Category Archives: Hurricanes

IBHS Ranks Building Codes as Above-Average Hurricane Season Approaches

Building codes are critical to disaster mitigation, as well as to enabling families, communities, and businesses to bounce back from natural and man-made catastrophes.  The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) “Rating the States” report has become an important resource for comparing the quality of these codes and of states’ enforcement of them.

Published every three years, “Rating the States” evaluates the 18 states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, all vulnerable to catastrophic hurricanes, based on building code adoption, enforcement, and contractor licensing.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be another “above-average” one.

“Damage reduction that results from the adoption and enforcement of building codes helps to keep people in their homes and businesses following a natural or manmade disaster, reduces the need for public and private disaster aid, and preserves the built environment,” IBHS writes in the most recent edition of the report. It cites research following Hurricane Charley in 2004 that found code improvements adopted in 1996 in Florida resulted in a 60 percent reduction in residential property damage claims and a 42 percent reduction in cost of claims.

Benefits of strong, uniform, well-enforced statewide codes are diverse and include:

  • Giving residents a sense of security about the safety and soundness of their buildings,
  • Preserving economic resources of a community and reducing post-disaster government spending,
  • Protecting first responders during and after fires and other disaster events,
  • Incorporating new best practices and cost efficiencies, and
  • Reducing solid waste in landfills from homes that are damaged or destroyed during disasters.

In the 2021 report, no state achieved a perfect rating based on the IBHS 100-point scale, though several states received high scores, including:

  • Florida (95 points)
  • Virginia (94 points)
  • South Carolina (92 points) and
  • New Jersey (90 points).

Other states that performed well were Connecticut (89 points), Rhode Island (89 points), North Carolina (88 points), Louisiana (82 points), Massachusetts (78 points), and Maryland (78 points).

The 2021 edition also includes information from the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) to support consumer awareness and response to local building codes in their area.  Inspect2Protect.org offers a free building code look-up tool available to all homeowners.

“With more Americans living in harm’s way, it is even more critical for residents and communities to have the information they need to take action,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “2021’s Rating the States report is essential reading for anyone who resides in a hurricane-prone state and wants a definitive assessment of its building codes.”

More information from Triple-I

Hurricane Season: More Than Just Wind and Water

Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer

Modern Building Codes Would Prevent Billions in Catastrophe Losses

California Earthquakes: How Modern Building Codes Are Making Safer, More Resilient Communities

Millions Saved in Japan by Good Engineering and Government Building Codes

2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast Update

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane activity is still expected to be above average, according to a June 3 update released by Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane researchers.

The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team, led by Triple-I non-resident scholar Dr. Phil Klotzbach, predicts 18 named storms during the season (up from 17 in the previous forecast), eight of which are expected to become hurricanes – four of them major (Category 3, 4 or 5).

The probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall is estimated to be about 135 percent of the long-period average.

The 2021 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, follows a record-breaking 2020 season. An average season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

As always, Dr. Klotzbach cautioned coastal residents to take proper precautions as “it only takes one storm near you to make it an active season.”

The full forecast can be accessed on CSU’s website.

Flood Pictures Worth More Than 1,000 Words

One of the benefits of social media is the fact that it reminds you what was on your mind several years earlier. Today I was reminded of the horrific flooding in Ellicott City, Md., that occurred three years ago this week.

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Water rushes through Main Street in Ellicott City, MD, 2018

This event resonated for me because I had friends living there, and I lived in a similarly situated flood-prone town. The images from Ellicott City recalled for me the damage much closer to home, in Bound Brook, NJ, when Tropical Storm Floyd dropped over 13 inches of rain and the Raritan River crested at above 42 feet, inundating the downtown and sparking fires as electrical systems shorted out.  

My little town of Dunellen had dodged a major bullet, I realized as I watched on TV as firefighters in boats responded to the devastation next door.  Our basement, turned temporarily into an indoor swimming pool, seemed a minor inconvenience next to the losses in Bound Brook and elsewhere.

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Firefighters battle a fire in flood-ravaged Bound Brook, NJ, 1999

A few years later, my region would be visited by similarly shocking images in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.

Rollercoaster at Seaside, NJ, after Superstorm Sandy, 2012

We’ve written a lot about flood risk, the flood protection gap, and the need for a resilience mindset to prevent damages and loss wherever possible and help families, businesses, and communities bounce back from unavoidable disasters. But sometimes a few images can persuade more eloquently and effectively than all the words in the world.

