Florence’s much anticipated landfall occurred at 11:15 UTC (7.15 a.m. local time) today, Friday, September 14, near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, as a Category 1 hurricane. Florence remains just within the Category 1 hurricane classification on Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS); as of the 18:00 UTC National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory today, maximum sustained winds were 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour). Previous observations showed that at Cape Lookout there were sustained winds of 83 miles per hour (133 kilometers per hour) and gusts of 106 miles per hour (170 kilometers per hour). Florence is now moving slowly toward the west at near five miles per hour (7 kilometers per hour).
Over the coming 36 hours, Florence is expected to meander into northern South Carolina and then progress further inland across the western Carolinas and into the Appalachian Mountains through the early part of next week.
The expectation that surge and inland flooding, rather than wind, would be the primary hazards associated with Florence was quickly realised as the storm approached the Carolinas coastline yesterday.
Excessive rainfall and dangerous storm surge present the greatest threat over the next few days. The potential for heavy rainfall has extended to the south and west given the change in projected track over the last 48 hours. Projections of over 15 inches (380 millimeters) of rain now cover much of southern North Carolina and northeast South Carolina — much of North Carolina is expected to receive in excess of six inches (152 millimeters) of rain.
Super Typhoon Mangkhut (26W) — the twenty-fourth named storm in the western North Pacific this year, was tracking over open ocean around 321 miles (516 kilometers) east-northeast of Manila, Philippines at 0000 UTC Friday, September 14. Mangkhut, named as Ompong in the Philippines using the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) naming system, is the first storm of typhoon strength to impact the Philippines since Typhoon Nock-ten on December 25, 2016, after 2017 proved relatively quiet, typhoon-free year for the country.
With the Philippines currently in the monsoon season (south west monsoon), which brings rain to western parts of the country, Typhoon Mangkhut is enhancing this monsoon system (termed as a “Hanging Habagat” locally) to bring heavier rains to the western side of the Philippines including Palawan, the Visayas, and northern Mindanao. Mangkhut is the strongest storm of the year so far — currently a category 5 equivalent storm (on the Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — SSHWS) with 1-minute sustained winds of 166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour) as reported by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).
Over the last 24 hours, the structure and forecast track of Hurricane Florence has evolved significantly as the storm begins to impact the Carolinas, but the material wind, storm surge and flood threat it poses to the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic U.S. remains.
As of 1200 UTC yesterday (September 12), Florence’s wind field was large and powerful as the storm inched closer to the U.S. coast through favorable environmental conditions. According to RMS HWind analyses, which utilize more than 30 public and private observational data sources to generate objective, ground-truth-based tropical cyclone wind field analytics, maximum 1-minute sustained winds were estimated to be 124 miles per hour (199 kilometers per hour) (Figure 1 below), placing the storm squarely in the Category 3 range on the Saffir Simpson Wind Scale.
In addition, the Integrated Kinetic Energy (IKE), an indicator of tropical cyclone strength and damage potential, was estimated to be 104 Terajoules (TJ), putting it on par with historical events like Frances (2004), Gustav (2008), and Isabel (2003).
In its recent “Global Risks Report”, the World Economic Forum (WEF) provided a comprehensive analysis of the risks and threats that the world faces, from economic, environmental, to geopolitical. Now in its thirteenth report, each year it publishes tables of the top ten risks in terms of their likelihood of happening, and potential impact. Although “newer” risks such as cyberattacks and data fraud do feature in the top five in terms of likelihood, it is extreme weather events and natural disasters that are in the top two or three in each list. In fact, in the view of the WEF, only weapons of mass destruction are ahead of extreme weather and natural disasters in terms of their impact on the globe. Nat cat events have not always topped the table — maybe the scale of the events of 2017 have brought the impact of nat cats to the fore.
There is also a recognition from the WEF that the failure to adapt and mitigate to climate change is rising as a threat. The World Weather Attribution coalition of scientists stated that 19 trillion gallons of rainfall from Hurricane Harvey that hit the Houston area was three-times more likely to occur due to climate change, and 15 percent more intense.
No hurricane landfall forecast is simple. But looking back at the forecast tracks for Hurricane Florence from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the ensemble members of the leading global forecast models a couple of days ago, what stood out was how relatively straightforward they were. Florence was anticipated to make a steady, assured progress directly towards the Carolinas, make landfall, and move directly inland.
In a somewhat remarkable turn of events that few, if any, models predicted 48 hours ago, Florence is now expected to stall over, or very near to, the Carolina coastline.
The huge shift in the forecast guidance is the anticipated result of a reduction in Florence’s steering flow due to two competing areas of high pressure. The hurricane is currently being steered across the southwestern Atlantic Ocean towards the southeastern U.S. around the southeastern periphery of a mid-level ridge centered northeast of Bermuda. As the system approaches land, it will come under increasing influence from a competing mid-level ridge that is forecast to begin building over the east-central United States later today. The net result of these competing steering flows will see Florence slow, meander, or even become stationary for possibly 48 hours before the system moves ashore.
