Tag Archives: Storm Surge

Set to Impact Entire West Coast of Florida, Irma Raises Significant Storm Surge Concerns

14:30 UTC  Sunday, September 10

Tom Sabbatelli, hurricane risk expert – RMS

As Hurricane Irma makes landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm, the range of the storm’s possible future tracks in the latest RMS HWind forecast product is rapidly narrowing. It is now certain that Irma will track along Florida’s west coast and impact all major population centers from Naples to Tallahassee.

What is less certain is the length of time Irma’s center will remain over water, with some scenarios projecting a landfall near Fort Myers and others delaying the landfall until Irma reaches the state’s Big Bend region.

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Irma: Westward Forecast Shift Creates Déjà Vu With Matthew

15:00 UTC  Saturday, September 9

Tom Sabbatelli, hurricane risk expert – RMS

The westward-moving trend of recent Hurricane Irma forecasts continues, with the Florida Keys, southwest Florida, and Tampa potentially within Irma’s sights. Although the National Hurricane Center forecast “cone of uncertainty” still covers much of south Florida, 83 percent of the individual forecasts analyzed by the RMS HWind forecast product bring the hurricane within 50 nautical miles of Key West, indicating that the Miami metropolitan region may be spared the worst of Irma’s winds. 75 percent of these forecasts also indicate a passage within 50 nautical miles of Tampa (see “Selected Probabilities” in the figure below).

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Updates from RMS on Major Hurricane Matthew

Monday, October 10

Matthew has now made its exit and work begins on the RMS loss estimate

By Tom Sabbatelli, RMS hurricane risk expert

Although it may be too soon to define Hurricane Matthew’s legacy, it will surely be remembered for keeping the insurance industry on tenterhooks for a few days. Having eschewed the U-turn that had been anticipated by many forecast models, Matthew adopted post-tropical characteristics early on Sunday morning, while tracking due eastward off the North Carolina coast. With Matthew’s exit, the fears of another blow to the regions that had already been hit hard by its first impact were put to bed.

So now we have initiated the next phase of RMS Event Response operations, with our attention shifting from the regular, reactive stochastic event selections to a comprehensive interrogation of all causes of loss – both modeled and unmodeled. It is this work that will form the basis of the RMS official  industry loss estimate.

Our vulnerability modelers, who make up our reconnaissance teams for Matthew, are on their way to southeast U.S. and The Bahamas. The team traveling to the southeast U.S. are likely to find the damage there is less severe than many forecasters feared prior to landfall. The fact that the storm stayed offshore for so long undoubtedly helped to reduce the potential losses across the region. Nonetheless, Matthew’s high moisture content and slow movement up the coast has caused significant and widespread flooding, driven by a powerful combination of heavy rainfall, historic wave heights, and significant storm surge.

Observations from Jacksonville, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina, as the storm passed over each city, revealed record-setting precipitable water levels.  Supported by this unprecedented atmospheric moisture, Matthew produced rainfall totals in excess of one foot in many areas, including up to 15 inches of rain in Cumberland County, North Carolina.

Here the antecedent conditions were already at their peak even before the storm, due to recent heavy rain events that had deluged the region. The combination of rivers in the area already near flood stage level and the already heavily saturated soils, produced an increased susceptibility for each nuanced type of surface flooding to occur.

The antecedent conditions are essential inputs to defining the flood waters associated with this event.

While the damageable surge and wave will make up a large proportion of our modeled flood hazard, the modeled impacts of the inland flooding will be difficult to fully differentiate until our reconnaissance team have collated more observational data. Some features of this event such as dam breakage are considered a non-modeled component of this event, despite their ongoing impacts to the damage still occurring in the area.

Commercial Versus Residential Losses

RMS expects that the losses to commercial lines will be the primary driver of total flood insured losses, predominately through multi-peril or all-risks policies. We expect that the contribution to insured losses by residential claims will be limited because a proportion of the residential property losses will be covered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

As of July 31, 2016, there were approximately 417,000 NFIP policies in-force in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Penetration of NFIP coverage varies significantly by distance to the coastline. In coastal regions it can be as high as 25 per cent in some areas, while inland participation can be less than 1 percent.  This means that although much of the storm surge-driven coastal flood losses will be covered to some extent by the NFIP, many flood-related losses further inland are expected to be uninsured.

Damage and Loss in the Caribbean

Although Matthew’s strongest winds stayed offshore in the U.S., which is likely to limit economic and insured losses, the same cannot be said for parts of the Caribbean, notably Haiti, Cuba, and The Bahamas. The RMS reconnaissance team visiting The Bahamas expect to see damage caused by high winds, storm surge, and record rainfall.

Based on reports and observation data to-date, storm surge and rainfall-induced flooding will likely drive damage in The Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean, such as Cuba and Haiti – although for Haitians, obviously, the main concern at the moment is the terrible loss of life. Insurance penetration rates in The Bahamas are lower than those of the U.S.; however, the RMS reconnaissance team will be paying particular attention to the hard-hit islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama, home to approximately 85 per cent of the country’s insured exposure.

Calculating the RMS Loss Estimate

The insights gleaned from our reconnaissance trips will prove extremely valuable in complementing our work towards developing an industry loss estimate.

As the Event Response team now transitions from producing real-time event updates, the instrumental observations of wind and flood depth measurements they will continue to gather in the coming days will be fed into the reconstruction of Matthew’s wind and storm surge footprints. And the thorough investigation into Matthew’s damage begins as we aim to provide the insurance industry with a comprehensive review of Hurricane Matthew’s impact.

(end of Monday update 1)

 

Saturday, October 8

Today’s RMS response to Hurricane Matthew

By Ben Brookes, head of the RMS capital markets team; Emily Paterson, head of RMS event response; Dr Paul Wilson, RMS expert in hurricane and storm surge risk.

All times in this post are London, England

06:45 –

It’s not been often in the last 10 years that any of us have needed to set a Saturday morning alarm to catch the early National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory for a powerful storm close to land.   Thankfully, we’ve had a long streak of no major hurricanes hitting the U.S., so it’s something of a blast from the past to be back in major hurricane response mode over a weekend!

A minute or two of hitting the f5 key, and the latest is in. While the loss of life in Haiti is sobering reminder of the power of these storms, it seems the drought of major Florida landfalls continues: Matthew has continued to “stalk” the Florida coastline as the more dramatic headlines report, but it has not come ashore in the state.  The track has taken it further north overnight, as anticipated, and now all eyes are on whether Matthew might have become the first land-falling hurricane in Georgia since the late 1800s

09:30

As hurricane modelers gather in the office this morning, many of whom look like they may not have been home, but revitalized by a large tray of coffees, the storm appears to be coming ashore in South Carolina. But it’s going to need a clearer picture of the inner structure of the storm before we know for sure.  As yet the NHC is not reporting a landfall, but the Hwind snapshots should give us clarity soon.   Whether we see a landfall next week after a loop back around is also the source of much debate.  And a point of interest for the industry too – will this be one loss or two?  (See yesterday’s Q&A further down this blog thread for more on this).

