Slow storm season may lull coastal residents

The lack of activity during the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season can be cause for both relief and concern, according to emergency officials along South Carolina's coast.

About five weeks remain in the 2009 season, which has not produced widespread damage and which has been calm enough to allow emergency officials to prepare for the next tropical system.

But the lack of activity could make some residents, particularly those new to the coast, less vigilant in preparing for future storm seasons, some officials say.

"It was a non-season," said Randy Webster, Horry County's emergency management director. "The concern we have is every time we don't have (an active hurricane season), it does put more complacency in the community."

However, William Winn, director of the Public Safety Division for Beaufort County, said it doesn't take a line of storms pummeling the South Carolina coast to keep residents alert to the potential dangers of hurricane season.

"In my experience, when there's a storm threat, the vast majority of people know how to get ready for it," said Winn. "They respond to each storm individually."

There have been eight named storms in the Atlantic this season, including Hurricane Bill and Tropical Storm Danny, both of which passed the Carolinas' coastlines and caused some coastal flooding and beach erosion.

"No matter which season it is, we're always vulnerable to these systems," Webster said. "We need to take these opportunities to build upon the remainder of the season and next year to get ready. There's no excuse not to get ready when, at this point, time is on our side."

Hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30, but September is considered the height of the season, officials said.

"I don't recall a year like this," said Sam Hodge, Georgetown County's emergency preparedness manager. "The biggest concern is a slow season like this building complacency in the visitors and residents of Georgetown County. It's a hard sell for next year when we tell them that they need to evacuate and be prepared for a disaster. Even though it's been a quiet season, it only takes one event - whether it be a hurricane, a tornado or a flood - to make it a bad year."

Even though it was a calm season, coastal property owners shouldn't expect lower insurance premiums.

"So far we've had a good hurricane season and there are expectations that prices for insurance coverage will go down. ... But price is based on the long-term risk," said Allison Dean Love, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service.

"It's great news that we had a year without hurricanes, but if we were to see another Hurricane Hugo, that could cost the equivalent of 15 to 20 years of insurance premiums in South Carolina."

In South Carolina, insurance premiums of $1 billion cover about $700 billion in property, including $200 billion along the coast, Love said.

"One good year is great news, but it doesn't change the risk," she said.