Category Archives: Catastrophes

Triple-I/Milliman Report: 2020 Turmoil Takes Toll on P/C Insurer Finances

The global pandemic and costly natural catastrophes will contribute to a projected 101.7 combined ratio for the U.S.’s property/casualty (P/C) insurers in 2020, higher than the 98.8 the industry posted last year, according to the latest Underwriting Projections: 2020-2022 report from Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and Milliman.

The combined ratio is the percentage of each premium dollar a P/C insurer spends on claims and expenses. An increase in the combined ratio means financial results are deteriorating, while a decrease means they are improving.

For 2020, insurers are projected to pay nearly $1.02 (101.7) in claims and expenses for every premium dollar they collected. In 2019, they paid about 99 cents (98.8) on every premium dollar in claims and expenses.

The latest report is somewhat rosier than prior projections. For 2020, P/C insurer annual premium growth is projected to be 1.5%, an improvement from the decline of 0.5% projected three months ago, the report noted.

“Our estimates of premium growth are tied pretty tightly to economic indicators. Estimates of 2020 nominal GDP, while still showing shrinkage, have improved. That, plus a more nuanced understanding of how insurers booked the personal auto givebacks, helped us revise our premium estimates,” said Jason B. Kurtz, FCAS, MAAA, Principal & Consulting Actuary, Milliman. 

In addition, the latest report incorporates more information as to how the industry is performing financially year-to-date. Filed first-half results provide a good idea of how premium and insured loss trends are impacting results.

“We can compare loss ratios for this year against last year and prior years and, after a couple of quarters, we can fine-tune our projection,” Kurtz said. “And we know a lot more about catastrophe losses, which are usually the biggest wildcard, and the third quarter is when the hardest catastrophes generally hit.”

For most lines of business, the forecast changed little from three months ago. Premium forecasts for lines like general liability and commercial auto insurance were affected because of the economic forecast.

“In commercial auto, for example, we thought the increase in online shopping would affect exposures more than it appears to have done. But as to the underwriting result, we didn’t change things much. Rates are higher, as we expected, and those lines are still fighting social inflation,” said James Lynch, FCAS, MAAA, Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary, Triple-I.

The report forecasts U.S. P/C insurance industry premium growth of 5 to 6 percent for 2021-22, slightly lower than the prior forecast released by Triple-I and Milliman.

What to Watch for

There’s still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the pandemic. “The industry continues to grapple with how big the impact will be,” said Lynch. “There’s more certainty than three months ago, but that still leaves a whole lot of uncertainty,” he said. “Our stance remains where it was – the net loss impact will be the equivalent of a major hurricane – but as industry veterans know, some major hurricanes hit harder than others.”   

Also, the path the economy takes as a result of the pandemic matters, added Kurtz. “Gross domestic product (GDP) rose the fastest in U.S. history last quarter, but the resurgence of COVID cases could mean another lockdown – perhaps softer than what we saw in the spring, but any lockdown triggers a slowdown. So, we might see a double-dip recession, and that suppresses premium growth.” He noted that a K-shaped recovery would be good for some segments of the U.S. economy while not being good for others.

Another wild card: government and regulatory responses. Another Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that puts money in the hands of individuals and businesses is likely to buoy the economy as it did in the spring, the report states. Liability protections for reopening businesses would be favorable for the industry. “Congress may deal with that in the lame duck session or next year, but we will see,” said Kurtz.

The quarterly report was presented on November 17 at an exclusive members only virtual webinar moderated by Sean Kevelighan, Chief Executive Officer, Triple-I.

“This webinar series is another example of how the Insurance Information Institute is modernizing and innovating,” Kevelighan said.  “Under the leadership of our chief actuary, James Lynch, the Triple-I is now giving its members timely, data-driven, and unique insights on insurance industry underwriting projections.”