Our collective task this morning is to update our stochastic selection – choosing scenarios from the model that continue to represent the range of possible outcomes from Matthew, to help our clients understand the range of possible outcomes for their businesses.  Once again, we’re not attempting to estimate the industry loss that this storm has caused (or more accurately, is continuing to cause), that process will begin when the storm has passed, and we can gather and collect all possible data sets, and perform detailed reconnaissance of the areas impacted, both remote and in person.  RMS reconnaissance has already begun, with our remote sensing experts in full swing, and a team of our modelers headed to the affected region.  On the ground inspections and observations will need to wait until the storm has passed, including any looping around that might be to come.

We begin by looking at the NHC track and cone of uncertainty, and define “gates” for each point along the track and the projected path.  The set of candidate tracks is then any that pass through these same gates, with wind speeds within a defined range of the values reported by the NHC in each case.  We assemble a big list of candidate scenarios, and begin to review each one in turn, discussing the pros and cons of inclusion in our selection for the day.

This morning’s NHC Advisory

This morning’s NHC Advisory

First up is the Caribbean update. Even though Matthew has been out of the Bahamas for the best part of 24 hours, new information is available. Our Caribbean selection can now benefit from the work the RMS Hwind team is doing to generate a complete wind swath for Matthew.  The preliminary swath proves hugely useful to make sure we don’t include modeled events with winds too far east in our set.   As this work continues, it will inform our complete track selection for Matthew’s impact in the US as well. Remember to keep an eye on the @Hwind Twitter feed for rolling updates.

We spend some time debating the fact that our Caribbean track selection representing loss in the Bahamas contains numerous modeled events that do go on to cause a major disaster in Florida (and hence why these tracks do not represent what is happening in Florida) – the high pressure over the Carolinas that has steered Matthew along its unusual path has averted something far worse.

11:00

Our Caribbean scenarios are finalized, with a candidate set of 29 narrowed down to 13, the smallest modeled scenario at less than $1bn, and the largest just over $5bn (wind only).

We move on to discussing the ongoing situation in the U.S.  An hour of healthy debate ensues, and from our candidate set of 20 modeled storms with U.S. impact, we settle on five that our hurricane experts feel are Matthew-like, each in different ways: track similarity, parameter similarity (Vmax, Rmax, pressure), windfield similarity, onshore impact, and various other dimensions.

Our five modeled storm scenarios range from $2bn to $8bn (wind only) – considerable uncertainty remains.  It is however becoming clear that Florida at least has dodged the bullet that was heading its way on Thursday.

And as we always advise our clients, these are potential scenario losses, they represent a wide range consistent with the ongoing uncertainty, and they are not industry loss estimates of the storm itself.  An industry loss estimate will be provided as fast as possible, but requires much more interrogation of many more data sources, as well as sifting through all the damage and reconnaissance reports.

Hwind preliminary Caribbean footprint for the portion of track from Haiti into the Southern Bahamas.  Note the highest wind gust marker, on the South coast of Haiti, consistent with the reports of extreme damage now emerging.

Hwind preliminary Caribbean footprint for the portion of track from Haiti into the Southern Bahamas.  Note the highest wind gust marker, on the South coast of Haiti, consistent with the reports of extreme damage now emerging.

12:30

So, with today’s event selection complete, our team shifts gears again to package up the event selections to deliver to our clients via the RMS Event Response outreach process, with all associated insights and commentary.  We’re already receiving inbound requests from our clients, asking when this information will be made available – looks like lunch might have to get cold – time and (storm) tide wait for no modeler!

(end of Saturday update 1)

Friday, October 7 – update 2

1800 UTC

As Hurricane Matthew continues up the Florida coast, we’ve been putting some questions to RMS experts:

Q: Florida’s facing wind damage and flooding from rain and sea storm surges – which is likely to be worst?

RMS Meteorolgists and hurricane risk experts Tom Sabbatelli and Jeff Waters

“The potential for significant wind impact is decreasing, as Matthew has remained further offshore than anticipated and the strongest winds remain tightly packed around its center. However, forecasts have the storm coming close the Georgia/South Carolina coast. The principle concern turns to the north for significant flood risk in the southeast U.S., including high storm surge risk from Jacksonville northward to Charleston, SC. As a large, slow moving storm, Matthew has been absorbing a lot of tropical moisture and building up a lot of rising water over its lifecycle. This increases the potential for heavy rainfall and significant build-up of water along the southeast coastline, which features greater storm surge potential than eastern Florida due to local bathymetry (contours of the sea bed). The size and extent of storm surge-driven coastal flooding could be worsened as it phases with the normal, daily high tide.  Rainfall estimates in excess of one foot (30 cm) are expected along the coast of South and North Carolina, two areas where soils are already heavily saturated and river levels are high based on significant rainfall over the last few weeks.”

Q: How should insurers expect losses to be split between commercial and personal lines?

Tom Sabbatelli and Jeff Waters again:

“If Matthew ultimately turns out to be a flood-driven event, the insurance industry is more likely to be impacted by private commercial flood policies than residential flood, which is primarily covered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Florida has the highest number of NFIP policies in-force (1.7 million), but there are only approximately 417,000 NFIP policies in-force combined for Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.  In residential areas where both wind and storm surge have occurred, we do expect some degree of what we call “coverage leakage,” a claim’s adjuster’s inability to distinguish whether damage was caused by wind or storm surge. This effect tends to increase wind policy losses, as the flood loss “leaks” into the wind payout.”

Q: What causes most damage – the hurricane making landfall or tracking up the coast?

Brian Owens, RMS expert in tropical cyclones

“This depends on a number of factors – if Matthew were to make landfall as a major hurricane and track across Florida you could get significant damage; making landfall would weaken the storm but the core of the strongest winds would definitely pass over land. If the storm tracks the coast and the eye remains offshore this would cause Matthew to maintain its intensity as it has continuing access to its primary source of energy – warm sea water. The critical factors in this second scenario are how close to the shore Matthew tracks, for how long, and how far the strongest winds extend out from the centre of Matthew. What makes Matthew particularly unusual is that it is forecast to track along the coast of four states (FL, GA, SC and NC) as a hurricane. This could accumulate damage along hundreds of miles of coastal property.”