Learn More From the Triple-I Blog

Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer

Partnering to Improve Flood Resilience

FEMA’s New Approach to Flood Risk Will Make Insurance Program Fairer

Floods, Freezing, Other Extreme Weather Highlight Need for Planning And Insurance

Study Quantifies Future Climate Change Impact on Flood Losses

Study Supports Case for Flood Mitigation as World Warms

Expanded Triple-I Flood Risk Maps Provide Richer Perspective

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

Ahead of Hurricane Sally’s Rains, Many Lack Flood Insurance

A ‘Sea Change’ in Florida’s View on Climate Risk?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week signed two bills that lawmakers say will leave Florida better prepared for future flooding and sea level rise.

The legislature’s approval of these measures and the governor putting his signature on them is one of those moments that seem to mark a real change in awareness of and attitude toward this often-minimized risk. As the Tampa Bay Times points out, “Florida’s legislature for most of the last decade has taken little action and entertained hardly any public discussion about sea level rise.”

The bills, SB 1954 and SB 2514, will — among other things — set aside hundreds of millions of state dollars for flooding infrastructure projects. It requires the Department of Environmental Protection to prepare a flooding and resiliency plan and provides up to $100 million a year to communities that identify areas along the coast and other waterways that are at risk from sea level rise.

“This is a really significant amount of resources,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in Tarpon Springs. “We’re really putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to protecting the state of Florida, particularly our coastal communities, from the risks of flooding.”

On the leading edge of sea level rise

Florida’s 1,350 miles of coastline is the lifeblood of its tourism industry. Given the fact that much of the state sits at or near sea level on a foundation largely composed of porous limestone, it is particularly vulnerable to the threat of rising seas. Some areas of the state are already seeing flooding on clear days during particularly high tides, according to the Associated Press.

The magnitude of the threat is illustrated by the fact that three Florida-based insurers recently announced that they will not be renewing more than 53,000 property policies as of June – just as the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season begins. The first named storm of the season — Subtropical Storm Ana — formed early on May 22, northeast of Bermuda.

Florida statute Chapter 224 Part III allows insurers to cancel policies when the company would be placed in a hazardous financial situation due to an uptick in claims after hurricane damage or attorney’s fees to defend itself over fraudulent adjuster claims.

Dulce Suarez-Resnick, past president of the Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies, said this kind of widespread cancellation is common after subsequent years of heightened hurricane activity.

“It’s not the end of the world or that they’re bad companies,” Suarez-Resnick said. “It’s that these companies were weakened by prior storms and the bill for the reinsurance got heftier. That’s where we are today.”

As we’ve previously written, many experts consider the current system for managing and mitigating flood risk to be generally unsustainable. Insurers increasingly recognize that risk transfer is not enough and that a resilience mindset is required that demands more than new insurance products. Innovation and technology, along with public-private partnerships, are key components of any resilience strategy that is going to be effective.

Thanks to the insurance industry’s longtime focus on assessing and quantifying catastrophe risk and the rise of sophisticated modeling capabilities, insurers are ideal partners for addressing these evolving risks.

Learn More on the Triple-I Blog:

ESG Is in Insurers’ DNA

Man-Made and Natural Hazards Both Demand a Resilience Mindset

White House, FEMA Resilience Officials Speak at Triple-I Event

Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer

Partnering to Improve Flood Resilience

Climate Risk Is Not a New Priority for Insurers

Above-Average 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Predicted

FEMA’s New Approach to Flood Risk Will Make Insurance Program Fairer

Floods, Freezing, Other Extreme Weather Highlight Need for Planning And Insurance

Study Quantifies Future Climate Change Impact on Flood Losses

Why Do Disasters Keep “Surprising” Us? A Resilience Culture Would Aid Preparation

Community Catastrophe Insurance: Four Models to Boost Resilience

Insurers Are Addressing Climate Risks

Study Supports Case for Flood Mitigation as World Warms

Ana becomes first named storm of 2021 hurricane season

Subtropical Storm Ana formed early on May 22, northeast of Bermuda, becoming the first named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center upgraded Ana to a tropical storm on the morning of May 23 but it was quickly downgraded to a tropical depression by afternoon.

Ana weakened into a post-tropical cyclone and was expected to dissipate on May 24 as it tracked northeastward into colder Atlantic waters.