Hurricane Delta Triggered Coral Reef Parametric Insurance

Hurricane Delta last month triggered a 17 million peso (US $800,000) insurance payout to the  Trust for the Integrated Management of the Coastal Zone, Social Development, and Security for the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico. The parametric policy, deployed last year, cost the trust nearly 5 million pesos (US $230,000), covering 150 square kilometers (58 square miles) of coastal ecosystems for the entire 2020 hurricane season.

Recent research illustrates the benefits provided by mangroves, barrier islands, and coral reefs – natural features that frequently fall victim to development – by limiting tropical storm damage, particularly from storm surge. Unlike traditional insurance, which pays for damage if it occurs, parametric insurance pays when specific conditions are met – regardless of whether damage is incurred. Without the need for claims adjustment, policyholders quickly get their benefit and can begin their recovery. In the case of the coral reef coverage, the swift payout will allow for quick damage assessments, debris removal, and initial repairs to be carried out.  

Quintana Roo partnered with hotel owners, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Parks Commission to pilot a conservation strategy involving a parametric policy that pays out if wind speeds greater than 100 knots hit a predefined area.  

Similar approaches could be applied to protecting mangroves, commercial fish stocks that can be harmed by overfishing or habitat loss, or other intrinsically valuable assets that are hard to insure with traditional approaches.  

Are Late, Wet Hurricanes Becoming a Trend?

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Insurance Information Institute

Hurricane Zeta became the 11th named storm and 6th hurricane to hit the United States yesterday, as the extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season continues. Zeta struck just one day before the eighth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.  

Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic season, causing $70 billion in economic damages and resulting in over 70 fatalities when it made landfall in New Jersey. It surprised an under-prepared New Jersey and New York City when it arrived. Sandy was no longer a hurricane when it made landfall, having undergone transition into an extra-tropical (e.g., non-tropical) low pressure area earlier that day. Although it was no longer a hurricane upon its arrival, it was still immensely damaging due especially to its large size, as well as its interaction with a strong storm system moving east.

There is some history of late-season hurricanes, but Colorado State University climate scientist and Triple-I non-resident scholar Dr. PhilKlotzbach says it would be an overstatement to call this a trend.

“We haven’t really seen a trend in late-season hurricane activity,” Klotzbach said. “A lot of what drives late-season hurricane activity is the phase of El Niño or La Niña. If you have a La Niña, like we have this year, which is colder water in the eastern and central tropical Pacific, that tends to reduce the vertical wind shear that typically tears apart hurricanes. Reduced wind shear tends to keep the hurricane season going longer.”

Klotzbach noted that 2012 was neither an El Niño nor La Niña year.

What made Sandy different?

Hurricane Sandy was a massive aberration.

“Normally, when storms spin up in the Caribbean and move northeast, they continue moving northeast into the North Atlantic and do not significantly impact land,” Klotzbach said. “Unfortunately, with Sandy it started moving northwest.” Indeed, Sandy managed to wreak havoc across the Northeast and other parts of the country, including dumping as much as 36 inches of snow in West Virginia.

“There was a big high-pressure area over the Atlantic Provinces of Canada that built to the north of Sandy and drove the storm to the northwest,” Klotzbach explained. “The sustained winds were strong, maxing out around 80 mph, but the real problem with Sandy was its tremendous size.”

Given the large size of Sandy, it drove a huge storm surge that spanned from New Jersey to Connecticut including New York City.

“The storm surge from Sandy was incredible,” Klotzbach said. “The surge also coincided with astronomical high tide, which exacerbated the inland penetration of water from the coast. For example, the storm tide at the Battery on the southern tip of Manhattan exceeded 14 feet.”

What we can do

The public needs to be more informed about the dangers of these kinds of storms. Even though Sandy wasn’t technically a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey, Klotzbach believes the transition of the storm from hurricane to extra-tropical may have been confusing for people who didn’t understand that the storm wasn’t less of a threat after its classification was altered.