This possibility could bring prolonged hurricane-force winds and storm surge throughout Saturday and Sunday, to coastal areas along North and South Carolina, and significant inland flooding to whole region.
The forecasts for Hurricane Florence have been unusually consistent this far in advance of an anticipated landfall, projecting its path to cross the coast of the Carolinas at major hurricane intensity. For some perspective, if we look at the historical hurricane record since 1850, we find major hurricane landfalls are quite rare along this part of the U.S. Atlantic coastline:
RMS Reconstructed Loss values are based on wind and storm surge damage to present-day exposure, and not on trending forward historical losses
Over the past 167 years, there have been just nine major hurricanes that made landfall along the coast of North and South Carolina. So, on average we can expect one major landfall along this 490-mile stretch of coastline every eighteen and a half years. Certainly, a rare event. Only three of these storms — Hazel, Gracie, and Hugo — were Category 4 (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale) at landfall. There has never been a Category 5 landfall north of Florida.
It seems somehow fitting that a storm underwent rapid intensification today, the peak of the North Atlantic hurricane season. Indeed, as forecast, Florence grew impressively from a tropical storm to a powerful Category 4 major hurricane — as of 1600 UTC on Monday, September 10, — with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour), according to data from a recent National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reconnaissance aircraft mission into the storm.
A ridge of high pressure is guiding Florence on a west-northwest to northwest path across the southeastern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas towards the southeastern U.S. Swells generated by Florence are already affecting Bermuda, with warnings of life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.
With each advisory, the chances of the storm missing the U.S. is rapidly narrowing. Most global models call for a landfall over the Carolinas as a major hurricane. Although the latest National Hurricane Center (NHC) “cone of uncertainty” includes the possibility of landfall between South Carolina and southern Virginia, there has been a strong, consistent guidance that a landfall over North Carolina is the most likely scenario. RMS HWind now shows that the two cities with the highest probability of greatest impact are both in North Carolina: Jacksonville and Wilmington.
The pace of change continues to accelerate across the insurance industry, whether it is from technology, regulation or market developments, and EXPOSURE magazine helps risk professionals to explore some of the key drivers of these changes.
In this latest edition available for distribution at the Monte Carlo Rendezvous and online, the lead story looks at the recent market activity from Tower Insurance in New Zealand. By adopting high-definition earthquake modeling, Tower gained the confidence to launch risk-based pricing for its customers, providing savings for the majority of policyholders, but increases for others. EXPOSURE looks at the implications of Tower’s actions and how this could affect the New Zealand insurance market.
High resolution modeling has also helped Flood Re in the U.K. to better understand how it can work towards its remit of delivering a flood insurance market based on risk-reflective pricing that is affordable to policyholders. EXPOSURE shows how innovative use of modeling could guide Flood Re when recommending investment measures to protect properties at risk of flooding.
The rallying cry has sounded — to “close the protection gap”, the difference between what is paid out by insurance and the total cost of some incident or disaster. Here is an issue that can unite and promote the insurance industry, extending benefits to those in peril by expanding the insurance sector. Having ex-post access to funding after a loss, we know, can bring important benefits.
Yet in reality, there is not just one, but three distinct insurance “protection gaps”, each with separate causes and each requiring different remedies. These protection gaps are so different to one another that we should stop treating them as a single category. Lumping them together can cause confusion.
In this series of four blogs, I will explore each of these three distinct gaps, together with the role of protection gap analytics, and the actions we can plan to address these protection gaps.
This is the second blog in a series of four blogs examining three potential “protection gaps” and the importance of “protection gap analytics”. To read the first blog post in this series, click here.
Year-by-year, we can check to see if the gap between insured and economic disaster losses in emerging economies is starting to shrink. The gap remains resolutely stuck in the range 80 to 100 percent uninsured. Even a 90 percent average flatters the proportion, as coverage is concentrated in high value hotels, factories and central business districts whereas almost all ordinary houses are without insurance.
We should not be surprised how the emerging markets gap stays so wide.
See what happened in Japan. Unregulated mass rebuilding after the war led to a rising toll of flood disasters. In one single year in the 1950s, more than a million properties were flooded. Then in 1959 there was Typhoon Vera and the Ise Bay storm surge flood catastrophe in which more than 5,000 died. In 1960 the Government declared the level of risk to be intolerable and directed that seven to eight percent of government expenditure should be invested in funding disaster risk reduction. The annual investment proved successful and by the 1980s the annual number of houses flooded had reduced to only three percent of its 1950s level.
For any emerging economy the question can be asked: when did the nation reach the equivalent of Japan in 1960 and start to invest in disaster risk reduction. China passed the point of “intolerable disaster risk” towards the end of the 1990s, while India is undergoing that transition today. This is not just investment in physical disaster risk reduction, but also good risk governance and education.
Insurance is a product of this disaster risk management culture.