Tag Archives: hurricanes

Another Rough Summer Ahead?

When I checked the weather for my town in Northern California over the weekend, I saw a “red alert.” What? Sure, it was windy and a bit warm, but a red alert? For what? It turns out that we’re already in fire season: Low humidity, high temperatures and strong winds meant severe danger for wildfires. At the beginning of May.

At the same time, all forecasts seem to be for an unusually active hurricane season in the Atlantic this summer. So, buckle up. As bad as the past few years have been, there’s no reason to think this summer will bring any relief from natural disasters in the U.S.

This forecast on hurricanes calls for not only the sixth consecutive year of more hurricanes than average — following a year when there were so many tropical storms that they ran through the entire alphabet of designated names and made it deep into the Greek alphabet — but also for more that will make landfall in the Caribbean and along the U.S. coast. The reasons for concern are that the La Nina weather pattern is expected to last into the early summer and that sea temperatures are well above average in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

While wildfires are harder to predict, this Washington Post article reports that structural changes in the weather are making California more vulnerable. The big issue is that the dry season, which lasts roughly from late spring to late fall, is expanding, according to analysis from weather stations around the state from the past 60 years. For instance, Sacramento, near where I live, has seen the onset of its rainy season delayed by three weeks just since 1979. San Francisco has had its dry season expand by 14 days.

About 4.2 million acres burned in the state last year, an area larger than Connecticut and twice as extensive as the previous worst season on record. (In a bizarre story, authorities allege that one of the major fires was set by someone who had killed a woman and wanted to hide the evidence of how she died; the fire killed two men whose homes lay in its path.)

It’s been a dry winter, so who knows how bad this year will be?

Technology is finally being deployed that uses sensors to track the progress of fires and help with deployment of resources — firefighting has been described as “100 years of tradition, unimpeded by progress” — but that seems to be a few years away from making a major difference.

For now, we seem to need to brace for a wet, stormy summer in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast and a long, hot summer in my neck of the woods.

Keep your fingers crossed.



P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:

Gateway to Claims Transformation

Claims management is a perfect use case for just how critical platforms and ecosystems can be in achieving transformation.

Nonstandard Auto Insurance’s Key Role

Customers, insurance carriers and their distribution need nonstandard auto protection for drivers now more than at any time in history.

Transformation of the Risk Landscape

Insurers of all sizes need to take note of changes in the risk landscape and continuously improve their ERM practices.

Bring Certainty to Remote Injury Claims

The reality is that injuries occur all the time in any environment, at home just as they do in a conventional workplace.

Way Beyond Comparative Raters

Distribution in commercial lines is in play. Companies are rethinking strategies to reach preferred segments and drive more profitable business.

How Well Did Agents Cope With COVID?

Both brokers and carriers give themselves high marks on retaining and servicing existing policyholders. But new business is a different story.

2020 Catastrophes; Preview for 2021

Many could not wait for 2020 to end, and numerous summaries highlighting the many different catastrophes and their impact on the insurance industry have been published. However, there is a need to put things into perspective at times, and this article looks to highlight a few unique aspects of 2020 and the catastrophes that have not been widely reported that have helped the insurance industry.

There is no escaping all the news about all the catastrophes in 2020 that have totaled $83 billion according to Swiss Re and $82 billion according to Munich Re. However, what is not widely mentioned in all of the various discussions is how normal these losses are. According to AIR Worldwide (AIR) and its 2020 Global Modeled Catastrophe Losses report, the average annual loss (AAL) is modeled at $99.6 billion. The 1% aggregate exceedance probability insured loss (or the 100-year return period loss) is nearly $301 billion. This is not a complete apples-to-apples analysis, as there are catastrophic events that occurred in 2020 that could not be modeled; however, the broader point is that, overall, losses appear to be what the insurance industry should expect in any given year.