“Just because the storm was changing in structure doesn’t mean it wasn’t a significant threat,” Klotzbach said. “It had just about the same maximum winds as when it was a hurricane. People also looked at the maximum wind and saw that it was 80mph and didn’t think it was that much of a problem. But it was an enormous storm, so the surge was much bigger than what you’d expect from an average category 1 hurricane. From that perspective, there were challenges with conveying the magnitude of the threat.”

Indeed, Klotzbach gives a dire warning about the risks associated with not taking these storms seriously.

“A lot of it is in the messaging when these storms are going from tropical to extra-tropical,” he said. “We need to convey how these threats are changing and that just because a system is becoming extra-tropical doesn’t mean that the threat has gone away. We need to get more social science integrated into meteorology to better convey these results to the general public.”

Cross-posted from Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator.

Deaths Resulting from Louisiana Hurricanes Underscore Need for Personal Power Generator Safety Awareness

(Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

By James Ballot,  Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, Triple-I

On October 1, Hurricane Delta hit Louisiana as a Cat. 2 storm, cutting power to almost 700,000 residents and causing further setbacks to people in that region who were still recovering from Hurricane Laura, the Cat. 4 storm that ravaged the region in late August.

Residents in hurricane-prone regions commonly rely on emergency power generators to aid in recovery from storms and other catastrophes. Nevertheless, many home and businessowners lack knowledge and training to safely run these devices: of the more than 30 lives lost to Laura and Delta nearly one-third  were caused by fires or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning due to improper use of emergency power generators.

If you own a generator or are considering purchasing one as part of your emergency preparedness planning, the Triple-I encourages you to follow guidance put forth by the Center for Disease Control, State Farm, Travelers and other reliable sources, including:

William Davis, the Triple-I’s Georgia Media Relations Director adds, “Before a storm knocks out electricity, generator owners need to learn how to use them safely. Generators can be life savers in time of need, but they can also be killers!”

Mudslides Often Follow Wildfire; Prepare, Know Insurance Implications

As wildfires continue to burn in California, Oregon, Colorado, and elsewhere – and people pray for precipitation to help firefighters in their efforts – another threat looms: mudslides.  

Wet weather is in Oregon’s forecast, and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office warned that mudslides and falling trees will be a big concern with so much burned land in the county. Areas that could be seriously affected include Mill City and Gates, where much of the towns have been destroyed by wildfires

The sheriff’s office said people need to pay attention to what happens around them and listen to alerts from local authorities. 

“We’re really concerned about as those high winds pick up, some of those coming down and creating more hazards along the roadway, more than we would see in a typical windstorm,” Sgt. Jeremy Landers with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said.  

He added that it’s important that people have a plan in place in case the weather becomes dangerous. 

Santa Cruz County, Calif., also is preparing for mudslides in the aftermath of the CZU Lighting Complex fire in August. Carolyn Burke, senior civil engineer, said during a special meeting of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors,  “The only effective means of protection” is early warning and evacuation. 

The fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains burned 86,509 acres – and while Cal Fire on September 22 said it was 100% contained, risk remains of fires igniting and the subsequent danger of mudslides when rain comes. Rainy season there has a history of starting from September to November. 

In Colorado, cooler temperatures, rain, and snow have helped suppress the fires that have been  raging across that state. Alaska Incident Management Team Incident Commander Norm McDonald wrote, regarding his team’s work on the Grizzly Creek Fire, “While our assignment ends with the Grizzly Creek Fire at 91% containment, we realize there is still much work to be done and the ramifications of this fire will be long-lived with the potential for mudslides and flooding.”  

For insurance purposes, it’s important to understand the difference between “mudslides” and “mudflow.” 

Mudslides occur when a mass of earth or rock moves downhill, propelled by gravity. They typically don’t contain enough liquid to seep into your home, and they aren’t eligible for flood insurance coverage.  In fact, mudslides are not covered by any policy

Mudflow is covered by flood insurance, which is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a growing number of private insurers. Like flood, mudflow is excluded from standard homeowners and business insurance policies—you must buy the coverage separately. 