This marks the seventh consecutive year in which at least one named storm has formed prior to the start of Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins June 1. Over the past six years, there have been eight preseason named storms, four of which made landfall in the U.S. In 2020, two tropical storms—Arthur and Bertha—formed in May.

National Hurricane Preparedness Week 2021

The start of what is forecast to be another “above-average” Atlantic hurricane season is weeks away and the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) is recommending homeownersrenters and business owners prepare now. 

“The U.S. experienced a record-setting hurricane season in 2020 and the early forecasts say 2021 is going to be an active one, too,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I. “During National Hurricane Preparedness Week, everyone who lives in a hurricane-prone community should take a few moments to ensure you have adequate financial protection for your property and possessions while also taking steps to make your home or business more resilient to the impacts of wind and water. History has proven that virtually every community along the Gulf and East Coasts have faced the wrath of what is a hurricane’s catastrophic damage. And now with even more Americans living in harm’s way, it is even more critical for consumers and communities to take action.”

National Hurricane Preparedness Week starts on Sunday, May 9, and continues through Saturday, May 15. The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30.

Review Your Insurance Coverage
Make sure you have the right type – and amount – of property insurance. The Triple-I recommends you conduct an annual insurance review of your policy(ies) with your insurance professional.

“You should ask your insurance professional if you have the right amount of insurance coverage to rebuild or repair your home, to replace its contents, and to cover temporary living expenses if your property is uninhabitable,” Kevelighan said. “You should also ask about flood insurance, which is an additional coverage to a standard homeowners and small business insurance policy. Nearly 90 percent of natural disasters involve flooding.”

The best place to start the insurance review process is by reading the declarations page of your policy. This one-page information sheet offers details on how much coverage you have, your deductibles and how a claim will be paid.

Standard homeowners insurance covers the structure of your house for disasters such as hurricanes and windstorms, along with a host of other disasters. It is important to understand the elements that might affect your insurance payout after a hurricane and adjust your policies accordingly.

Flood insurance, which is a separate policy from your property coverage, is offered through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and several private insurers.

Protect Your Vehicles
Comprehensive auto, which is an optional coverage, protects your vehicle against theft and damage caused by an incident other than a collision, including fire, flood, vandalism, hail, falling rocks or trees, and other hazards. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. drivers opt to purchase comprehensive coverage.

Make Sure Your Possessions are Adequately Protected
Imagine the out-of-pocket cost of repurchasing all your furniture, clothing, and other personal possessions after a hurricane. Whether you have homeowners insurance or renters insurance, your policy provides protection against loss or damage due to a hurricane.

Creating an inventory of your belongings and their value will make it easy to see if you are sufficiently insured for either the replacement cost or cash value of the items situated at your residence. When you create a photo or video catalog of your home’s possessions, it will also help expedite the insurance claims process if you sustain damage from a storm.

Make Your Property More Resilient
Invest in items that will harden your property against wind damage, such as a wind-rated garage door and storm shutters. The Triple-I also recommends you have your roof inspected annually by a licensed and bonded contractor to make sure it will hold up to high winds and torrential rains.

Other hurricane season preparation tips from the Triple-I include: 

  • Preparing a hurricane emergency kit with a minimum two-week supply of essential items such as non-perishable food, drinking water (1 gallon per family per day) and medications for every family member. Also make sure you have adequate supplies and medications for your pets.
  • Creating an evacuation plan well before the first storm warnings are issued. 

RELATED LINKS

FACTS & STATISTICS:
Hurricanes
Flood Insurance

CONSUMER INFORMATION:
Catastrophes: Insurance Issues
Hurricane Season Insurance Checklist
How to Prepare for Hurricane Season
Hurricane Season Insurance Guide
Hurricanes and Windstorm Deductibles
Understanding Your Insurance Deductible
Preparing an Effective Evacuation Plan
Brochure: Settling Insurance Claims After A Disaster
Spotlight on Flood Insurance
Facts About Flood Insurance
Recovering from a Flood

INFOGRAPHICS:
What Are Hurricane Deductibles?
How to Prepare for Hurricane Season
How to File a Flood Insurance Claim
Is Your Business Ready for Peak Hurricane Season?

