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Cat Losses, The Atlantic Basin, & Technology

Technology can be a powerful ally in the battle to successfully assess and manage risk. From new, high-definition models to fully hosted solutions that shrink costs and timeframes, risk professionals now have access to the tools they need to successfully manage their portfolios.

Advances both in the collection of data and computational strength have enabled more precise and comprehensive analytics than were previously possible, thus allowing a more complete and accurate risk profile.

The more you know about risk and exposure, the more they can be managed. Unmanaged or undermanaged, risks, and exposures can become problems and even turn tragic or fatal.

Global insured losses from catastrophes totaled $37 billion in 2015 according to Swiss Re’s most recent Sigma Study. The 2015 figure, at just over half the inflation-adjusted previous 10-year average of $62 billion in insured catastrophe losses, was substantially tied to a quiet Atlantic hurricane season.

“The relatively low level of losses was largely due to another benign hurricane season in the US. El Niño in 2015 contributed to weather patterns deviating from average climate norms,” said the Swiss Re report.

(Re)insurers’ financial results for the past two years have been dotted with the phrase “benign catastrophe losses,” demonstrating how they have benefitted from quiet Atlantic storm conditions producing below-average claims activity.

That period of below-average catastrophe losses for (re)insurers may be coming to an end as researchers and forecasters are pointing toward a more active Atlantic hurricane season for 2016.

When (not if) catastrophe losses do return to their 10-year average, that’s $25 billion across somebody’s balance sheet. What might the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season hold for the U.S. and those who insure it?

With ports lining the U.S. coast from Texas to New York, even one landfall could wreak havoc on marine activities and infrastructure as the country moves into the winter holiday and heating oil seasons.

More Active Season?

While 2015 saw only 11 named storms with just four hurricanes, early indications suggest that the 2016 season will exceed those totals.

An April 14 update from the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that the current El Nino conditions, known to inhibit hurricane activity, are likely to abate.

El Niño is dissipating and NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a 70 percent chance that La Niña—which favors more hurricane activity—will be present during the peak months of hurricane season, August through October.

“Nearly all models predict further weakening of El Niño, with a transition to ENSO-neutral likely during late spring or early summer 2016. Then, the chance of La Niña increases during the late summer or early fall,” the Center said in its update.

The Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project issued a forecast that included an estimated 12 named storms and five hurricanes, again greater than observed 2015 totals.

The Weather Company’s Professional Division issued a report stating the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane season would be he most active since 2012. This report forecasts 14 named storms, eight hurricanes, and three major hurricanes, more than the 30-year historical average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes, according to The Weather Channel.

Most recently, NOAA followed its earlier report on El Nino with its annual Atlantic Hurricane Forecast, stating that this year’s hurricane season will see closer to Normal activity after three slow years.

“A near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we’ve seen in the last three years, which were below normal,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

The NOAA forecast predicts a 70% likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms, of which 4 to 8 could become hurricanes and 1 to 4 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5). In addition to a near-normal season being most likely with a 45% chance, there is also a 30% chance of an above-normal season and a 25% chance of a below-normal season.

Another ominous harbinger was the formation of tropical storm Colin on June 5—the earliest third storm on record in the Atlantic basin. Colin then made landfall on June 6 along Florida’s Big Bend with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph—the first named storm to make landfall in Florida since Andrea in 2013.

Earlier this year, Hurricane Alex became only the second hurricane on record to form in the month of January, sweeping through The Azores as a tropical storm.

Prepare for the Worst

The insurance sector has been substantially re-shaped since the last large catastrophe loss—by M&A, the influx of new capital—meaning new people, new relationships, even new claims procedures and personnel

It’s an entirely new landscape, entirely untested—how will it respond when a catastrophe hits and claims and losses mount?

From first responders to catastrophe modelers, one piece of advice never changes—be prepared.

That means understanding your exposures and accumulations and owning your own view of risk.

You can’t control or avoid catastrophes, but you can manage and mitigate their effects. Being prepared is the first step.