If It Can Rain, It Can Flood: Buy Flood Insurance

Rivers swollen by Hurricane Sally’s rains have devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama, and the storm’s remnants are forecast to spread the flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas.

Many of the properties damaged will doubtless be found to be uninsured, compounding homeowners’ misery.

A well-known coverage gap

The flood insurance protection gap has been well documented. A recent Triple-I paper –  Hurricane Season: More Than Just Wind and Water – states that “about 90 percent of all natural disasters in the United States involve flooding” and cites experts strenuously urging everyone to buy flood insurance.

“Any home can flood,” says Dan Kaniewski — managing director for public sector innovation at Marsh & McLennan and former deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Even if you’re well outside a floodplain…. Get flood insurance. Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter or a business — get flood insurance.”

Dr. Rick Knabb — on-air hurricane expert for the Weather Channel, speaking at Triple-I’s 2019 Joint Industry Forum — is similarly emphatic.

“If it can rain where you live,” he said, “it can flood where you live.”

Despite such warnings, even in designated flood zones, the protection gap remains large. A McKinsey & Co. analysis of flood insurance purchase rates in areas most affected by three Category 4 hurricanes that made landfall in the United States — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — found that as many as 80 percent of homeowners in Texas, 60 percent in Florida, and 99 percent in Puerto Rico lacked flood insurance.

To make matters worse, a recent analysis by the nonprofit First Street Foundation found the United States to be woefully underprepared for damaging floods. The report identified “around 1.7 times the number of properties as having substantial risk,” compared with FEMA’s designation.

“This equates to a total of 14.6 million properties across the country at substantial risk, of which 5.9 million property owners are currently unaware of or underestimating the risk they face,” the foundation says.

A more recent Triple-I analysis, conducted in advance of Hurricane Sally, found that flood insurance purchase rates in the counties most likely to be affected by the storm were “remarkably low.”

“In Taylor County, Ga., for example, just 0.09 percent of properties are insured against flooding,” Triple-I wrote.

NOT covered by homeowners insurance

Flood damage is excluded under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. However, flood coverage is available as a separate policy from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by FEMA, and from a growing number of private insurers, thanks to sophisticated flood models that have made insurers more comfortable writing this once “untouchable” risk.

Invest in resilience

If it seems as if you’ve heard me beat this drum before, you’re right.  I take flood and flood insurance very personally.

After Hurricane Irene flooded my inland New Jersey basement in August 2011, destroying many irreplaceable items, it was my flood insurance that enabled me to have a French drain and two powerful pumps installed that have since kept my historically damp basement bone dry – even during Superstorm Sandy the following year.   

Policyholder Surplus Matters: Here’s Why

Perhaps the most emotionally compelling data point invoked by those who would compel insurers – through litigation and legislation – to pay business-interruption claims explicitly excluded from the policies they wrote is the property/casualty insurance industry’s nearly $800 billion policyholder surplus.

 Many Americans hear “surplus” and think of a bit of cash they have stashed away for emergencies. And when you consider that nearly 40 percent of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve said they would either have to borrow or sell something to cover an unexpected $400 expense – or couldn’t pay it at all – that number may sound like overkill. 

Not as much as you think

But policyholder surplus isn’t a “rainy day fund.” It’s an essential part of the industry’s ability to keep the promises it makes to policyholders. And although a number like $800 billion may raise eyebrows, when we look more closely at its components, the amount available to cover claims turns out to be considerably less.

Insurers are regulated on a state-by-state basis. Regulators require them to hold a certain amount in reserve to pay claims based on each insurer’s own risk profile. The aggregation of these reserves – required by every state for every insurer doing business in those states – accounts for about half the oft-cited industry surplus.

Call it $400 billion, for simplicity’s sake.

Each company’s regulator-required surplus can be thought of as that company’s “running on empty” mark – the point at which alarms go off and regulators start talking about requiring it to set even more aside to make sure no policyholders are left in a lurch.

By extension, $400 billion is where alarms begin going off for the entire industry.

It gets worse – or better, depending on your perspective.