Dr Mike Kozar, expert in hurricane risk at the RMS Hwind high definition hurricane mapping center in Florida, adds:

“The center of Hurricane Matthew has remained just offshore this morning. Based on measurements from the Hurricane Hunter aircraft, peak winds were estimated to be around 115mph at 1200 UTC. These peak winds, are found on the northeastern eyewall, approximately 40km northeast of the center. So right now it looks unlikely that the strongest part of Matthew’s wind field will come ashore in Florida, although by definition hurricanes are extremely dynamic phenomena. However, the western eyewall, and with it hurricane force winds, is located just offshore, and wind gusts have already exceed 50mph along Florida’s Space Coast.”

Q: Hurricane Nicole is having an effect – how – and is it strange that we’re seeing two cyclones in the same area at once?

Brian Owens, RMS expert in tropical cyclones

“While unusual, this has been seen before in the tropical Atlantic. Hurricanes have large atmospheric circulations and when hurricanes are close those circulations can move around each other, interfere with each other, or even merge.”

Q: Matthew is a relatively small hurricane in terms of its surface area – does this have implications for its strength and intensity?

Brian Owens, RMS expert in tropical cyclones

“There are no set rules here: you can have large intense storms and smaller intense storms too. The core of the strongest winds is generally in a small area around the eye wall. Matthew has been through its lifetime on the smaller end of size range, which has implications for the geographic scale of the damaging winds and rain. It was very intense and destructive as it tracked through the Caribbean, and while weaker now, we need to remember that, regardless of size, Matthew will potentially impact a lot of coastal regions of the U.S.”

 

Western eyewall continues to skirt Florida coastline as Hurricane Matthew pushes northward. Peak winds still near 115mph well offshore.

(end of Friday update 2)

Friday, October 7 – update 1

1000 UTC

As Hurricane Matthew has developed we’ve been keeping you up to date all week with insights from RMS experts. As the storm moves up the Florida coast, here’s the latest:

Emily Paterson, head of RMS event response

“According to the 06:00 UTC National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory, Matthew is currently impacting Florida as a Category 3 storm, with tropical storm force winds impacting Miami and south east Florida through last night. Matthew has started to accelerate and its closest approach is forecast for Cape Canaveral at 12:00 UTC. Although the NHC does not forecast a direct landfall at this time hurricane-force winds are expected to be felt along the East Coast.

Hurricane Matthew is forecast to continue to track extremely close to Florida and Georgia through Friday as it moves towards the north-northeast. The storm is forecast to weaken Friday night into Saturday while moving along the U.S. southeast coast, impacting portions of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.”

Ben Brookes, head of RMS capital markets team on the possible impacts

“Having strengthened to category four status on its approach to Florida, Matthew has now weakened again but there is still significant risk to communities in its path – hence the evacuations.

It’s still a highly dynamic situation – Matthew could yet take a more easterly path, and bypass the U.S. without major areas of hurricane force winds over land – yet even in this scenario, high winds, heavy rainfall, and a large storm surge are all possible and expected. A small difference in storm track, perhaps only in the tens of miles, could bring the center of the storm on land and significantly change the storm’s impact on Florida and the southeast U.S..”

Brian Owens, RMS expert in tropical meteorology commented on the weakening of Matthew:

“From radar you can see the eyewall became more disorganised as it left the Bahamas and moved towards the coast of Florida. This was consistent with the weakening of the storm back to Cat 3 overnight. The NHC has discussed that the hurricane may be going through an eye-wall replacement cycle, which typically leads first to a weakening of the storm, followed by possible further strengthening.”

Dr Paul Wilson, expert in hurricane risk added an update on the storm surge

“Should Matthew continue to track parallel to the east coast of Florida, catastrophic damage from storm surge is less likely than a similar-sized event in the Gulf of Mexico, because the bathymetry (contours of the sea bed) off the east coast of Florida is at a steep gradient, falling away quickly. However, Matthew’s size and speed, two very important factors in determining the expected amount of surge, will ultimately influence the amount of coastal flooding. It looks like there’s a possibility Matthew might be speeding up which would reduce the risk of prolonged winds causing damage along the coast.

In some areas, Florida’s east coast contains densely populated bays and rivers that may sit at greater risk to storm surge. If winds become aligned with the orientation of a bay or river over a period of hours, it can cause the water to pile up at the end of the waterway.”

(end of Friday update 1)

Thursday, October 6 – update 3

1430 UTC

As well as monitoring the likely impacts on Florida, RMS is also analyzing the continuing impacts on the Caribbean. Dr. Paul Wilson is an expert in hurricane and storm surge risk:

 “Today there’s understandably a lot of focus on how Matthew’s going to affect the U.S. But it’s still having major impact on the Bahamas.

Some commentators have been looking for historical comparisons and Hurricane Hazel in 1954 was a remarkable analogue for Matthew’s track across Haiti and Cuba. But Hazel passed through the Bahamas further to the east. A better analogue for Matthew’s current track in the Bahamas would be a storm like the 1899 San Ciriaco Hurricane which tracked further to the west.

Against today’s exposure RMS modeling would put Hazel at under US$1 billion in the Bahamas primarily from storm surge damages, while the San Ciriaco Hurricane would have been in excess of $5bn in the Bahamas. The range of losses from the pre-landfall analyses that RMS has made for Matthew encompass this range of historical loss.”

(end of Thursday update 3)

Thursday, October 6 – update 2

 1330 UTC

Dr. Mark Powell and Dr. Mike Kozar are RMS hurricane risk specialists based in Florida. Mark pioneered Hwind real-time analysis of hurricanes with observational data from instruments in the air, in the sea and on land – including aircraft reconnaissance, GPS dropsonde instruments, sea buoys and satellites. As the storm heads towards Florida, here is Mark and Mike’s latest take on Matthew, in light of the current forecast:

 “Given that Matthew’s strongest winds are confined to a very small area within its inner core, a difference of track in the tens of miles would translate to a substantial change in wind impacts both along the coastline and in interior cities such as Orlando.

Currently, landfall is most likely to occur between, West Palm Beach and St. Augustine early Friday morning. Winds will likely approach and possibly exceed hurricane force across much of this stretch of coastline, with localized flooding from storm surge, and heavy rainfall. The storm will gradually weaken as it remains very close to if not over land for much of Thursday night and Friday.

Nonetheless, other parts of the state will see effects too. Although hurricane force winds may be confined to coastal areas, torrential downpours and wind gusts will likely stretch across more than half of the peninsula as the storm progresses northward. On Friday night, Matthew is expected to continue north of this area approaching Jacksonville, as it slowly starts to curve back towards the northeast, roughly following the shape of the coastline in Georgia and South Carolina. Eventually on Saturday a subtropical ridge to the north will force Matthew to turn to the east, and potentially southeast, away from the coast into a more hostile environment that will cause Matthew to weaken more rapidly.”