EXTERNAL RESOURCES:
FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
NFIP Information for Insurance Agents

VIDEOS:
Phil Klotzbach, PhD, Discusses 2021 Hurricane Season Forecast
Insurance Check-Up: Homeowners and Hurricane/Flood Insurance
Hurricane Insurance Guide
Create a Home Inventory

White House, FEMA Resilience Officials
Speak at Triple-I Event

Caitlin Durkovich, special assistant to President Biden and White House National Security Council senior director of resilience and response, discussed the administration’s climate and resilience priorities at Triple-I’s National Town Hall (highlights video below. Click here to view full event).

She and Paul Huang, acting associate administrator of resilience for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), met virtually with Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan and Michel Léonard, Triple-I vice president and senior economist.

“Resilience is a very important theme of this administration and of the priorities we have,” Durkovich said, elaborating that this includes preparation for and response to both natural and man-made events. The objective is to learn from every incident “so we don’t just bounce back but bounce forward.”

Referring to the administration’s infrastructure and clean-energy goals, she said, “We’re anticipating what the  world is going to look like 20 to 30 years from now, given the life span of our built infrastructure.”

Durkovich noted that there are several longstanding hazard-mitigation and hazard-response programs spread across multiple agencies.

“I think we have the opportunity to bring at least the federal community together to look at some of those programs and think about how we can modernize them, just like we’re modernizing infrastructure,” she said.

This will help communities “build back better” after an event.

But it’s going to take more than federal government to bring this about. Communities will have to be very involved, she said, adding, “It’s not just state and local planners, but it’s infrastructure owners and operators, it’s the finance side of the house, who are needed to work through some of these hard challenges before, so after an emergency, when money becomes available, you’re ready to make some significant changes.”

And as we invest in electrified transportation infrastructure, she said, “we have to make sure that infrastructure is resilient to power outages, to storms, and when we’re in the middle of a mass evacuation it can accommodate hundreds of thousands of people.”

Despite having to think about everything that could go wrong (what she described as “healthy paranoia”), Durkovich was upbeat: “It’s amazing to be having these conversations about designing resilience in at the beginning, instead of bolting it on at the end.”

FEMA’s Paul Huang echoed Durkovich’s enthusiasm for a “whole of government” and “whole of community” approach to resilience.

“We’re going to have to rethink how we do things,” he said.  “We have programs that have always been around. They’re good programs, but it’s not enough.  We have to think bigger and more creatively.”

Huang talked about a new FEMA program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), that support states, local communities, tribes and territories in developing hazard-mitigation projects, reducing the risks they face from natural disasters.  “We’re hoping to see new ideas from industry, working with local and state government, to say, ‘This is something we can try together in partnership to get a bigger bang for our buck.’ “

Above-average 2021 Atlantic hurricane season predicted

Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane researchers predict an above-average Atlantic hurricane season in 2021, citing the likely absence of El Niño as a primary factor. El Niño tends to increase upper-level westerly winds across the Caribbean into the tropical Atlantic, tearing apart hurricanes as they try to form.

The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team, led by Triple-I non-resident scholar Dr. Phil Klotzbach, predicts 17 named storms during the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season.

Of those, the researchers expect eight to become hurricanes and four to reach major hurricane strength (Saffir/Simpson category 3-4-5) with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater.

An average season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The 2021 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, follows a record-breaking 2020 season. The team expects the 2021 hurricane activity to be about 140 percent of the average season. By comparison, 2020’s hurricane activity was about 170 percent of the average season. The 2020 hurricane season had six landfalling continental US hurricanes, including Category 4 Hurricane Laura, which battered southwestern Louisiana.

So far, the 2021 hurricane season is exhibiting characteristics similar to 1996, 2001, 2008, 2011 and 2017. “All of our analog seasons had above-average Atlantic hurricane activity, with 1996 and 2017 being extremely active seasons,” said Klotzbach.

The report also includes the probability of major hurricanes making landfall:

• 69 percent for the entire U.S. coastline (average for the last century is 52 percent)
• 45 percent for the U.S. East Coast including the Florida peninsula (average for the last century is 31 percent)
• 44 percent for the Gulf Coast from the Florida panhandle westward to Brownsville (average for the last century is 30 percent)
• 58 percent for the Caribbean (average for the last century is 42 percent)

As always, Dr. Klotzbach caution coastal residents to take proper precautions as “it only takes one storm near you to make it an active season.”

The full forecast can be accessed on CSU’s website.

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.