Category Archives: Climate Change

New York City’s Disaster Resiliency

Istock.com, J. Lazarin, New York City, USA – October 31, 2012: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

It was a balmy 67-degree day in New York on March 15, which prompted the inevitable joke that since it’s warm outside, then climate change must be real. The wry comment was made by one of the speakers at the New York Academy of Science’s symposium Science for decision making in a warmer word: 10 years of the NPCC.

The NPCC is the New York City Panel on Climate Change, an independent body of scientists that advises the city on climate risks and resiliency. The symposium coincided with the release of the NPCC’s 2019 report, which found that in the New York City area extreme weather events are becoming more pronounced, high temperatures in summer are rising, and heavy downpours are increasing.

“The report tracks increasing risks for the city and region due to climate change,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-chair of the NPCC and senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “It continues to lay the science foundation for development of flexible adaptation pathways for changing climate conditions.”

“What you can’t measure, you can’t manage,” said Columbia University’s Klaus Jacob, paraphrasing Peter Drucker and making a concise case for the importance of the work the NPCC is doing.

The changes in temperature and precipitation that New Yorkers are experiencing are broadly tracking the climate change projections made by the NPCC in 2015. However, the 2019 report notes that such comparisons should be viewed with caution because of the role that natural variation plays in the short term.

William Solecki, co-chair of the NPCC said “Recent scientific advances have…helped the panel craft new sets of tools and methods, such as a prototype system for tracking these risks and the effectiveness of corresponding climate strategies.”

One such tool is the Antarctic Rapid Ice Melt Scenario, which the NPCC created to model the effects of melting ice sheets on sea level rise around NYC. The model predicts that under a high-end scenario, monthly tidal flooding will begin to affect many neighborhoods around Jamaica Bay by the 2050s and other coastal areas throughout the city by the 2080s.

The NPCC 2019 report recommends that the city establish a coordinated indicator and monitoring system to enable the city and its communities to better monitor climate change trends, impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation measures.

The report also notes the important role of insurance in support of climate change adaptation and mitigation. “Public–private partnerships are essential for facilitating infrastructure resilience, particularly for publicly owned infrastructure systems that often lack resources for resilience improvements. Coordination of insurance and finance is an important future direction to achieve comprehensive resiliency in infrastructure that reduces negative climate change consequences,” said the report.

The I.I.I.’s primer on climate change and insurance issues can be found here.

FROM THE I.I.I. DAILY: OUR MOST POPULAR CONTENT, FEBRUARY 8 TO FEBRUARY 14

Here are the 5 most clicked on articles from this week’s I.I.I. Daily newsletter.

To subscribe to the I.I.I. Daily email daily@iii.org.

 

Brrr from Chicago

As the Midwest grapples with record-breaking cold, the I.I.I.’s Membership Director, Deena Snell is experiencing the polar vortex firsthand in her hometown near Chicago.

“I know you’re all super jealous of the weather we’re having here so I thought I’d share the joy,” she messaged us this morning.

In case you were ever wondering what -26 looks like on a car thermometer, here it is.

“I ventured out to the gym this morning in my bank robber attire.  Some people are wearing swim goggles to protect their eyes, which is a nice look.”

 

The “Sand Palace”: A Poster-Child for Resilience

You probably remember the “Sand Palace,” the lone house standing after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida panhandle in October.

It’s a powerful story about one man’s stand against nature’s destructive power. But the Sand Palace is also a story about insurance.

There are generally two aspects of insurance. One is to pay out claims to make people whole again after a loss. Another is to incentivize behavior that makes those losses less likely to happen. In insurance-speak, we call that “mitigation.”

Consider the Sand Palace in that context. According to an AIR Worldwide analysis, the house was built to be even more resilient than Florida’s already-stringent building codes: reinforced concrete, limited windows, minimal space below the roof to prevent uplift, a first floor 15 feet above ground, and more.

AIR analyzed how this construction fared during the hurricane. The structure’s features reduced wind losses by about 90 percent compared to other homes. Plus, the height of the building significantly reduced any storm surge damage.

This led AIR to conclude that “the Sand Palace is an excellent case study of the impact of mitigating features for use in risk reduction.” Presumably, the house also made an excellent risk for an insurer to cover.