The numbers are a good reminder not to put much weight on trends in economic or insured losses and to measure catastrophic trends in the perils that cause the loss; there are just so many moving parts. Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado, continues to lead this area of analysis by putting losses into perspective. Along with the comments from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which mentions that “increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of long-term increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence),” Pielke for over a decade has analyzed global disasters as a proportion of global GDP data provided by Munich Re and the World Bank. The latest research continues to headline a long-term downward trend; even with global GDP declining due to COVID-19, his analysis shows that, while there are loss complexities due to social-economic issues, overall the losses could have been worse. The following three sections are highlights as to some of the reasons that have not been mentioned in a lot of these annual reports.

Severe Weather-Related Observations

Various reports show that most of the largest and costliest natural disasters in 2020 occurred in the U.S. Severe weather in the U.S. led to over $30 billion in insured loss across 40 separate industry-wide events, according to Property Claims Services (PCS). But when you look at the severe weather data from 2020, it was not a record year. There is a disconnect between the observations of the peril of severe weather and the large amount of insured loss that occurred. For example, hail occurrences were the lowest since 2005, and, considering that an estimated 60% of annual storm losses in the U.S. result from hail, it would follow that most losses could have been driven from non-tornadic wind activity.

The Nashville tornado on March 2 once again proved that cities and expansive metropolitan areas are not shielded from large tornado impacts. However, as with hail, total tornado counts were observed just below the annual mean count. The U.S. currently is in the second-longest period between observations of EF5 tornadoes. The last EF5 tornado observed in the U.S. was on May 20, 2013. The other unusual aspect of the severe weather season was that Florida and Illinois each saw more tornadoes than Kansas and Oklahoma combined in 2020. Because tornadoes are correlated with outbreaks of other severe weather perils, maybe it was severe weather in the more populated Southeast that also contributed to the higher amounts in insurance loss this past year.

Not all severe thunderstorm wind impacts result from tornadoes. The Midwest derecho was by far the most significant event of 2020. It has been dubbed the equivalent to a major hurricane. Based on reports of high winds and wind damage, 2020 was on par with 2019 and overall the third-highest year of wind local storm reports since 2005. Therefore, maybe a higher percentage of insured losses are coming from severe wind events.

Data From NOAA Storm Prediction Center

Few Major Earthquakes

2020 started with the most powerful earthquake to hit Puerto Rico since 1918, when a large Mw 6.4 earthquake struck just 5 miles off the southern coast on Jan. 7. Another rare earthquake struck about nine miles west of Salt Lake City as an Mw 5.7. Although the highest earthquake hazard in the continental U.S. is largely associated with California, which still awaits the big one, earthquakes in the past have been devastating. However, the 2020 global earthquake catalog was quite kind to the insurance industry, with the second year in a row with a relatively low number of Mw 7.0 or greater earthquakes from around the world.

Source: USGS

Named Storm Activity

Many of the 2020 reviews have highlighted how active and devastating the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was, in particular on the central Gulf Coast. This active landfall season had an impact on the total insured losses in the U.S., which currently accounts for just under $20 billion and should continue to develop as claims are still being processed. In the season-ending tropical update, it was noted that the clustering of storms was very evident this year. However, the insurance industry needs to understand that the hurricane magnet Florida was relatively unscathed during the active season and this is the 28th year that the very populated southeast Florida coastal city of Miami has not been hit by a major hurricane directly. Although Isaias had its impact widely felt in New England as it became an extratropical storm, this part of the U.S has not had any direct impacts from a hurricane since Bob in 1991. It has also been 31 years since the last major hurricane made landfall in South Carolina. The U.S. went 12 years without a major hurricane impact, and the landfall activity we are seeing over the last three years may just be nature’s way of reverting landfall statistics to a Poisson distribution. Unfortunately, some areas are long overdue for a major hurricane landfall.

Spring 2021 Early Look Ahead

With half of the meteorological winter behind us, the early trends for spring show La Nina, which is known to cause stronger severe weather seasons in the U.S. La Nina is a cold phase of a large oscillation in the central Pacific Ocean, called ENSO, (El Nino Southern Oscillation). Preliminary data shows that the ENSO has already reached the peak of its cold phase. While it was not the strongest of all time, this La Nina was indeed quite strong, which increases the likelihood of its impact reaching into spring 2021.

