After Michael: Updating Florida's Building Code to Better Weather Future Storms

Code requirements for wind resistance vary substantially across Florida, with less stringent building requirements in areas of the Panhandle hit hard by Hurricane Michael.

2 minute read

October 14, 2018, 9:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Florida - Hurricane Frances Approaching (2004)

Roger Wollstadt / Flickr

In Hurricane Michael's aftermath, it's devastatingly clear that structures in the storm's path were unable to weather a Category 4 storm. Florida code requirements are the most stringent in South Florida, Andres Viglucci, David Ovalle, Caitlin Ostroff, and Nicholas Nehamas report. However, "they taper down the farther north you move along the peninsula. In most of the Panhandle, the code requirements are significantly less stringent."

For instance, structures in Miami-Date County must be able to withstand winds of 175 miles an hour, while "along the stretch of the Panhandle hit hardest by Michael — including Mexico Beach, Apalachicola and Panama City — the design standard drops to as low as 120 miles an hour before rising gradually to 150 mph around Pensacola at the state's far western edge."

These discrepancies originate from the process used to develop the code, which takes into account storm history and the likelihood of future hurricane strikes in a particular locality. As the first known Category 4 hurricane to strike the area it did, Michael was an outlier that hammered home the need the revise rules.

Touring the hard-hit town of Mexico Beach, Governor Rick Scott suggested such revisions. "After every event, you always go back and look what you can do better. After Andrew, the codes changed dramatically in our state," Scott said. "Every time something like this happens, you have to say to yourself, 'Is there something we can do better?'"

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