(end of Thursday update 2)

Thursday, October 6 – update 1

Good morning. We’ve been asking experts from across RMS for their observations as Hurricane Matthew develops.

At 1100 UTC on Thursday 6 October, this is the first of today’s updates, from the RMS event response team:

Major Hurricane Matthew is forecast to continue tracking through the Bahamas on Thursday while intensifying from a Category 3 to a Category 4 hurricane.

At this stage there’s not complete agreement between forecasts on whether there’ll be a direct landfall in Florida, but the all projections indicate that impacts in the state could be significant. Currently, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasts Matthew to track up the east coast within 30 miles (48km) of the shore with a closest approach of under 5 miles (8km) from land at Cape Canaveral.  Whilst, the Global Forecasting System (GFS) and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) indicate a potential landfall somewhere between Port St. Lucie and Cape Canaveral.

It’s also set to get stronger, developing from a Cat 3 to a Cat 4 storm as it tracks towards Florida. Hurricane force winds are expected to extend 45-60 miles (75-95 km) north of the eye, which could therefore affect the entire Florida coast as the system tracks alongside it. According to the NHC, there is a greater than 40% chance of hurricane force winds affecting the coast between Boca Raton and Daytona Beach and a greater than 80% chance of tropical storm winds affecting the entire east coast of Florida north of Miami.

Both the GFS and ECMWF expect Hurricane Matthew to make a southward turn early on Sunday October 9. There is some disagreement between the forecasts for Matthew’s track into next week; GFS indicates that Matthew may make a westward turn with a potential second landfall in Florida whilst the ECMWF has the storm remaining in the Atlantic before moving out eastwards by Wednesday next week.

U.S. Tropical storm warnings are now in effect for the Florida Keys and Florida Bay whilst hurricane warnings are in place for the entire east coast north of Miami. Hurricane watches are also now in effect for the entire coast of Georgia and parts of South Carolina.

(end of Thursday update 1)

Wednesday, October 5 – update 2

We’ve been asking experts from across RMS for their observations as they monitor the progress of Hurricane Matthew. This is the second update for today – please read further down this thread for the first.

At 1600 UTC on Wednesday, here’s the latest commentary:

Emily Paterson – head of RMS event response – on the current forecast:

“Matthew is expected to track through the Bahamas as a Category 4 storm through tomorrow, Thursday October 6, before tracking 45 miles (72 km) offshore parallel to the Florida coastline on Friday October 7. A Florida landfall as a Category 3 or 4 storm is possible under the current forecast, with the interaction with Tropical Storm Nicole and a mid to upper level high pushing Matthew further west. There are large amounts of insured exposure along the eastern Florida coast, which have the potential to be impacted by the storm.”

Tom Sabbatelli – RMS meteorologist and hurricane risk modeler – on the characteristics of Hurricane Matthew

“While its cloud structure may appear symmetrical, a hurricane does not feature a symmetrical wind field. In the northern hemisphere the portion of a hurricane to the right of its track typically features the strongest winds and storm surge. While still a powerful hurricane, Florida is expected to not fall within Matthew’s right hand side, as the current forecast track parallels its east coast.

If current forecasts turn out to be accurate, a movement along Florida’s east coast would make catastrophic damage from sea storm surge less likely because the east coast is ocean-facing and shelves off deeply. If it was a more gentle sloping coastal incline, like on the Gulf of Mexico, this would allow larger surges to build up. However, we are still intently watching the evolution of Matthew’s size and speed, two very important factors in determining the expected amount of surge.”

On this point, Dr Mark Powell – RMS hurricane and storm surge risk specialist – added

“The exception to this could be the densely populated bays and rivers along the East Coast. Examples would include Biscayne Bay, which extends north and south of Miami, the Indian River Lagoon system that comprises 30% of Florida’s central east coast, the Halifax River near Daytona Beach,  and the St. Johns River near Jacksonville, which can be more vulnerable to storm surge especially for a slow moving storm like Matthew. If winds become aligned with the orientation of the bay/river over a period of hours, it can cause the water to pile up at the end of the bay.”

Ben Brookes – head of the capital markets team at RMS – has been continuing to assess the potential impact on catastrophe bonds and other insurance-linked securities:

“If anything, things are more uncertain today than they were yesterday – the range of forecasts seems to have widened, with everything from West Palm Beach landfall to a complete Florida bypass, or landfall in the Carolinas. There are even models predicting Matthew will make a loop in the Atlantic and further impact Florida next week.

Potential market impacts are therefore still very broad – if Matthew makes landfall in a densely populated area, or closely skirts the Florida coastline around Cape Canaveral through to Jacksonville, we could still be looking at losses that would rival anything in recent history. But that’s a big “if.” In a scenario like this, we could see the ILS market impacted, and with significant bond exposure in Florida, a major industry loss would be highly likely to also mean losses to outstanding cat bond principal.

On the other hand, it remains quite possible for Matthew to stay further offshore, or for the damaging winds to affect less populated areas.  As yet we could still be looking at a low-single-digit billions industry loss event, which would mean very little impact to the ILS market.

What’s clear is that the uncertainty that’s unfolding is likely to create trading interest – the market is closely monitoring what’s going on, and in some cases actively hedging.”

Aircraft data from NOAA Hurricane Hunter and the Hurricane Hunter Association indicates that western eyewall of Hurricane Matthew has weakened from its landfall in Cuba.

(END OF WEDNESDAY UPDATE 2)

Wednesday, October 5 – update 1

Latest update from Dr Mike Kozar and Dr Mark Powell, experts in hurricane risk based in Tallahassee, Florida – RMS’ center for HWind high definition hurricane impact mapping.

There was a possibility that Hurricane Matthew might have weakened yesterday as it travelled over Hispaniola, the large island comprised of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. But Matthew’s center only skirted Haiti’s mountainous terrain and quickly returned over water, and so its strength did not diminish much. The storm continued northward through the Windward Passage during the afternoon, maintaining its intensity between 130 mph and 140 mph according to measurements from the U. S. Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters.

The 0000 UTC Wednesday morning HWind analysis indicated that Matthew made landfall on the eastern tip of Cuba with hurricane force winds extending about 50 miles westward.  Matthew’s short time over land will limit the interaction with Cuba’s terrain so the storm is expected to regain intensity shortly after emerging back over the ocean near the southern Bahamas. The storm is expected to continue generally northward through the Bahamas on Wednesday before threatening the United States on Thursday and Friday.

In the last 24 hours, model consensus has shifted the effects of the storm westward, making impacts along the Southeast coast of the United States more likely.  As Matthew approaches Florida, the storm is expected to slowly weaken in the next day or two, owing to increased vertical wind shear. Overall, the threat to Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas will be determined by the exact track of the storm, particularly how far west it reaches as it interacts with the subtropical ridge while moving northward up the coast.

