Texas

President and CEO of Woodlands Financial Runs for Texas State Senate

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January 9  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

Richard “Gordy” Bunch, the president and chief executive officer of The Woodlands Financial Group, a privately held insurance agency, has announced his intent to run for a seat in the Texas Senate. Bunch, a Republican, is one of several candidates vying to represent Texas’s District 4, which comprises Chambers, Harris, Galveston, Jefferson and Montgomery counties. A special election will be held in May 10 to fill the seat left vacant after Sen. Tommy Williams resigned to take a job as vice chancellor at Texas A&M University. “I am offering myself as a conservative candidate who has experience in helping to create thousands of jobs, many of which are in our area, and who has manned the front lines to protect our nation, our borders, and sovereign soil,” Bunch said in a statement. Bunch is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. Bunch has seeded his campaign with a personal investment of $250,000. He has also launched a campaign website, GordyBunchForTexas.com. Gordy, his

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wife Michelle, and their three boys live in The Woodlands Township near Houston. He is the founder, president and CEO of The Woodlands Financial Group, one of the largest privately held independent insurance agencies in Texas. Last year, Texas became the latest state to to become a captive domicile (Best’s News Service, Jan. 7, 2013). The state has since issued a rule to implement the law that recently completed a public comment period, with minimal changes expected. The new law was sought by companies who were domiciled outside the state and looking to relocate into Texas. While application fees for captives will cost 1,500 through 2018 and a 0.5% premium tax is placed on all business written, the commissioner can waive the fees and taxes for a two-year period for companies domiciled outside the state but looking to relocate. By Jeff Jeffrey, Washington Bureau manager Source: AM Best

Top 3 Homeowners Insurers in Texas Seek Rate Hikes for 2014

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January 7  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

The top three homeowners insurers in Texas are seeking to raise rates—one by up to 15%—in 2014, the Dallas Morning News reports, but the state’s public insurance counselor tells PC360 she will challenge the requests. According to the Dallas Morning News story, written by Terrence Stutz, Farmers, State Farm and Allstate have submitted rate hike requests of 14.9%, 9.8%, and 6.5% respectively to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), citing reasons from increasing damages from natural catastrophes in recent years to high business costs. A State Farm spokeswomen says in the article that the company spends $1.11 for every premium dollar it collects for claims processing and other business expenses. Texas Public Insurance Counselor Deeia Beck, though, tells PC360 she is challenging all three rate increases, saying the estimates of current and future cost increases are exaggerated. “Non-modeled catastrophe provisions include trend assumptions

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that appear largely arbitrary and unsupported,” Beck wrote to Farmers Insurance Exchange in a statement she shared with PC360, in which she also wrote that “the premium and loss trend selections used in the filing are unreasonable and significantly inflate the rate indication.” She shared similar concerns regarding State Farm Lloyds and Allstate filings. Source: Property Casualty 360

Cost of North Texas Ice Storm Insured Damage Estimated at $30M

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December 17  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

Damage from this month’s North Texas ice storm has reached at least $30 million in residential insured losses, according to an industry group.

Officials with the Insurance Council of Texas said the losses include homes damaged by downed trees, broken pipes and other residential damage in the greater Dallas metro area.

The preliminary estimate released on Dec. 12 does not include damage to vehicles, roads or government property.

Council spokesman Mark Hanna said the losses are expected to mount.

“It’s going to go higher, but we don’t expect it to go an awful lot higher than that,” he told The Dallas Morning News.

The wintry weather that hit North Texas beginning Dec. 5 stranded motorists and closed schools, government offices and businesses. Some closures and power outages lingered into this week as thick ice that glazed roads slowly melted.

The $30 million figure doesn’t include damage to cars, trucks and other vehicles.

“That’s a whole different line and something that’s a little harder to put our arms around,” Hanna told the Morning News. “We’re talking about 200 different auto insurance companies in the state of Texas. We have to go to several of them to get a feel.

“But the damage isn’t going to be as high as residential,” he said.

The costs to government aren’t quite so substantial.

Dallas County spent $300,000 to $400,000 to battle slick roads, according to conservative estimates from County Judge Clay Jenkins.

He said that while sanding and salting roads constituted some of the county’s greatest efforts, the biggest cost came from closing offices, including the court system.

That resulted in lost productivity of about $1.5 million, he said.

