As of 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, Maria is a full-fledged hurricane, joining two other named storms, Jose and Lee, in the Atlantic. But Maria is the scary one. Whirling some 500 nautical miles southeast of the U.S. Virgin Islands, it’s traveling on a heading that appears to eerily track the devastating trail of Hurricane Irma. By Wednesday morning, projects the National Hurricane Center, Maria is expected to suck up the warm froth of the blue Caribbean sea and grow into a major Category 3 storm; by Thursday morning, it will be dead smack over Puerto Rico, if current estimates hold true.
While it’s too early to guess precisely where Maria might head after that, there is a good probability that it will be drawn to that dangling cyclone magnet that juts off the southeastern corner of the United States: Florida, that is.
From the unnamed storm of September 1878 to Hurricane King, which assaulted Miami in October 1950, to a Murderer’s Row of gyring storms that include brutal Andrew, Charley, Ivan, Dennis, Wilma, and most recently Irma, the state of Florida has drawn Neptune’s fury seemingly without end.
Over the past century, each of the state’s 67 counties has been struck by a tropical storm.
The human cost—as we saw with Irma’s razing of the Florida Keys and the state’s southwest coast—is often heartbreaking. But for property and casualty insurers, the wind and flooding damage from cyclones has become almost routine, it seems. When it became clear that Irma, despite its trail of costly ruin, would mostly spare Miami and do less damage than initially feared, the stocks of major P&C insurers (and reinsurers) soared.
On Friday, Insurance analyst firm AIR Worldwide estimated that losses from Irma in the U.S. would range from $25 billion to $35 billion, with claims in the Caribbean adding another $7 billion to $15 billion. RMS, a competing consulting firm, also concluded “the actuality of Irma was not nearly as bad as feared.”
Maria, however, may not be so kind. Or if not Maria, maybe the next storm in line. There’s still another month and a half or so to go in the Atlantic hurricane season, as exhausting as that may seem.
The number of Sunshine Staters, meanwhile, now living in the potential cross-hairs of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico storms—which is to say, in coastal areas—has leapt from 15.6 million in 2000 to 19.8 million in 2015, with the insured value of those seaside properties totaling close to $3 trillion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Of the 10 costliest hurricanes in history, seven were those that slammed into Florida. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the state has “accounted for 13 percent of all U.S. insured catastrophe losses from 1986 to 2015: $68.6 billion out of $515.4 billion,” the Institute says.
For residents of America’s third-most populous state, it may be a long hurricane season indeed.