The general model consensus suggests that Matthew will slide northward very near, if not scraping along, the Florida coastline as a strong hurricane, making at least tropical storm force winds, high surf, and heavy rain likely for most of the cities along Florida’s East Coast, which has not seen a direct landfall from a hurricane since Katrina in South Florida in August 2005 (Hurricane Wilma struck the Gulf coast in later in 2005 and more recently Hermine struck the panhandle earlier this year).

Beyond potential impacts to Florida, the forecast into the weekend is still quite uncertain, as the position and strength of the subtropical ridge will determine whether or not Matthew will continue up the coast or meander off of the Southeast coast before heading out to sea.

(END OF UPDATE)

Tuesday, October 4

Major Hurricane Matthew is one of the most powerful North Atlantic hurricanes in recent history, having briefly reached Category 5 strength on Saturday October 1 and the strongest hurricane anywhere in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007, which also tracked through the Caribbean Sea.

Below we have expert commentary on the storm from Ben Brookes, Emily Paterson, and Dr. Michael Kozar, and we will be posting further updates here on the RMS Blog as the event unfolds over the next few days.

Ben Brookes, Vice President, Capital Markets at RMS, said: “There are a number of public catastrophe bonds exposed to Caribbean windstorm, the vast majority of which only have exposure in Puerto Rico. At this time Hurricane Matthew is far enough from Puerto Rico to be unlikely to cause a significant impact. There are no publicly issued catastrophe bonds on risk solely covering Caribbean exposures. If present, Caribbean exposure typically makes up a small proportion of exposed limit alongside U.S. and Canadian exposure.

NHC hurricane watches or warnings are in effect for Jamaica, Haiti, Turks and Caicos and certain regions of Cuba and the Bahamas, all of which except Cuba are member nations of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). CCRIF provides insurance coverage on a parametric modeled loss basis to member countries and sponsored a catastrophe bond in 2014 issued from the World Bank’s Global Debt Issuance Facility alongside its traditional reinsurance program.”

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“Flooding and landslides are a big concern from Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean, and are likely to be a major contributor to damage from the storm. The slow-moving nature of Matthew is allowing the storm to build up moisture, which can result in heavy rainfall as the system passes over land,” said Emily Paterson, head of event response at RMS.

While Matthew is still a Category 4 major hurricane, the wind-field is relatively small, with hurricane force winds only extending 40 miles (65 km) from the center. Matthew is making landfall along the edges of Haiti and Cuba, and therefore we expect wind damage to be relatively localized.

Storm surge from Matthew is another concern. Matthew’s strong winds can cause significant storm surge in the Caribbean. Many of the islands in Matthew’s track have multiple bays, which have the potential to amplify storm surge by not allowing the water to flow away to the side. Furthermore, as Matthew has a fairly linear track, this also amplifies the risk of high waves and storm surge. 

We are keeping a close eye on Matthew’s extended 4-5day forecast, which has the storm tracking very close to the U.S. coastline off Florida and the southeastern states, before making landfall in the U.S. in the Carolina region at Category 2 strength. There’s still a fair amount of uncertainty at this lead time though.”

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Dr. Michael Kozar, hurricane risk specialist at RMS, notes: “Matthew has a thermodynamic environment that could potentially support a very intense hurricane as it moves up the Gulf Stream over water with sea-surface temperatures of above 28°C.

With respect to the slow forward speed of Matthew, if a storm sits on top of its own cold wake it can weaken. However, in Matthew’s case, the sea surface temperatures across the northern Caribbean and around the Bahamas are well above 28°C. Furthermore, warm water seems to exist well below the surface, based on maps of various isotherm depths and ocean heat content. Given how shallow water is near the Caribbean Islands, upward mixing of cold water may not be a huge limiting factor on the storm’s intensity, until it pulls further north into colder waters or northeast off the continental shelf.

A more significant factor for a cap in Matthew’s intensity, besides the amount of time it spends near/over land such as Hispaniola and Cuba, is wind shear and dry air. Forecasting the impact of wind shear on Matthew has been quite tricky thus far as Matthew has been located just south of an area of moderate to high shear for quite some time. If the shear north of the system holds its ground, Matthew very likely will weaken.

Furthermore, there also appears to be some dry air in the mid-levels that could suppress intensity as Matthew pulls poleward away from the Caribbean and into the Western Atlantic. All of this does point to weakening as the storm moves northward, but keep in mind the model consensus has been calling for some degree of weakening for a day or two. Yet Matthew’s intensity largely just oscillated up and down over the course of the weekend and into today.

Regardless, the inner core of Matthew is quite small, so the large scale impacts from wind may be secondary to the impacts from rainfall, save for within about 50 miles of the center.”

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Based on RMS reconnaissance trips to the area in 2015 as part of the research conducted to update the RMS North Atlantic Hurricane Model in 2017, the RMS view of vulnerabilities by island is below: 

Haiti: In Haiti the main concern is rainfall, since with steep terrain much of the country is exposed to flooding and landslides which could be the biggest source of issues in the most populated areas if they aren’t hit by high winds. And certainly the most exposed areas along the southern coast look like they will be hit hard. It is expected that much of the local building stock has been built in recent years, following the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. The Haitian government instituted a new building code in 2012, in direct response to the earthquake, but it is unclear to what extent this new building code is being enforced. RMS research does, however, indicate that buildings in Haiti are expected to perform worse than most Caribbean islands, although this varies by individual construction type. Insurance penetration in Haiti is expected to be low.

Cuba: While market knowledge of vulnerability in Cuba is low, research into the area by RMS shows us that, despite being older on average, the building stock performs well overall due to the high presence of concrete construction. Insurance penetration is also expected to be low.

Jamaica: Building codes in Jamaica have not had a major revision since the first building code was enacted in 1908. However, RMS reconnaissance and research shows that single-family homes are built by local engineers to high standards; reinforced concrete construction is very prevalent across the island. In 2012, Jamaican engineers adopted many practices outlined in recent International Building Code (IBC) standards, which are likely to be enacted in newer commercial construction.

Bahamas: Insurance Penetration in the Bahamas is understood to be higher than other Caribbean islands, although lower than hurricane-exposed regions of the U.S. However, RMS analysis suggests that the Bahamas, with a long history of building codes, exhibit better construction quality than most of the Caribbean. The predominant construction material is reinforced concrete, although amongst the Family Islands there is a higher proportion of wood construction, leaving these islands potentially more vulnerable to wind damage. Despite being well attached to the walls, roofs in the Bahamas often feature asphalt shingles, which can increase the vulnerability of the roof and the entire structure. RMS reconnaissance shows that insured property accounts for less than 40 percent of all homes; one estimate places single-family dwelling insurance penetration at near 20 percent. Commercial exposures are more likely to be insured than residential exposures.