In Tarrant County, meanwhile, weather-related costs came to $500,000, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Officials in Collin and Denton counties said they’re still calculating their storm-related expenses and don’t yet have firm figures.

Source: Insurance Journal

Texas home insurance rates are no longer No. 1

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December 17  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

By Terrence Stutz

Texas homeowners are no longer paying the highest insurance rates in the nation. But their premiums rank third among the states and are still well above the national average, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

The latest figures from the NAIC, released Monday, indicate that two other coastal states — Florida and Louisiana — now rank first and second in premiums paid by homeowners. Those states were just below Texas a year ago, but both saw larger annual rate increases than Texas in recent years.

The average annual cost of the most commonly sold policy in Texas was listed at $1,578, well above the national average of $978. That figure represented an increase of about 1 percent from last year.

Florida soared to No. 1 with an average premium of $1,933, while Louisiana jumped to $1,672. Experts said part of the reason for the huge increase in Florida was the inclusion of coastal policies issued by the state’s windstorm insurance pool. Texas has included those policies in its statewide totals for years.

An industry spokesman said the study shows that rate increases in Texas have been moderate in recent years compared with those in other states.

Mark Hanna of the Insurance Council of Texas said the figures show that while rates elsewhere have been climbing, Texas homeowner rates “have been far more stable despite the state’s abundant hailstorms, hurricanes, ice storms and wildfires.”

Hanna said it is important to note that all coastal states now include the more expensive windstorm policies in the NAIC report, giving Florida the “dubious distinction” of having the highest homeowner rates in the nation.

“The best news for consumers is the fact that Texas insurance companies continue to pay claims quickly while complaints against insurers remain very low,” he said.

But a consumer group said ranking third-highest is nothing to brag about.

Alex Winslow of Texas Watch, a consumer group active in insurance issues, said Texas homeowner rates jump between first, second and third, but “they’re always among the highest in the country.”

“While rates have gone higher, coverage in most policies has been slashed. Texans are paying more for insurance and getting less for it,” he said. “Premium dollars aren’t going near as far as they should.”

Winslow said the most recent premium and loss figures for insurers show that the Texas market has been “exceedingly profitable” for companies. That is largely due to their ability to raise rates whenever they choose, he added.

Numbers in the study were based on premiums collected in 2011, the most recent year for which premium data is available for all states. The premiums are for so-called HO-3 policies, the most widely sold policy in Texas and other states. Across the country, 4 out of 5 policies sold are of the HO-3 variety.

Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance, noted that the increase in premiums reflected in the NAIC study was “pretty small” for Texas compared with other states.

Still, Texas rates will always be high “because we have every kind of severe weather” that occurs in the country, he said.

While the focus of severe weather in Texas is typically on hurricanes or tornadoes, the industry has noted that hailstorms cause the bulk of damage to vehicles, homes and businesses in the state. North Texas — particularly Tarrant County — has more hailstorms than any other area of the state.

The NAIC study also listed the 10 costliest property catastrophes in U.S. history through 2012. The only one in Texas was Hurricane Ike in 2008, which caused $12.5 billion in losses. No. 1 was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with total losses of $41.1 billion. Three were hurricanes that struck Florida.

The study also showed that renters insurance in Texas averaged $225 a year. That was significantly above the national average of $187, but only slightly more than last year.

Source: Dallas News

Texas Commissioner Denies Maximum Liability Limit Hike for TWIA

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December 2  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber has denied the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association’s request to increase the limits on commercial and residential property liability in 2014.

The wind-and-hail insurer of last resort sought slight increases for the liability limits. TWIA’s Board of Directors must consider a policy limit increase each year for the Houston and Corpus Christi areas. However, because TWIA operates under the Texas Department of Insurance’s administrative oversight, the request must be approved by the commissioner.

TWIA sought the increase because calculations showed an increase in construction costs, Rathgeber’s decision said. For dwellings and individually owned townhouses, TWIA sought to increase the limit by $43,000 to $1.816 million, its initial filing said. It also sought to raise the limits on the contents of an apartment, condominium or a townhouse by $5,000 from $374,000 to $383,000. And TWIA sought to increase the limits on commercial structures and their contents by $90,000 to $4.514 million.

“It was a conservative move on [Rathgeber's] part to keep TWIA from expanding its liability any further,” said Joe Woods, vice president of state and government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. Currently, TWIA has about $80 billion in liability and increasing the policy limits for expensive homes and business would mean TWIA could face another $1 billion in liability, he said.