In addition to state regulators’ requirements, the private rating agencies that gauge insurers’ financial strength and claims-paying ability don’t want to see reserves get anywhere near “Empty.” To get a strong rating from A.M. Best, Fitch, S&P, or Moody’s, insurers have to keep even more in reserve. 

Why do private agency ratings matter? Consumers and businesses use them to determine what insurer they’ll buy coverage from. Also, stronger ratings can contribute to lower borrowing expenses, which can help keep insurers’ operating costs – and, in turn, policyholders’ premiums – at reasonable levels. 

So, let’s say these additional reserves amount to about $200 billion for the industry. The nearly $800 billion surplus we started with now falls to about $200 billion.

To cover claims by all personal and commercial policyholders in a given year without prompting regulatory and rating agency actions that could drive up insurers’ costs and policyholders’ premiums.

Which brings us to today.

Losses ordinary and extraordinary

In the first quarter of 2020, the industry experienced its largest-ever quarterly decline in surplus, to $771.9 billion. This decline was due, in large part, to declines in stock value related to the economic recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, the industry remains financially strong, in large part because the bulk of insurers’ investments are in investment-grade corporate and governmental bonds. And it’s a good thing, too, because the conditions underlying that surplus decline preceded an extremely active hurricane season, atypical wildfire activity, and damages related to civil unrest approaching levels not seen since 1992 – involving losses that are not yet reflected in the surplus.

Insured losses from this year’s Hurricane Isaias are estimated in the vicinity of $5 billion. Hurricane Laura’s losses could, by some estimates, be as “small” as $4 billion or as large as $13 billion.

And the Atlantic hurricane season has not yet peaked.

The 2020 wildfire season is off to a horrific start. From January 1 to September 8, 2020, there were 41,051 wildfires, compared with 35,386 in the same period in 2019, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 4.7 million acres were burned in the 2020 period, compared with 4.2 million acres in 2019.

In California alone, wildfires have already burned 2.2 million acres in 2020 — more than any year on record. For context, insured losses for California’s November 2018 fires were estimated at more than $11 billion.

And the 2020 wildfire season still has a way to go.

All this is on top of routine claims for property and casualty losses.

Four billion here, 11 billion there – pretty soon we’re talking about “real money,” against available reserves that are far smaller than they at first appear.

No end in sight

Oh, yeah – and the pandemic-fueled recession isn’t expected to reverse any time soon. Economic growth worldwide remains depressed, with nearly every country experiencing declines in gross domestic product (GDP) – the total value of goods and services produced. GDP growth for the world’s 10 largest insurance markets is expected to decrease by 6.99 percent in 2020, compared to Triple-I’s previous estimate of a 4.9 percent decrease. 

If insurers were required to pay business-interruption claims they never agreed to cover – and, therefore, didn’t reserve for – the cost to the industry related to small businesses alone could be as high as $383 billion per month.

This would bankrupt the industry, leaving many policyholders uninsured and insurance itself an untenable business proposition.

Fortunately, Americans seem to be beginning to get this.  A recent poll by Future of American Insurance and Reinsurance (FAIR) found the majority of Americans believe the federal government should bear the financial responsibility for helping businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Only 16 percent of respondents said insurers should bear the responsibility, and only 8 percent said they believe lawsuits against insurers are the best path for businesses to secure financial relief.

Further Reading:

POLL: GOVERNMENT SHOULD PROVIDE BUSINESS INTERRUPTION SUPPORT

TRIPLE-I GLOBAL OUTLOOK: CONTINUED PRESSURE ON INVESTMENTS & PREMIUMS

BATTLING FIRES, CALIFORNIA ALSO STRUGGLES TO KEEP HOMEOWNERS INSURED

LAURA LOSS ESTIMATES: $4 BILLION TO $13 BILLION

ATYPICAL WILDFIRE ACTIVITY? OF COURSE — IT’S 2020

SWISS RE: A KATRINA-LIKE HURRICANE COULD CAUSE UP TO $200 BILLION IN DAMAGE TODAY

U.K. BUSINESS INTERRUPTION LITIGATION SEEMS UNLIKELY TO AFFECT U.S. INSURERS

RECESSION, PANDEMIC TO IMPACT P/C UNDERWRITING RESULTS, NEW REPORT SHOWS

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION VS. EVENT CANCELLATION: WHAT’S THE BIG DIFFERENCE?