One of the main influences of La Nina (or any other ENSO phase) can be seen in the changing jet stream. The image below shows the average position of the jet stream during the La Nina seasons and the corresponding weather development over North America. The twisted jet stream brings colder air and storms down from Canada into northern and the north-western U.S., and warmer and drier weather to the southern parts.

Source: NOAA and Climate.gov

The image below shows a comparison of hailstorm and tornado frequency during the spring season in the U.S., between El Nino and La Nina years. In a La Nina spring season, there is a substantially higher frequency of hailstorms and especially tornadoes in the “Tornado Alley” south-central plains.

Source: NOAA and Climate.gov

As La Nina promotes a high-pressure system in the North Pacific, there is usually a pressure drop over western Canada and the north-western U.S. Cold fronts often then move from western Canada down toward the south-central U.S., where they meet warm moist air coming from the Gulf of Mexico. With the jet stream altered by La Nina, the combination of conditions can create storms that become severe and tornadic.

See also: How to Minimize Flood Losses

Below is the season forecast from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) model. The forecast suggests the pressure forecast will be lower in western Canada, as well as in southern and southwestern U.S. This low-pressure zone means a stronger warm and moist southerly flow from the Gulf of Mexico into the south-central U.S., as a low-pressure system spins counterclockwise.

Source: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and a look at the Pressure Forecast Probability for March April and May timeframe.

Below is a graph that shows annual tornado (EF1+) numbers in the U.S. from 1950 to 2020. We can see that many of the most active tornado years were La Nina years. If this spring La Nina holds together, given that it is the most active part of the year for tornadoes, and the occurrence of tornadoes is correlated with other forms of severe weather, there is a good chance the central plains could get back to seeing severe weather that was lacking last year. This is clearly something the BMS Analytics team will be watching and helping clients with, through tools like BMS IVision.

Are Sharknados Next?

Many years ago, when I watched “Biloxi Blues,” the Neil Simon play about a young draftee suffering through basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi, I laughed hard at the way actor Matthew Broderick whined the line, “Man, it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.”

I’m not laughing now. I can’t swear that Tarzan couldn’t take the “kind of hot” we’re experiencing in California, but I’m certainly struggling. The high temperatures in the Central Valley have exceeded 110 for several days now and are expected to be between 100 and 110 for as far as the eye can see on weather forecasts. Even in the Lake Tahoe area, where I’ve spent many a pleasant summer, temperatures are so high and wood so dry that four fires have produced the Reno, Nev., weather station’s first report of fire tornados — the fires literally produced tornados of flame and laid waste to tens of thousands of acres.

What’s next? Sharknados? And what, if anything, can we do?

Well, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a break coming any time soon, and not just in California. While I whine about highs of maybe 113 in Northern California and the rolling brownouts and blackouts, Death Valley recorded 130 degrees down south, thought to be the world’s highest temperature since 1931, and forecasts are for the heat wave to be unrelenting. Meanwhile, in Iowa, a derecho — a wide line of fast-moving storms characterized by winds that can reach hurricane force, by tornados and by heavy rains — devastated 12.4 million acres of soybeans and corn early last week. A city council member in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said trees are piled six to 10 feet high along streets — “It’s like driving through a tunnel of green.” The East Coast is facing its 11th named tropical storm so far this year, forming in the Atlantic, even though the 11th storm usually isn’t named until well into October. (Storms are named when they reach a certain threat level.)

While the U.S. gets most of the focus just now, Siberia has had a crazy heat wave of its own. A town named Verkhoyansk just recorded a temperature of 100 degrees. That may not seem that extreme, but the town is in the Arctic Circle. It was previously known for tying the lowest temperature on record, at minus-90.

You can decide for yourself just how severe climate change will be and how quickly it will occur, but trend lines on heat certainly suggest to me that this won’t be the last summer when I complain about Tarzan-level heat and when my friends on the East Coast have to batten down the hatches in the face of a string of hurricanes.

The only thing I know to suggest is to prepare. We had authors predicting a bad hurricane season last spring, such as in this article from May 10. We’ve also published extensively on better ways to understand wildfire risk, including in a three-part series whose first piece, dated July 6, is here. The articles describe what seems to be a promising way to correlate various risks, even when the areas involved are not near each other.