“It’s probably the most conservative thing to do,” Woods said. He said when an insurer is in a difficult financial situation, it should not expand its liabilities. “[The decision] makes perfect sense.”

Since Jan. 1, 2005, TWIA’s maximum liability limit for dwellings, movable property and commercial buildings has increased by 305%, 140% and 102% respectively, Rathgeber’s ruling said.

The liability increases sought were inflationary, but nonetheless would have resulted in increases for commercial and homeowners’ liability that are already too high, said Mark Hanna, spokesman at the Insurance Council of Texas.”We’re not trying to expand the wind pool,” Hanna said. “Raising the dollar figure does that, while we’re trying to go in the opposite direction.”

Texas state lawmakers this year failed to pass TWIA reform legislation designed to address its sagging finances and at one time its board had discussed the possibility of going into receivership. However, the agency’s financial condition has been on the mend in recent months and this summer TWIA projected that it would have a $14.7 billion surplus at year’s end (Best’s News Service, June 19, 2013).

Rathgeber’s decision follows that of former Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman, who denied a similar request in 2012.

The top five writers of homeowners multiperil insurance in Texas during 2012 were State Farm Group, with a 26.83% market share; Allstate Insurance Group, with 11.83%; Farmers Insurance Group, with 11.07%; USAA Group, with 8.66%; and Liberty Mutual Insurance Cos., with 7.08%, according to BestLink (www.ambest.com/bestlink).

Farmers Insurance, Texas Propose Settlement in $117.5 Million Homeowners Suit

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November 5  |  Farmers, News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

AUSTIN, Texas – Farmers Insurance and Texas Department of Insurance officials have proposed to settle a decade-old, $117.5-million class-action lawsuit in which the insurer was alleged to have overcharged and under served customers.

The proposal was filed in Travis County District Court. A hearing is set for Jan. 22, 2014.

The new proposal is similar to an agreement said to be worth $117.5 million that some Farmers customers rejected. However, Farmers said in a statement the company began implementing some of the terms in the agreement to reduce insurance rates, meaning that a significant portion of the final settlement amount has already been returned to consumers in the form of rate reductions.

The proposal stems from allegations made by the DOI that Farmers overcharged customers and cut coverage when mold damage claims accelerated statewide. Some customers did not receive discounts and other paid more for auto and home insurance when Farmers examined credit reports deemed inaccurate.

In 2002, the state Legislature ordered DOI to review the rates insurers were charging in the Texas market to determine whether overcharging existed and ordered reductions and reimbursements in the event that overcharging existed, said Alex Winslow, executive director of the consumer watchdog group Texas Watch. All major carriers were found to have overcharged, but Farmers disputed the finding. Farmers agreed to a settlement that included rate cuts, refunds and premium credits, but it was never approved after consumers objected.

The company remains as committed to finalizing the settlement as it was when the first proposal was announced, Farmers spokesman Mark Toohey said in a statement. The settlement, “which is scheduled for a final court hearing in January 2014, is fair and reasonable to all parties involved,” Toohey said. “We look forward to the final court hearing and, ultimately, court approval.”

Farmers admits no wrongdoing. “Since a settlement agreement was first announced in this case in 2003, Farmers Insurance has been and continues to be strongly committed to its finalization. Closure of this case has been delayed, however, since 2003 due to appeals filed by a small number of plaintiffs. The bottom line is that Farmers Insurance has remained committed over these many years to doing business in Texas. And, we also believe this 10-year-old settlement, which is scheduled for a final court hearing in January 2014, is fair and reasonable to all parties involved. We look forward to the final court hearing and, ultimately, court approval.”

Winslow said that although his group has not seen the proposal that was filed in court recently, it appears to be on the same terms as the initial proposal. If so, he said the deal has only had 10 years to become worse than when it was initially put together. Farmers, he said, has been able to hold onto and benefit from money it should have paid, while consumers suffer an opportunity cost for their long wait to receive payments. If the deal is identical to the original proposal, he has the same concerns about how some payments are to be made. For instance, those policyholders who do not renew will not receive their full amount, he said.

Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber said the deal “has been a long time coming and we are looking forward to helping Texas policyholders get the refunds they deserve.”