CHUBB CEO SAYS BUSINESS INTERRUPTION POLICIES ARE A GOOD VALUE AND WORK AS THEY SHOULD

TRIPLE-I CHIEF ECONOMIST: P/C INDUSTRY STRONG, DESPITE SURPLUS DROP

INSURED LOSSES DUE TO CIVIL UNREST SEEN NEARING 1992 LEVELS

COVID-19 AND SHIPPING RISK

BUSINESS INTERRUPTION COVERAGE: POLICY LANGUAGE RULES

Battling Fires, California Also Struggles to Keep Homeowners Insured

The Los Angeles office of the National Weather Service predicted prolonged, potentially record-setting heat and dangerous weather conditions throughout California this summer – and, some experts expect it to continue for some time beyond.

“If you like 2020, you’re going to love 2050,” said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in a recent Los Angeles Times article.

These conditions can only exacerbate this year’s atypical wildfire activity in the state. So, it should be no surprise that California is grappling with how to stop insurers from abandoning fire-prone areas, leaving countless homeowners at risk.

“Years of megafires have caused huge losses for insurance companies, a problem so severe that, last year, California temporarily banned insurers from canceling policies on some 800,000 homes in or near risky parts of the state,” The New York Times reports. “However, that ban is about to expire and can’t be renewed, and a recent plan to deal with the problem fell apart in a clash between insurers and consumer advocates.”

Insurers are widely expected to continue their retreat.

“The marketplace has largely collapsed” in high-risk areas, said Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “It’s a very large geographic area of the state that is facing this.”

California, where regulations lean toward consumer protection, is particularly challenged. The state doesn’t let insurers set premiums based on what they expect in future damages. They can only set rates based on prior losses. They also aren’t allowed to pass along reinsurance costs to policyholders – costs that are expected to rise as fire risks worsen.

State lawmakers introduced a bill to let insurers writing coverage in wildfire-prone areas incorporate climate predictions and other costs into their rate requests in return for making coverage more available and offering discounts to people who take steps to reduce their home’s vulnerability.

Insurers supported the change, as did the counties association and the union representing firefighters. But the bill faced strong opposition from consumer groups, who ultimately prevailed. Last month, the state senate stripped most of the provisions from the bill and directed the insurance commissioner to review the current rules and report back to the legislature in two years.

The legislature ended its session without acting on the revised version. Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said his focus now is working with high-risk communities to reduce their wildfire risk enough that insurers will keep offering coverage without big rate increases.

“If Californians do our part to protect homes from wildfire,” Lara said, the industry should respond by agreeing to insure those homes.

Janet Ruiz, Triple-I’s director of strategic communications, said, “Insurers in California are working with legislators and the California Department of Insurance to find solutions to keep homeowners insured in wildfire risk areas. The industry supports mitigation efforts, the California FAIR Plan, and the proposed IMAP program.”

Laura Loss Estimates:
$4 Billion to $13 Billion

This blog post has been updated based on new information received since it was first published on September 4, 2020.

Hurricane Laura may have caused as little as $4 billion of insured damage or as much as $13 billion, according to early estimates.

Property information, analytics and data provider CoreLogic said residential and commercial insured losses from Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and Texas will come in at between $8 billion and $12 billion. Most of the property damage occurred in southwest Louisiana, where Laura made landfall early as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds.

Catastrophe risk modeler RMS puts the range between $9 billion and $13 billion. This includes wind and storm surge losses of between $8.5 billion and $12 billion, inland flood losses of $100 million to $400 million, and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) losses of $400 million to $600 million.