I’d love to be able to offer ways to head off the sort of devastation that, say, Iowans are facing, but I don’t imagine it’d do much good for me to tell the sun not to shine and the winds not to blow. So, better preparation is about all we can do for now.

The sorts of improvements in modeling described in those articles on hurricanes and wildfires can help. So can better sensors. Tiny, inexpensive weather stations dotting the countryside might pick up the signs of a derecho or other major storm faster than we can now.

Technology is also starting to help us react faster once tragedy strikes. Reports from the devastation in Iowa came in quickly, thanks to aerial surveys by drones, so recovery can started promptly. Parametric insurance policies or provisions written into standard policies can make a certain percentage of a claim available almost immediately, helping the insured get back on his or her feet faster.

There are even the beginnings of hope on prevention. Strings of small satellites that various companies are launching will monitor the Earth in real time and spot blazes when they are far smaller than most are when identified now. But that’s mostly theory at this point. It’ll take some time to implement.

This will be a slog. We’ll do our best to keep you updated on promising developments and hope you’ll pass along any ideas you have.

In the meantime, stay cool, stay dry and stay away from those fire tornados.


P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:

COVID: Chance to Rethink Workers Comp

As insurers worry that the pandemic is depressing premiums, here is a way to rethink workers’ comp — plus two entirely new product ideas.

Why COVID-19 Must Accelerate Change

According to a survey, insurers are 50% behind consumer demand for service via online chat and 25% behind on service via website.

COVID-19 Sparks Revolution in Claims

The pandemic has pushed workers’ comp toward telehealth, which is revolutionizing the claims process in four key ways.

5 Hurdles to Insurtech Success

Here are five things that stand between insurtechs and success — but, please note, your mileage may vary.

Watch for This 1 Word on Customer Needs

Use this simple technique to uncover customer needs, drive innovation in customer experience and keep your business ahead of the curve.

An Inconvenient Sales Truth

It is no longer enough to show up with a fancy spreadsheet, promises of better service and a capabilities presentation.

Hurricane Season: More Trouble Ahead?

With the official start of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season just one month away, there has likely never been a more important one for the insurance industry. This is not just because most of the early-season guidance points to an above-average hurricane season, which could increase the chances of hurricane landfall along the U.S. coastline; but, because of COVID-19, if a hurricane makes landfall it comes with increasing pressures for the people affected and the stress on the insurance industry. With insurers already strained due to COVID-19, additional losses from a named storm could disrupt the industry. 

By their very nature, hurricanes force people to gather close together in shelters and travel away from their places of residency during evacuations. This goes directly against what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend for countering a Covid-19 outbreak. Think about when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005: Around 20,000 people took refuge in the Superdome. One building with 20,000 people can’t happen in the current environment. Additionally, we have all read that the elderly population is more susceptible to COVID-19 and that the CDC guidelines should be strictly followed for this demographic, but the elderly are even more at risk during a hurricane because COVID-19 complicates evacuation procedures that are already difficult for them.

COVID-19 is already placing unprecedented strain on disaster management, health and other systems; a hurricane will exacerbate that strain. With outbreaks across the entire nation, an area hit by a hurricane is less likely to get aid from other states or regions. Will power crews travel hundreds of miles to help restore power? The lack of quick response can further create problems with mold growth if the power is not restored fast enough. After a storm, sometimes as many as 10,000 volunteers come from all over to help with the recovery, but it might be hard finding volunteers amid the pandemic. How about claims adjusters and another insurance personal that need to inspect property damage? How about contractors getting into an area to put tarps on roofs and prevent further damage? The list is almost endless of how uncertainty increases.

This is why all eyes will be on any little disturbance that develops anywhere in the Atlantic Ocean this season.  

Atlantic Hurricane Forecasts Are a Dime a Dozen

Do you know there are at least 26 different entities that forecast various aspects of the Atlantic hurricane season? You can track the majority of the early season predictions here: http://seasonalhurricanepredictions.org.