It’s fair to ask, though: at what cost resilience? These kinds of reinforcements can cost tens of thousands of dollars, which can be out of reach for many homeowners.

But that’s probably where insurance can play a role. For example, is there a potential for insurers to offer economic incentives or discounts to homeowners to make their houses resistant to hurricane-force floods and winds? This incentive could be particularly effective in a world where climate change events might cause insurers to raise their premiums to account for higher risks. (That’s why many argue that insurance can play a crucial role in helping to combat the effects of climate change.)

It’s not always easy to say where the intersection between the costs and benefits of mitigation is. That’ll be up to the individual insurer and their insureds. But if done right, mitigation can be a win-win strategy. Insurers don’t have to pay out as much money for losses. Consumers don’t have to pay as much for their insurance. And the world can be made a safer, more resilient place.

Like Uber, but for lawsuits

As anyone who has rented an apartment in New York City knows, your security deposit is basically a gift to your landlord. Good luck ever seeing it again after you move out.  

There are a few theories for how to avoid this. Mine has been to pray fervently for divine intervention, which worked out…once. An acquaintance tells me to simply never pay the last month’s rent. (The I.I.I. does not in any way endorse this strategy.) 

But one strategy no one suggests is to contest the withholding of your deposit in small claims court. Because you’ll end up spending more money than your original deposit was worth. 

If only there were an app for that… 

Turns out, there is. DoNotPay is an app that uses algorithms to determine whether someone has a case in small claims court – and will help file legal documents. From contesting parking tickets to resolving landlord disputes to filing lawsuits for data breaches (like Equifax), the app apparently has about a 50 percent success rate in court.  Without recourse to a single lawyer. And it’s free. 

This sounds like a dream for individuals who need legal help they can’t currently access. Because lawyers ain’t cheap.  

But is there a sinister side to this? The U.S. is a notoriously litigious society. The plaintiffs bar has been very creative in winning massive verdicts that many argue are distorting the tort system. It’s been estimated that the costs of torts in 2016 were $429 billion – or about 2.3 percent of the GDP of the U.S. Reformers would argue that there’s an entire cottage industry whose primary purpose is to sue anyone and anything with sufficiently deep pockets to justify the effort.  

Could an app like DoNotPay, which today helps the little guy fight his unjust parking ticket, one day turn into the means to seamlessly litigate every aspect of our lives at the push of a button? Only time will tell.  

In the meantime, I just got a parking ticket in Brooklyn, because of course I did. Alexa, open DoNotPay.  

Updated 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook: Cooler Atlantic Temperatures Could Lead to Below-Average to Near-Average Hurricane Season

Special to the Triple-I Blog

by Philip Klotzbach,Ph.D,
Research Scientist, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University and I.I.I. Nonresident Scholar

Colorado State University (CSU) has just updated their outlook for the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, and is now calling for a near-average season with a total of 14 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes (maximum sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater; Category 3-5 on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale) (Figure 1).  This prediction is a slight lowering from their initial outlook in early April which called for 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.  Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) and Net Tropical Cyclone (NTC) activity are integrated metrics that take into account the frequency, intensity and duration of storms.

Figure 1: May 31, 2018 outlook for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season

CSU’s meteorological team uses a statistical model as one of its primary outlook tools.  This methodology applies historical oceanic and atmospheric data to find predictors that were effective in forecasting previous years’ hurricane activity. Based on data dating back to 1982, this model has shown consistent accuracy. (Figure 2)  Statistical forecast for 2018 is calling for a below-average season.

Figure 2: Accuracy of June statistical forecast model at predicting historical Atlantic hurricane activity (since 1982)

CSU also employs an analog approach, which uses historical data from past years with  conditions that are most similar to those currently observed (as of May 31, 2018).  The team also forecasts projected conditions during 2018 peak hurricane season (August-October) by looking at historical data from years with similar August-October conditions.

This approach yields a similar outlook of below-average to near-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical Atlantic and near-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific.  The average of the four analog seasons calls for a near-average season. (Figure 3)

Figure 3: Analog predictors used in the May 31, 2018 seasonal forecast

CSU does not anticipate a significant El Niño event for the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season.  At this point, the meteorological team believes that the most likely outcome is neutral conditions for the next several months.  El Niños tend to reduce Atlantic hurricane activity through increases in upper-level winds that tear apart hurricanes as they are trying to develop.  Most of the dynamical and statistical model guidance agrees with this assessment and calls for neutral conditions for the next several months. (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Statistical and dynamical model guidance for El Niño

Most models are calling for neutral conditions for August-October, as highlighted by the black arrow. (Figure courtesy of International Research Institute for Climate and Society.)