In 2005, a Texas 3rd Court of Appeals struck down a $117.5 million settlement the state attorney general and DOI reached with Farmers in late 2002, finding that the agreement did not meet statutory standards to be recognized as a class action. The settlement arose from a deceptive practices lawsuit filed in August 2001 by the attorney general’s office that charged Farmers’ rates did not reflect mold exclusions the company claimed in homeowners’ coverage. The attorney general sought to have it certified as a class action case that would immunize Farmers from separate policyholder lawsuits (Best’s News Service, Jan. 25, 2005).

The top five writers of homeowners multiperil insurance in Texas during 2012 were State Farm Group, with a 26.83% market share; Allstate Insurance Group, with 11.83%; Farmers Insurance Group, with 11.07%; USAA Group, with 8.66%; and Liberty Mutual Insurance Companies, with 7.08%, according to BestLink (www.ambest.com/bestlink).

Farmers Insurance Group is not rated by A.M. Best Co., but the Olathe, Kan.-based Farmers Insurance Co. and other rating unit members have a Best’s Financial Strength Rating of A (Excellent).

Texas Senate Committee Urges End to Insurers Using Customer Inquiries to Raise Rates

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January 30  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

Austin Bureau

tstutz@dallasnews.com

Published: 29 January 2013 10:52 PM

AUSTIN — Some Texas insurers are penalizing customers who call asking questions about their coverage or potential claims, a Senate committee said Tuesday, urging that the practice be stopped.

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee’s report calls for legislation prohibiting insurers from using customer inquiries to cancel policies or decline to renew them, or to increase premiums for those policyholders.

A survey conducted by the Texas Department of Insurance found that several companies use customer inquiries in ways that can affect rates or determine whether a homeowner policy should be renewed.

The report cites the case of a homeowner who asks an insurance agent about a leaking roof and then does not make repairs before the policy comes up for renewal, resulting in cancellation of the policy. Another example is a homeowner asking about the need for additional coverage after a remodeling project or addition to a house, triggering an automatic premium increase.

“Consumers should feel free to contact their insurance carriers with questions and concerns, while carriers have a responsibility to ensure that rates are not inflated by issues or losses that come to their attention,” the Senate committee said in the report. It did not identify companies that keep track of customer inquiries.

The proposed legislation was applauded by a leading consumer group, Texas Watch, which said homeowners should not be penalized simply for asking their agents legitimate questions about coverage.

The Business and Commerce Committee also called for the return to a standard homeowner policy in Texas so consumers can more easily compare companies when they are shopping for insurance.

Currently, companies offer policies that often differ greatly from those offered by competitors. Texas at one time had a standard homeowner policy — laying out specific coverage — which was the basis for most insurance policies sold in the state.

“Texans pay too much and get too little for their insurance,” said Alex Winslow of Texas Watch. “They are told to shop the market but don’t have the tools necessary to make informed choices.”

Insurance industry representatives were cool to the idea of a standard policy, which companies lobbied to get rid of several years ago. Instead, companies seek to “offer policies they feel can successfully compete with others in the marketplace,” said Mark Hanna of the Insurance Council of Texas.

Legislative Update – Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA

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January 28  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga
January 25, 2013
   
State: Texas
Topic: Legislative Update – Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) Reform
Lines Affected: Not Line Specific

 

Overview

Reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) is again a major issue for the Texas Legislature.  This bulletin provides political context and descriptions of two very different approaches to dealing with wind and hail issues in the Texas market that are being proposed this session.

 

Déjà vu All Over Again

TWIA is not sustainable in its current form.  Coastal residents are opposed to any legislation that would raise their rates.  Inland legislators will not vote for legislation that would raise their constituents’ rates to subsidize coastal residents. Insurers can’t afford to risk writing coastal properties and continue to shed coastal risks.  TWIA’s liability in force continues to grow.  This paragraph could have been the opening paragraph for any of the Texas legislative sessions going back to at least 2001. As might be expected there is a substantial amount of TWIA fatigue in the legislature after major reforms were passed in the last two sessions and the inertia caused by that fatigue could be a major hurdle for reform efforts this year. 

Two major proposals have surfaced recently but have not yet been turned into bill drafts.  Copies of descriptions of both proposals are attached to this bulletin.

The first proposal is from a coalition of coastal legislators, local governments and coastal chambers of commerce.  As expected, it is heavy on protecting coastal consumers from rate increases and shifts costs to insurers and consumers statewide.  Realistically this proposal is very unlikely to pass since it would ask all non-coastal legislators to vote to increase insurance costs for their constituents in order to prop up TWIA funding.  The proposal has some elements relating to building codes and mitigation that are positive, but overall the funding proposal is likely to weigh down the whole effort.

