

Roger Gudobba
Roger Gudobba is passionate about the importance of quality data and its role in improving the mortgage process. He is vice president, mortgage markets at Compliance Systems and chief executive officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association. Roger has over 30 years of mortgage experience and an active participant in the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization (MISMO) for 17 years. He was a Mortgage Banking Technology All-Star in 2005. He was the recipient of Mortgage Technology Magazine’s Steve Fraser Visionary Award in 2004 and the Lasting Impact Award in 2008. Roger can be reached at rgudobba@compliancesystems.com.