The primary reason for a reduced seasonal forecast (compared with earlier 2018 outlook), is due to anomalous cooling of the tropical Atlantic over the past couple of months.  As shown in Figure 5. most of the Atlantic right now is quite a bit cooler than usual. In addition to providing less fuel for storms, a cooler tropical Atlantic is also associated with a more stable and drier atmosphere as well as higher pressure—all conditions that tend to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity.

Figure 5: Current SST anomalies in the North Atlantic.  SSTs are much cooler than normal across the entire tropical Atlantic

The most important thing to note with all seasonal forecasts is that they predict basinwide activity and not individual landfall events.  However, regardless of what the seasonal forecast says, it only takes one storm near you to make it an active season.  Therefore, coastal residents are urged to have a plan in place now before the hurricane season ramps up over the next couple of months.

Extra: If you live in a hurricane-prone region, your homeowners insurance policy may have a separate hurricane deductible. This infographic explains what you need to know.

More Wildfires, This Time in Southern California

The worst wildfire season in the history of modern California is taking another bad turn, as three major fires have destroyed more than 200 homes and buildings.

Strong winds will be fanning the flames. The state’s foresters have issued a purple wind alert for Southern California, something they have never done before.

This follows a Department of Insurance report that insurers have incurred more than $9 billion in claims so far from the October fires, being $8.4 billion in residential claims, $790 million in commercial property, $96 million in personal and commercial auto, and $110 million from other commercial lines. County-level details here.

The New York Times has a 2-minute video summarizing why this year’s wildfire season has been so bad.

Their take:

  • Wet winter followed by hot summer. The moisture encouraged plant growth. The heat turned those plants to tinder.
  • Longer fire season, perhaps linked to climate change.
  • Growing residential areas. Development is encroaching on forests.
  • Santa Ana winds. As noted above, the winds are blowing harder this year.

I.I.I. Facts + Statistics on wildfire can be found here. Here’s a prior Terms + Conditions post on filing claims. (It was written for the October fires, but the message will not have changed much.)

Actuaries Climate Index™ Value Reached a New High With Winter 2016–17

Organizations representing the actuarial profession in Canada and the United States reported recently that the Actuaries Climate Index™ reached a new record high in winter 2016–17, following the record value measured in fall 2016. The change reflects increasing deviation of weather extremes and sea levels from historically expected patterns for the two countries.

“This hurricane season has brought renewed attention to the question of whether extreme weather is increasing, and for a broad swath of North America, the Actuaries Climate Index data were trending in that direction to February 2017,” said Caterina Lindman, chair of the Climate Change Committee.

The Actuaries Climate Index (ACI) was designed as an objective indicator of the frequency of extreme weather and the extent of sea level change. It is available for the United States and Canada and is updated on both a monthly and a seasonal basis. The data are available here for anyone to explore.

The ACI is sponsored by the American Academy of Actuaries, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, Casualty Actuarial Society and Society of Actuaries.

 

 

 

Swiss Re forecasts growth in insurance markets

This in from Swiss Re Institute’s Global Insurance Review 2017 and Outlook 2018/2019 report:

The cyclical upswing in the global economy is set to continue in 2018 and 2019, supporting insurance premium volume growth.

Global non-life premiums are forecast to grow by at least 3 percent annually in real terms in the next two years and life premiums by 4 percent.

Emerging markets, particularly in Asia, will remain the driver of global non-life and life premium growth, according to Swiss Re.

Americans view cyberattacks, climate change as major threats

Cyberattacks from other countries are now seen as a major threat to the U.S. by 72 percent of Americans, according to a national survey from the Pew Research Center.

This view has changed little in recent years, apparently. But what has changed is public opinions about other global threats.

Take climate change—now viewed as a major threat by 58 percent of Americans, up 7 points since January, and the highest share since 2009.

The survey was conducted October 25-30 among 1,504 adults.