The second proposal is from the four non-legislative members of the Joint Interim Committee to Study Seacoast Territory Insurance.  Again this proposal is not in bill form so the lack of detail will probably raise more questions than the report can answer.   

In general, this proposal would: 

·         Phase out TWIA and the FAIR Plan and establish a statewide assigned risk plan that would write a multi-peril policy for personal property (TWIA would continue in some scaled back form for commercial coastal risks); 

·         Contract with a MGA to operate the pool; make assignments based on statewide market share; give members a 20-day window to take out assigned policies; assigned insurer would be responsible for all policy service  and bears profit/loss on policies;

·         Transition to Rate Adequacy-three year path for $500K + properties, five year path for $250K to $499K policies, eight year path for less than $250K policies.  Insurers assigned policies with inadequate rates to be made whole through premium tax credits and other methods to be determined.

·         Mitigation-establish public/private mitigation programs, including grants for mitigation aid.

·         Litigation-adopt standards for all coastal policies similar to reforms passed for TWIA policies last session.

This proposal will be politically hampered by fear of the unknown, lack of detail and dependence on rate adequacy, but it is a fresh look at an old problem and will receive a lot of attention in the state house.  PCI met with the governor’s staff this week and they are asking for input from members on the assigned risk plan proposal.  Please email your comments on the proposal to joe.woods@pciaa.net.r

State Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman’s Travel Records Reflect Global Interest in Windstorm Market

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December 11  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

December 10, 2012 

 

CORPUS CHRISTI — This year’s overseas trips made by state Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman reflect global interest in Texas’ coastal windstorm conundrum.

Kitzman, whose office provided a year’s worth of travel receipts in response to a request from the Caller-Times, traveled to London, England at the end of April and to Bermuda at the beginning of May, followed by a midsummer trip to Grand Cayman and a late September trip to Singapore.

The London trip was not paid for by state taxpayers because Kitzman was a featured speaker at an insurance industry forum. However, the commissioner confirmed she met with Lloyd’s, the global insurance giant, while in London from April 26 until May 4. Taxpayers paid $133 in taxi fares.

Bermuda cost taxpayers $2,311 that Kitzman justified as necessary to conduct face-to-face meetings with a laundry list of reinsurance companies. Bermuda is known in insurance circles as the “world’s risk capital,” according to her staff.

The commissioner, traveling alone, boarded a Delta flight to the tiny island about 1,000 miles off the North Carolina coast on May 16 and returned to Texas on May 20. In between, according to her expense report filed with the state and requests for further clarification on her activities, she met with more than a dozen reinsurance providers — several which currently provide reinsurance to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association — to discuss plans for the Texas property and casualty market.

Reinsurance is what insurance companies buy to hedge themselves against catastrophic, unplanned losses.

“The meetings were highly productive as the reinsurance industry indicated it is ready and willing to continue participating in the Texas coastal property insurance market,” said department spokesman Jerry Hagins. “Reinsurance is a global business and reinsurers have lots of options for deploying their capital. The regulatory environment can be a factor in that decision-making process.”

Together with public bonds, reinsurance is a critical component of the windstorm association’s plan to raise the billions of dollars needed to pay claims after a storm strikes the Texas coast.

The association for the 2012 hurricane season secured about $850 million in reinsurance as part of its post-event claims payment plan.

Insurance Council of Texas spokesman Mark Hanna said Kitzman’s travel is indicative of the challenges and complexity of being the head regulator of a multibillion industry.

“These aren’t vacation trips,” Hanna said. “They are short, pinpointed with specific purposes and then, get on back to Texas.”

Hanna said Kitzman, a lawyer who before accepting Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment in 2011 was insurance commissioner in South Carolina, speaks the language and understands the business.

“She’s going and meeting face-to-face with the people who are calling the shots,” he said. “She’s one of the more knowledge commissioners we’ve ever had. She knows who she needs to see to make it work.”

As the face of the Texas insurance industry, Kitzman also must work with state lawmakers with whom she has sometimes clashed over what to do with the struggling windstorm association.

Hanna said Kitzman’s meetings also allow her to gain a feel for the global insurance marketplace and to bring that knowledge to bear when summoned by those same lawmakers to meetings at the Capitol.