In meteorology forecasting class, one of the lessons that is taught is that the consensus forecast is a hard forecast to beat. Although early April hurricane season forecasts for activity have the least amount of overall reliability, when you get a great number of forecasts that agree that the overall activity will be above normal it should get the attention of the insurance industry. 

See also: The Best Tools for Disaster Preparation  

All the forecasts speculate on the same general climate factors that are leading indicators to an active hurricane season. One is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Currently, the majority of the global ENSO forecast models call for ENSO-neutral conditions during the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season for August-October. When ENSO is warmer than normal, it is called El Niño, and it typically reduces Atlantic hurricane activity via increased upper-level westerly winds in the Caribbean extending into the tropical Atlantic that shear apart storms as they are trying to form. This is not forecast to occur this year. There is some indication that late in the summer months a La Niña might develop, which would bring even less wind shear to the Caribbean and might lead to above normal activity. From 1995-2019, the non-El Niño seasonal mean Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index across the Atlantic Basin is 160 (104 is the 1981-2010 average), with those non-El Niño years having an average of 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes across the basin. So this is a good place to start if one wants to make the argument for more favorable activity across the Atlantic basin.

Currently, the Pacific remains in a warm-neutral state following a weak Modoki El Niño event in early 2019. Indications are showing cooling waters below the surface and conducive low-level winds at the surface, suggesting a La Niña event will slowly take shape over the next 3-5 months. This favors a busy season, particularly from September onward.

The other major climate forcer leading to an above-normal forecast is the Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature (SST), which is unusually warm at this time. This early-season warmth in the Main Development Region (MDR) has a strong relationship to an active hurricane season as a catalyst to tropical waves that move off Africa.

While these warm SSTs could change before the summer, the fact that the air temperatures over the area will only get warmer will likely limit any cooling of the current SST. Together with the increased probability of La Niña, the Atlantic SST signals elevated chances of a busy Atlantic hurricane season.

ECMWF SST Forecast
Much of the Atlantic’s waters are already warmer than average as of the end of April. The fact that the SST is already this warm and forecasted to stay above normal suggest a more active than normal named storm season. Above is the ECMWF August September October SST anomaly forecast. 

If you haven’t noticed, there has been plenty of severe weather in the Southeast U.S. over the last month or so. Part of the blame of these severe weather outbreaks can also be put on the warmer than normal SST in the Gulf of Mexico feeding moisture into the Southeast as mid-latitude low-pressure systems pull moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico, where water temperatures are one to three degrees above normal. There is no relationship between April Gulf SST and annual hurricane activity, mainly because Gulf of Mexico conditions can change quickly over a given season with weather pattern shifts. However, if such anomalies persist into July, the temperature could be deeply unsettling. 

A wildcard to the season could be how much dry air rolls off the coast of Africa with tropical waves. There have been seasons where all the major climate forcers looked to align, but named storms need the precise set of ingredients to come together to make for a super active year, and dry air can be a wildcard; too much dry air aloft can inhibit named storm development. 

Landfall Analogs

Many of the seasonal hurricane forecasts shy away from the most important factor for the insurance industry, which is overall landfall activity. After all, the Atlantic basin can be very active, but if no hurricanes make landfall the impact on the insurance industry is irrelevant. By looking at current oceanic and atmospheric conditions that are similar to conditions now and that might be expected during the peak of the hurricane season, analog years can provide useful clues as to what type of landfall activity might occur for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season. The years that seem to be most common are 1960, 1995, 1998, 2007, 2010 and 2013.

The analog years suggest a clustering of a pattern that would point to named storm activity along the central Gulf Coast and the Outer Banks. There is also a cluster of activity north of Puerto Rico and in the western Caribbean. In general, the analogs point to years with named storm landfall activity, so landfalling named storms should be expected from Texas to Maine, with the most focus on the regions mentioned above.

See also: Flood Insurance: Are the Storm Clouds Lifting?  

