Archived Story

Area ranks high in natural disaster risk index

Published 7:33pm Tuesday, June 24, 2014

By Mitch Sneed

Outlook Managing Editor

The Lake Martin region is a great place to live. It boasts incredible recreation, good schools and favorable temperatures for all to enjoy. The area is growing as people move here to take advantage of all the area has to offer.

But a recently released study shows that while our region technically falls in the highest risk category for natural disasters, the ranking is much lower than in areas along Alabama’s I-20 corridor.

Tallapoosa, Elmore and Coosa counties all rank at the low end of the “very high risk” level, according to California-based RealtyTrac’s first “Natural Disaster Housing Risk Report.”

The study considers historical data relating to natural events in an area to reach a total risk score for every county in the nation, ranging from 15 to 75.

Tallapoosa County has an overall score of 50, with very high risk in hurricanes and in tornadoes, and a B- for earthquakes.

In recent years, tornadoes have caused damage in the area and the remnants of two separate hurricanes doused the Lake Martin region. Despite those events, the county falls at the tail end of the “very high risk” ranking.

“Weather related events and natural disasters are going to happen and of course you can’t control that,” Tallapoosa EMA Director Joe Paul Boone said. “But we have worked very hard on awareness programs, weather radio events and developing a network that enables us to make the threat of any potentially dangerous situation known to all of our residents.”

Through the Alabama Ready program, Tallapoosa and Elmore counties are both designated “Storm Ready” counties.

Boone said that he has a network of storm watchers who share information and he said that they work closely with EMA officials in neighboring counties to give real time information about what might be headed to other counties, or what might be headed into his area.

“We all work very well together and that is very helpful when it comes to response times,” Boone said. “We may not be able to stop events, but we can minimize risks and help people safeguard themselves and their property. That is our goal.”

Tallapoosa County is not alone in the region for higher than average natural disaster risk.

Elmore County’s overall score is 50, which also ranks it at bottom of the “very high risk” category. Its tornado risk is listed as “low,” while its hurricane risk is listed as “very high.” The earthquake risk grade for Elmore is a B-.

Coosa County has an overall score of 60 – the highest of all the region’s countys – with very high risks in tornadoes and hurricanes, and a C+ for earthquakes.

Compare local county scores to the 65 rankings for Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, Shelby, Talladega, Marengo, Bibb, Hale, Sumter, Cleburne, Greene and Perry counties and the Lake Martin region actually stacks up very favorably.

The counties in the U.S. with very low risks are located mainly in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

The scores were calculated from three equally weighted categories: earthquake risk, hurricane risk and tornado risk. The hurricane and tornado risks come from historic National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data from 2001 – 2013, and the earthquake risk comes from U.S. Geological Survey calculations of the chances of a magnitude 5.0 earthquake occurring within a 30-mile radius in the next 50 years.

Local Realtor Sam Spurlin of Remax Around the Lake said that while some buyers are aware of past storms, she has never had a buyer go much beyond a casual reference.

“Most people who come here are coming with a purpose,” Spurlin said. “The lake and recreation, the schools and location are what draws people here. Every place has storms, and we had a few that made national news, but if you compare that to like on the beach or other areas even here in out state and we have had it pretty good.”

A national expert said buyers rarely base a decision on weather or other natural events.

Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac vice president, said natural disasters are not usually at the top of a home buyer’s check list, but it’s something that prudent buyers need to take into consideration, along with many other factors.

“We think this is something important for homeowners and home buyers to know when they’re making decisions about property,” said Blomquist. “It’s probably not the primary consideration, but it’s something the homeowner knows is available. We wanted to raise the awareness that this data is out there to research on individual homes.”

Blomquist said of the 3,138 counties in the nation analyzed, 373 – or 12 percent – were listed as very high risk, representing about 3.9 million housing units, or 8 percent of the total U.S. housing units.

Meanwhile, 271 counties fell into the very low risk category, representing 3.9 million housing units, or 3 percent of the total.

About 47 percent of U.S. houses fall into the high-risk category, about 1,118 counties, with a combined 61 million housing units.