“After all, she’s the one who has to appear before legislators and answer the tough questions,” Hanna said. “That’s what she’s trying to do — she’s doing her homework.”

In all, Kitzman filed more than $12,000 in state-paid travel receipts between mid-October 2011 and mid-October 2012 for meetings in places such as North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and up and down the Texas coast, including several meetings in Corpus Christi.

The state-paid tab pales in comparison to Kitzman’s industry-related travel funded primarily by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. During the same period, Kitzman expensed more than $34,000 through the association for trips to meetings, speaking engagements and conferences in the United States and abroad.

Hanna said Kitzman’s involvement in the national association is valuable, as well.

“It gives Texas a voice at the national level,” he said.

Learning from our stormy history

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May 23  |  Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

By KATE SPINNER

Published: Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 10:52 p.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE – The Atlantic churned with so many hurricanes in the 1920s and 1930s that anyone familiar with tropical weather might mistake the storm counts from that period for the past two decades. Today, during a similar multi-decade phase of high hurricane activity, meteorology has advanced so much that a hurricane should take no one by surprise.

HURRICANES:

Scientists look to past decades for disaster
planning lessons

Still they do.

Some of the problems that existed decades ago remain, said meteorologists at the Governor’s Hurricane Conference last week. State meteorologists looked back at some the infamous storms of the late 1800s and early 1900s to find communication errors resembling those made during more recent storms.

Thousands courted danger in staying behind during Hurricane Ike, which struck Galveston, Texas, in 2008, and in Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in 2005. Despite email, text messaging, smartphones and social media outlets, forecasters still say they have trouble getting their messages across.

“We can get the information to people much more quickly and much more efficiently. The question is: Are we communicating that information in a way that encourages people to take the actions that they need to take?” said Steve Letro, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Jacksonville.

In 1933, 21 tropical storms and hurricanes swept though the western Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It was the busiest hurricane season on record until 2005. But back then there were no satellites, radar or airplanes that flew into hurricanes with high-tech weather equipment. Meteorologists relied on ship captains to report weather observations, such as pressure and wind speed, to warn of brewing storms. Forecasters knew little about how the storms were behaving until they approached land.

Similar to today, newspapers in 1933 wrote about the huge number of storms the Atlantic was spitting out and told of the destruction after they crossed land. At the end of August that year, two major hurricanes — with dangerous 111 mph or stronger winds — threatened the coast of Florida and Texas at the same time, a scenario that would create havoc today.

The first storm hit Florida, between Martin and St. Lucie counties with 125 mph to 130 mph winds. About 5,000 lived in the area and two were killed. The storm dashed across the central part of the state and dragged northward along the west coast. By then it was a tropical storm. The storm ruined the state’s citrus industry and caused $4 million in damage by 1933 standards, said Scott Spratt, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Melbourne office.

Today, the same hurricane would directly threaten 375,000 people on the East Coast and billions of dollars worth of property statewide.

Satellites would pinpoint the storm before it even became a hurricane.

Meteorologists would track it for days. Three days before landfall, the nation would watch the whole state of Florida become engulfed in the “cone of uncertainty” that forecasters use to predict where a storm will travel. Nobody in Martin or St. Lucie county would be startled to see a hurricane at their doorstep.

Yet, meteorologists wondered if they would evacuate when told. Based on experience with Ike and Katrina, the forecasters were not so sure.

If a storm similar to the 1935 Labor Day hurricane struck the Keys again, meteorologists fear the same mistakes might play out.

Forecasters then knew the hurricane was coming, but it surprised people by growing from a Category 1 to a 5 in less than two days — a rapid intensification that forecasters still have difficulty predicting.

An evacuation train arrived six hours too late, leaving citizens and veterans trapped to ride out the disaster. The storm struck with 185 mph winds, the strongest storm ever to make a U.S. landfall. Rising seas ripped the railroad and caused a 30-mile stretch of destruction. 400 people died — more than half of them veterans — prompting a congressional investigation.

“There was miscommunication between the decision-makers of when they were going to send the evacuation train,” said Fred Johnson, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Key West.

Much of this year’s hurricane conference focused on improving communication among meteorologists, emergency responders and the public to avoid preventable death, such as the thousands who perished during Katrina and the dozens from Ike.

Part of the new strategy this year is to use social media to reach more of the public. National Weather Service offices and the National Hurricane Center have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. The National Hurricane Center also has posted a number of informational videos about hurricanes on YouTube.

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