Early Season Activity

By now, the insurance industry understands that often tropical named storm activity comes in waves, which is largely a result of the passage of the Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) or large scale Convectively Coupled Kelvin Wave (CCKW). As we approach the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, the insurance industry can start to get a sense of when the Atlantic basin might experience some activity. The latest forecast guidance suggests that the first such wave of activity might occur around May 11, with another coming shortly after the start of the Atlantic Hurricane season. Given that the last five hurricane seasons have produced at least one named storm before June 1, it wouldn’t surprise me if this year tried to follow suit given the warm SST in the Gulf of Mexico. Often, early season development occurs with storm activity off the Carolina coastline. These types of early systems tend to meander or make landfall along the North Carolina to northeast Florida coastline. But another area ripe for early season activity this year could be in the Gulf of Mexico. 


The season looks to be active with a higher probability of named storm landfalls along the Gulf Coast or Outer Banks, NC, raising many questions about the possible effects on the insurance industry.

As the BMS Property Practice pointed out, if there is a heightened risk along the U.S. coastline would the authorities even allow non-permanent residents into the area to reach a second home if their primary residence is out of state?

Who is going to take steps to limit damage? How will storm response hamper recovery efforts in terms of volunteers or field adjusters? If hotels are not operating, where do people go, where do adjusters stay?

Maybe this is the year that insurtech solutions help the insurance industry respond to a natural disaster in new ways. No matter how you look at it, we are entering uncharted territory this hurricane season.

How Different Flood Types Affect Risk

For insurers to most effectively understand flood risk, they must have access to data that provides a full picture of the hazard, including the different flood types that might affect a property: fluvial, pluvial and storm surge. Although it may seem that flood is just flood, different types can produce various impacts on a property, causing different levels of damage.

Fluvial, pluvial and storm surge: Why it matters

Much of the U.S. is prone to both fluvial flooding (when rivers overtop their banks) and pluvial flooding (when water accumulates across the surface of the ground as a result of heavy rainfall). However, many coastal regions also experience storm surge flooding, which is a result of increased sea levels caused by weather events.

Storm surge flooding is extremely damaging due to the salinity of the water, while pluvial flooding is typically cleaner and quick to recede, likely resulting in lower-cost claims.

Without a view of these different drivers of flooding, insurers cannot understand the full exposure to their portfolios or fully engage with the private flood insurance market.

Use case: Jacksonville, Fla.

The need to understand all the drivers of flood can be illustrated using a residential property on 2nd Avenue, Jacksonville, Fla. Jacksonville is one of the five most vulnerable cities to hurricanes on the U.S. East Coast and at high risk from flooding, experiencing widespread storm surges and flooding during hurricanes Irma and Matthew.

The residential property shown in Figure 1 originally fell into a FEMA Zone X (designated as minimal flood risk).

Figure 1: Contains data from the FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer.

However, when we look at its location on the JBA flood map, we can see some differences in analysis. The JBA flood map identifies this location as at very severe risk to flood (Figure 2, below), from both fluvial and storm surge flooding, whereas using FEMA data alone would not account for either flood type or differentiate between fluvial and pluvial flood. Accessing data sources in addition to FEMA helps provide a more comprehensive understanding of the risk.

Figure 2

The complex interplay between flood types

The risk is particularly high for hurricane-prone areas like Jacksonville, where storm surges often coincide with inland flooding. It’s important to represent this complex interplay during the mapping process instead of tackling each flood type separately. JBA’s storm surge mapping has been developed in partnership with leading hurricane modelers Applied Research Associates, ensuring that hurricane activity is fully accounted for. Additionally, surge data has been used to modify JBA’s inland flood mapping process to reflect the fact that, during a hurricane, rivers can’t flow out to sea as they can in normal conditions. Flood waters then back up, exacerbating fluvial flooding. For insurers to obtain a complete understanding of the hazard, flood maps must fully represent this relationship.

Even with FEMA recently re-mapping the area as a FEMA A Zone, demonstrating that the area is at risk to flood, the drivers of the flood are not clear. As such, underwriting against the FEMA map alone could misrepresent the insurance coverage required.

See also: FEMA Flood Maps Aren’t Good Enough  

It’s clear that having a view of the different drivers of flood risk is vital for effectively understanding and underwriting the risk, especially in areas where hurricanes can be a major source of flood-driven losses.