Mangroves and Marshes: A Shield Against Catastrophe?

“We believe that natural ecosystems protect against catastrophic coastal flood losses, but how can we prove it?”

This question was the start of a conversation in 2014 which has led to some interesting results. And it set us thinking: can RMS’ models, like the one which estimates the risk of surge caused by hurricanes, capture the protective effect of those natural ecosystems?

The conversation took place at a meeting on Coastal Defenses organized by the Science for Nature and People Partnership. RMS had been invited by one of our leading clients, Guy Carpenter, to join them. The partnership is organized by The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

We were confident we could help. Not only did we think our models would show how biological systems can limit flood impacts, we reckoned we could measure this and then quantify those benefits for people who calculate risk costs, and set insurance prices.

RMS’ modeling methodology uses a time-stepping simulation, which relies on a specialist ocean atmosphere model, allowing us to evaluate at fine resolution how the coastal landscape can actually reduce the storm surge—and in particular lower the height of waves. In many buildings the real weakness proves to be the vulnerability to wave action rather than just the damage done by the water inundation alone.

The first phase of RMS’ work with The Nature Conservancy is focused on coastal marshes as part of a project supported by a Lloyd’s Tercentenary Research Foundation grant to TNC and UC Santa Cruz. Under the supervision of Paul Wilson, in the RMS model development team, and working with Mike Beck who’s the lead marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy, the project is focused on the coastlines, which were worst impacted by the surge from Superstorm Sandy. The irregular terrain of the marsh and resulting frictional effects reduce the surge height from the storm. Our work is showing that coastal marshes can reduce the flood risk costs of properties, which lie inland of the marshes by something in the range of 10-25%.

Tropical Defenses

So, that’s the effect of coastal marshes. But what about other biological defenses such as mangrove forests and offshore reefs (whether coral or oyster reefs)? Further research is planned in 2016 using RMS models to measure those likely benefits too.

But here’s a rather intriguing (if unscientific) thought: is there a curious Gaia-like principle of self-protection operating here in that the most effective natural coastal protections—mangroves and coral reefs—are themselves restricted to the tropics and subtropics, the very regions where tropical cyclone storm surges pose the greatest threat? Mangroves cannot withstand frosts and therefore in their natural habitat only extend as far north along the Florida peninsula as Cape Canaveral. And yet in our shortsightedness humans have removed those very natural features, which could help protect us.

Paradise Lost?

Between 1943 and 1970 half a million acres of Florida mangroves were cleared to make way for smooth beaches—those beautiful and inviting stretches of pristine sand which have for decades attracted developers to build beachfront properties. Yet, paradoxically, that photogenic “nakedness” of sand and sea may be one of the things, which leaves those properties most exposed to the elements.

With the backing of The Nature Conservancy it seems mangroves are making a comeback. In Miami-Dade County they’re examining a planting program to protect a large water treatment facility. Of course biological systems can only reduce part of the flood risk. They can weaken the destructive storm surge but the water still gets inland. To manage this might require designing buildings with water-resistant walls and floors, or could involve a hybrid of grey (manmade) and green defenses. And if we can reduce the destructive wave action, that might allow us to build earth embankments protected with turf in place of expensive and ugly, but wave-resistant, concrete flood walls.

On March 28, 2015 The Nature Conservancy organized a conference and press briefing in Miami at which they announced their collaboration with RMS to measure the benefits of natural coastal defenses. The coastline of Miami-Dade, already experiencing the effects of rising high tide sea levels, presents real opportunities to test out ways of combatting hurricane hazards and stronger storms through biological systems. Our continued work with The Nature Conservancy is intended to develop metrics that are widely trusted and can eventually be adopted for setting flood insurance prices in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Coastal Flood: Rising Risk in New Orleans and Beyond

As we come up on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a lot of the focus is on New Orleans. But while New Orleans is far from being able to ignore its risk, it’s not the most vulnerable to coastal flood. RMS took a look at six coastal cities in the United States to evaluate how losses from storm surge are expected to change from the present day until 2100 and found that cities such as Miami, New York, and Tampa face greater risk of economic loss from storm surge.

To evaluate risk, we compared the likelihood of each city sustaining at least $15 billion in economic losses from storm surge – the amount of loss that would occur if the same area of Orleans Parish was flooded today as was flooded in 2005. What we found is that while New Orleans still faces significant risk, with a 1-in-440 chance of at least $15 billion in storm surge losses this year, the risk is 1-in-200 in New York, 1-in-125 in Miami, and 1-in-80 in Tampa.

Looking ahead to 2100, those chances increase dramatically. The chance of sustaining at least $15 billion in storm surge losses in 2100 rises to 1-in-315 in New Orleans, 1-in-45 in New York, and 1-in-30 in both Miami and Tampa.

Due to flood defences implemented since 2005, the risk in New Orleans is not as dramatic as you might think compared to other coastal cities evaluated. However, the Big Easy is faced with another problem in addition to rising sea levels – the city itself is sinking. In fact, it’s sinking faster than sea levels are rising, meaning flood heights are rising faster than any other city along the U.S. coast.

Our calculations regarding the risk in New Orleans were made on the assumption that flood defences are raised in step with water levels. If mitigation efforts aren’t made, the risk will be considerably higher.

And, there is considerable debate within the scientific community over changing hurricane frequency. As risk modelers, we take a measured, moderate approach, so we have not factored in potential changes in frequency into our calculations as there is not yet scientific consensus. However, some take the view that frequency is changing, which would also affect the expected future risk.

What’s clear is it’s important to understand changing risk as storm surge continues to contribute a larger part of hurricane losses.

Rising Storm Surge Losses in the U.S. Northeast

Co-authored by Anaïs Katz and Oliver Withers, analysts, Capital Market Solutions, RMS

A recent article in Nature Communications, picked up by the BBC, identified a record mean sea-level rise of 5” (127mm) along the coastline north of New York City during 2009-10. Sea levels fluctuate between years; a swing of this size, however, was unprecedented.

This extreme rise in 2009-2010 has been attributed to the downturn of a major current called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). As changes to sea levels are sensitive to multiple factors, there is volatility around this increase. The AMOC is one of the ocean’s dynamics that is known to have greatly changed over time. It has been shown that weakening and variation of the AMOC is linked to increases of greenhouse gas emissions.

Sea level rise is one of the most tangible and certain consequences of a warmer climate. Climate models suggest that even if greenhouse gas emissions were reduced sea levels will continue to increase. Such a dramatic fluctuation, as seen in 2009-10, highlights the potential for significantly elevated storm surge risk in the region and raises the question what will the impact of future long-term sea-level rise have on storm risk.