Catastrophe risk modeling firm Air Worldwide said it expects losses related to Laura to fall in the $4 billion to $8 billion range. The combination of the storm’s track through less-populated areas and its relatively small “Rmax” – the distance from the center of the storm to the location of the maximum winds – should keep insured losses down somewhat, the company said.

Cat risk modeler Karen Clark & Co. estimates insured onshore property losses from wind and storm surge will likely amount to $8.7 billion in the U.S. and $200 million in the Caribbean. Its estimate includes the privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial, and industrial properties and automobiles but not losses covered by the NFIP or losses to offshore assets.

All estimates are subject to change as more information becomes available.

Hurricane Season:
More Than Wind & Water

Under the best of circumstances, the Atlantic hurricane season is a challenging time. Despite improved forecasting and analytical tools, pre-storm communication, and engineering, hurricane-related losses continue to climb.

But the 2020 season hasn’t come during the best of circumstances. This extremely active season arrived on the heels of a pandemic that hasn’t ebbed, accompanied by civil unrest and atypical wildfire activity that could draw attention and resources away from preparation and post-storm aid.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, it falls in the middle of what is arguably the most contentious, chaotic U.S. election year in modern history.

To say these new variables complicate resilience would be a gross understatement in a year whose (to use the technical insurance phrase) “general weirdness” would be difficult to overstate.

So, in a paper published today we review the current state of hurricane resilience – how forecasting, modeling, preparation, and mitigation have evolved – and how the insurance industry is working to help communities bounce back from hurricanes.

Demographics more than climate change

Nine of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have occurred since 2004, and 2017, 2018, and 2019 were the largest back-to-back-to-back insured property loss years in U.S. history. Many would instinctively chalk up such numbers to climate change. But a careful look at the data suggests climate change isn’t the predominant driver of losses.

U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that the number of housing units in the United States increased most dramatically since 1940 in areas that are most vulnerable to weather-related damage. They also show that new homes are bigger and more expensive than in past decades.

Bigger homes full of more valuables, more cars and infrastructure in disaster-prone locales – these, more than climate trends, seem to be the dominant factors driving losses.

Not more, but wetter

Hurricanes may not be more frequent or significantly more intense due to climate change, but they seem to be getting wetter. Inland flooding has caused more deaths in the United States in the past 30 years than any other hurricane-related threat.

Early in the 2020 season, Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall along southeastern Louisiana and triggered flash flooding as far inland as northwest Wisconsin.  

“As the atmosphere continues to warm, storms can hold more moisture and bring more rainfall,” said Triple-I non-resident scholar and Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Dr. Philip Klotzbach. This trend could be exacerbated if, as some experts expect, storms begin traveling more slowly, adding to the moisture they would pick up from the ocean and drop over land.

This is why experts we talk with say, “Get flood insurance.”

We’ve come a long way – and have further to go

Our paper also looks at the evolution of hurricane modeling and forecasting, as well as developments in preparation and mitigation.

Better data and improved modeling have made private insurers comfortable writing coverage, like flood insurance, that was previously considered “untouchable” and enabled the creation of entirely new types of insurance products.

But challenges remain. Experts disagree as to which models are best, and the proprietary nature of these models can make it hard for regulators to determine whether filed rates based on them are unfairly discriminatory.

Hurricane preparation and damage mitigation have benefited from improved communication and public planning.

“Many people still don’t evacuate the way they should,” says Todd Blachier of Church Mutual Insurance, “but states like Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have gotten much better in terms of shutting down inbound roads and creating one-way egress to facilitate evacuation.”

He says officials are acting much more quickly and communicating more effectively, thanks in large part to improved information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other resources.

One area in which improvements could boost resilience is building codes and standards. A recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) study quantified the losses avoided due to buildings being constructed according to modern, hazard-resistant codes and standards. In California and Florida — two of the most catastrophe-prone states — FEMA found adopting and enforcing modern codes over the past 20 years led to a long-term average future savings of $1 billion per year for those two states combined.