UF/IFAS: Ian/Nicole overlap complicates loss and damage assessments

by | Nov 10, 2022

 

  • University of Florida economists say the overlap reinforces the need for post-storm reports
  • Nicole made landfall in Florida as a hurricane early Thursday before weakening to a tropical storm
  • Nicole has impacted much of the same land area that Hurricane Ian did

Back-to-back hurricanes are making post-storm assessments more difficult for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

While the University of Florida continues to refine data sets and methods to improve predictions of the monetary losses to Florida agriculture, economists say that Hurricane Nicole — which made landfall last night before being downgraded to a tropical storm — is complicating the process. UF/IFAS noted in a press release Thursday that Nicole has impacted much of the same land area that Hurricane Ian — a Category 4 storm — swept through just a few weeks prior.

The director of the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program says the overlapping storms have made the data her team references less applicable to the current situation.

“The impact to agricultural production due to Hurricane Ian is not only still being felt – it’s still not entirely accounted for,” said Christa Court, who is also an assistant professor in the food and resource economics department. “Much of this area has already experienced two extreme weather events in 2022 – a hard freeze in January and Hurricane Ian in September – making our baseline data less accurate, and now we’re adding a third event.”

Agriculture, a significant contributor to the state’s economy, produces 200-300 commodities from livestock to aquaculture to fruit and vegetable crops. Hurricane Ian brought hurricane-strength (74-156 mph) winds to nearly 1.2 million acres of agricultural lands, including a large swath of citrus-producing counties.

Following Hurricane Ian, UF/IFAS released its “Preliminary Assessment of Agricultural Losses and Damages resulting from Hurricane Ian. The report analyzed a combination of seasonal crops, livestock, nursery, and aquaculture products impacted by the Category 4 storm.

The report initially anticipated the combination of agriculture production to be potentially lost as a result of Hurricane Ian to be valued between $787 million and $1.56 billion,

Court anticipates a final report on the economic impact of Ian could be completed by the end of November.

The crop may already be lower quality or quantity after Ian than in previous years,” she said, “and although it’s rare that we get reports of total losses from a farm, my program also hasn’t yet measured two hurricanes in the same growing season impacting the same area.”

The post-storm assessment surveys completed via an online survey or paper survey by local Florida Cooperative Extension agents or producers themselves aim to capture impacts to production and sales revenues for the wide variety of commodities covered. 

The UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program conducts assessments after any event that disrupts the standard operations of Florida’s agriculture industry. Surveys are deployed after natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and freezes, but have more recently included assessments of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Court also emphasized that surveys deployed by her program are among the tools used to inform the official processes of disaster declaration and disaster relief and recovery efforts.

She added that another survey has been released following Nicole, and is encouraging agricultural producers to assess their lands as soon as it is safe to do so and to report their observations, even if damage and losses were minimal or zero.

“I recognize the potential for survey fatigue, which is why we continue to adjust our survey to be as straightforward as possible,” Court said. “Our survey for Hurricane Ian has hit a record number of responses, and we thank all who have helped us capture a more accurate representation of its damage and resulting losses. It is important that we can do the same for anyone whose lands are affected by Hurricane Nicole.” 

Court and her colleagues began collecting baseline data for agricultural losses and damages resulting from tropical cyclone events in 2016. Since then, the program has worked to improve its baseline and impact databases for these types of analyses.

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