A study by Kopp et al. has attempted to predict probability bands for sea rise. The figure below shows the distribution of expected sea-level rise at New York City’s Battery Park throughout the 21st century. The 50th percentile projection of sea level rise is represented as the red line in the figure. Also shown are the maximum rises in sea levels associated with previous hurricane storm surges.

Based on RMS’ estimate of the impacts from hurricanes on residential and commercial property in the Northeast US (from New Jersey north), the 2010 estimate of storm surge contribution to hurricane losses is about 10%. Even where the activity of hurricanes does not change, sea level rise will increase the damage associated with hurricane storm surges. Based on Kopp’s estimates of sea level rise, by 2100 surge losses would contribute about 25% of total hurricane losses.

The largest recent hurricane loss occurred on October 29th 2012, when Superstorm Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, NJ. Based on the RMS best loss estimate, Sandy caused insured losses between $20 and $25 billion, with much of the damage due to storm surge, not wind.

In terms of a simple extreme value analysis, the storm surge caused by Superstorm Sandy combined with the tide at New York City’s Battery Park was approximately a 1-in-450 year return period for that location. Based on sea level rise alone, this surge and tide combination at this location would move closer to a 1-in-100 year event by the end of the century. The figure below shows the return periods for a storm surge as high as Sandy’s occurring at New York City’s Battery Park, under different sea-level assumptions.

A direct result of increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be an increase in sea surface temperatures. While increased sea surface temperatures are likely to cause changes to the activities and intensities of hurricanes, there is no consensus among climate modelers as to the magnitude and direction of these changes. For this reason, the figure below does not consider potential changes in hurricane activity, but focuses solely on sea-level rise, for which there is much more of a general agreement.

While the impacts of climate change remain much debated, changes in loss potential will have material effects on the risk to insurers. With the appreciation of the significance of climate change coming to the fore, the next decades will pose a research challenge for the insurance industry, as to how to incorporate evidence for changes in the level of risk.

This post was co-authored by Anaïs Katz and Oliver Withers. 

Anaïs Katz

Analyst, Capital Market Solutions, RMS
As a member of the advisory team within capital market solutions, Anaïs works on producing capital markets’ deal commentary and expert risk analysis. Based in Hoboken, she provides transaction characterizations to clients for bonds across the market and supports the deal team in modeling transactions. She has woked on notable deals for clients such as Tradewynd Re and Golden State Re. Anaïs has also helped to model and develop her group’s internal collateralized insurance pricing model that provides mark to market prices for private transactions. Anaïs holds a BA in physics from New York University and an MSc in Theoretical Systems Biology and Bioinformatics from Imperial College London.

High Tides a Predictor for Storm Surge Risk

On February 21, 2015, locations along the Bristol Channel experienced their highest tides of the first quarter of the 21st century, which were predicted to reach as high as 14.6 m in Avonmouth. When high tides are coupled with stormy weather, the risk of devastating storm surge is at its peak.

Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water above the predicted astronomical tide generated by a storm, and the U.K. is subject to some of the largest tides in the world, which makes its coastlines very prone to storm surge.


A breach at Erith, U.K. after the 1953 North Sea Flood

The sensitivity of storm surge to extreme tides is an important consideration for managing coastal flood risk. While it’s not possible to reliably predict the occurrence or track of windstorms—even a few days before they strike land—it is at least possible to predict years with a higher probability of storm surge well in advance—which can help in risk mitigation operation planning, insurance risk management, and pricing.

Perfect timing is the key to a devastating storm surge. The point at which a storm strikes a coast relative to the time and magnitude of the highest tide will dictate the size of the surge. A strong storm on a neap tide can produce a very large storm surge without producing dangerously high water levels. Conversely, a medium storm on a spring tide may produce a smaller storm surge, but the highest water level can lead to extensive flooding. The configuration of the coastal geometry, topography, bathymetry, and sea defenses can all have a significant impact on the damage caused and the extent of any coastal flooding.

This weekend’s high tides in the U.K. remind us of the prevailing conditions of the catastrophic 1607 Flood, which also occurred in winter. The tides reached an estimated 14.3 m in Avonmouth which, combined with stormy conditions at the time, produced a storm surge that caused the largest loss of life in the U.K. from a sudden onset natural catastrophe. Records estimate between 500 and 2,000 people drowned in villages and isolated farms on low-lying coastlines around the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary. The return period of such an event is probably over 500 years and potentially longer.

The catastrophic 1953 Flood is another example of a U.K. storm surge event. These floods caused unprecedented property damage along the North Sea coast in the U.K. and claimed more than 2,000 lives along northern European coastlines. This flood occurred close to a Spring tide, but not on an exceptional tide. Water level return periods along the east coast are varied, peaking at just over 200 years in Essex and just less than 100 years in the Thames. So, while the 1953 event is rightfully a benchmark event for the insurance industry, it was not as “extreme” as the 1607 Flood, which coincided with an exceptionally high astronomical tide.

Thankfully, there were no strong storms that struck the west coast of the U.K. this weekend. So, while the high tides may have caused some coastal flooding, they were not catastrophic.

What’s at risk as Super Typhoon Hagupit approaches the central Philippines?

Only thirteen months since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the Philippines, the region is again under threat from a large typhoon. Typhoon Hagupit, locally referred to as Typhoon Ruby, is currently Category 4 strength and expected to make landfall over the weekend.

Hagupit isn’t forecast to be as strong as Typhoon Haiyan; however, its projected path takes it across southern Luzon Island, as well as an area 35 miles south of the Central Capitol Region that has a high concentration of exposure at risk of substantial wind damage.

As the typhoon makes landfall, there is also the potential for storm surge along low-lying coastal areas, which are characterized by complex coastlines and bays.

At this stage,there still remains a large degree of uncertainty surrounding Hagupit’s forecast track, intensity, and landfall locations, which the RMS catastrophe response team is monitoring closely.

High concentrations of exposure at risk

The Central Capitol Region includes Quezon City, the largest city in the Philippines, as well as Manila, which is the second largest city and serves as the capitol. This region has the highest concentration of economic insurable exposure ($165.5 billion), which accounts for approximately 20 percent of the country’s total insurable exposure. Using the RMS Economic Exposure datasets, we can see that $91 billion is residential, $59 billion commercial, and $14.4 billion is industrial exposure. Quezon City has the highest value of insurable exposure with $32.3 billion, of which 65 percent is commercial.

In addition, our Industrial Clusters Catalog shows that a high proportion of industrial clusters could be impacted by Hagupit. These are located in the surrounding districts of Rizal and Laguna within the Calabarzon region, as well as the Lima Technology Center, which is in the direct path of typhoon.

Despite being forecast to making landfall further north than Typhoon Haiyan, Hagupit is still likely to affect areas that are still recovering from the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan.

Lessons from Typhoon Haiyan Reconnaissance

Typhoon Haiyan illustrated that the complex geometry and shallow water where Haiyan made landfall can give rise to significant storm surge heights, evidenced by high surge levels experienced in San Pedro and San Pablo Bays, affecting Tacloban City. The Philippines is characterized by these complex coastlines and shallow waters, and future typhoon events, including Typhoon Hagupit, could similarly cause significant storm surge in other areas of the Philippines.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, our scientists conducted extensive field reconnaissance work. They observed that buildings were structurally more resilient to typhoon winds because of the region’s high risk of earthquakes. There is abundant use of reinforced concrete frames, which ensures the structural integrity of the buildings for earthquakes and winds.

Wind alone did not cause substantial structural damage to structures built with reinforced concrete; however, the severe storm surge flooding caused the failure of some reinforced concrete framed buildings. Instead, wind damage was most evident to the roofing of buildings, particularly light aluminum roofs. Large span commercial and industrial light metal roofs collapsed, but concrete roof tiles preformed better.

Since Haiyan, the Filipino government has been actively discussing sponsoring a catastrophe bond with the World Bank, but the process is complex and will take time to develop.

New Storms, New Insights: Two Years After Hurricane Sandy

When people think about the power of hurricanes, they imagine strong winds and flying debris. Wind damage will always result from hurricanes, but Hurricane Sandy highlighted the growing threat of storm surge as sea levels rise.

While Sandy’s hurricane-force winds were not unusual, the storm delivered an unprecedented storm surge to parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. In total, Sandy caused insured losses of nearly $20 billion in the U.S., 65 percent of which resulted from surge-driven coastal flooding.

Considering the hazard and severity of the event, we used Sandy as the first real opportunity to validate our hydrodynamic storm surge model, which we released in 2011 and embedded in the RMS U.S. Hurricane Model. We verified the model against more than 300 independent wind and flood observations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) 100-year flood zones, and the FEMA best surge inundation footprint for New York City. The model captured the extent and severity of Sandy’s coastal flooding exceptionally well.

We also conducted extensive analysis of claims data from Sandy, which involved reviewing nearly $3 billion in location-level claims and exposure data across seven lines of business, provided by several companies. The purpose of the study was to deepen our understanding of the impacts of flooding on coastal exposures, particularly for commercial and industrial structures.

What struck us was how vulnerable buildings are to below-ground flooding. In many cases, damage to ground- and basement-level property and contents contributed a much higher proportion of the overall losses than expected, particularly for commercial structures in New York’s central business districts.

This insight has prompted us to improve the flexibility of how losses are modeled for contents and business interruption, specifically for basements. Early next year, we will release an update to our flagship North Atlantic Hurricane Models to provide the most-up-to-date view of hurricane risk with new vulnerability modeling capabilities based on insights gained from Sandy.

The model update includes new location-specific content triggers to enable users to make business interruption loss projections dependent on either contents or building damage, rather than on building damage alone. The model also allows users to assess the impact of multiple basement levels in a building, as well as the total value of contents stored within.

The claims data analysis also highlighted the importance of using high-resolution data to model high-gradient perils, such as coastal flooding. Flood losses are extremely sensitive to the locations of coastal exposures, as well as the surrounding topographical and bathymetrical features. Using high quality data with location-level specificity across a variety of building characteristics, as well as a high-resolution storm surge model that can accurately capture the flow of water around complex coastlines and local terrain, minimizes uncertainty.

At this time, RMS remains the only catastrophe modeling firm to integrate a hydrodynamic, time-stepping storm surge model into its hurricane models to represent the complex interactions of wind and water throughout a hurricane’s life-cycle, and we continue to implement lessons learned from new storms.

How is the 2014 North West Pacific Typhoon Season Shaping Up?

July’s Typhoon Matmo was the 10th named typhoon of 2014 and the 5th to make landfall in the West Pacific basin. Typhoons can occur throughout the year, but the peak of the season is July through October, when nearly 70 percent of all typhoons develop, so we expect to see more activity in the region in the coming months.

Let’s take a look at recent activity and typhoon risk in China, the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan.

China

To date, China has been impacted by three landfalling typhoons in 2014, the strongest of which was Rammasun, a Category 4 strength storm, with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph impacting Hainan and Guangdong provinces, and the autonomous region of Guangxi.

The southeastern coastal provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang are most vulnerable to landfalling typhoons. They also represent some of China‘s most economically developed areas. Typhoon Rammasun impacted Guangdong province in July, bringing damaging wind and heavy rain. Overall in China, typhoon-induced flooding is the biggest driver of risk in high-exposure areas such as Guangdong, driving approximately 80 percent of the average annual losses from typhoon.

Insurance penetration is extremely low in China, varying by province. On average, about 15 percent of residential property risk is insured. Hainan, where Typhoon Rammasun first made landfall, has one of the lowest insurance penetrations in China, while Guangdong, one of the more prosperous provinces, is the second largest province for property insurance purchases with 41.7 billion Yuan ($6.8 billion) in direct premiums in 2012, according to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

Philippines

Typhoon activity kicked off early this year in the Philippines with Tropical Storm Kajiki in January. More recently, the second storm to make landfall was Typhoon Rammasun, which hit Legaspi City in the Albay Province, south of the capital Manila, as a Category 3 storm. In a 36-hour period it brought 11.6 inches of rainfall, leading to flash flooding and landslides. The provinces impacted by Rammasun contain over $180 billion of insurable commercial and industrial building exposure, and over $215 billion of residential building exposure.

Like China, the Philippines lags behind some other markets in Asia in relation to insurance expenditure – non-life insurance penetration is 0.09 percent – though with higher proportionally for commercial and industrial businesses, which are centred around Manila and the industrial zones.

Japan

Tropical Storm Neoguri made landfall over the Kumamoto Prefecture on Kyushu Island in southwest Japan as the country’s first landfall this season. Neoguri brought strong winds, heavy rains, flooding, landslides, and mudslides to parts of southwest Japan. On Kyushu, the city of Ebino reported 13 inches of rain in the first 24 hours, and on Okinawa, heavy rainfall triggered flash flooding.

The southwestern parts of the country are the most vulnerable, particularly Shikoku, Kyushu, and San-in. Tokyo is rarely hit by typhoons and much of the coastline is protected from by the tsunami walls designed to protect from a four-meter storm surge.

Japan is the second largest non-life market in gross premium terms behind the U.S., and there is relatively high penetration of personal lines insurance, with over 50 percent of households buying building insurance. However, corporate Japan is massively under-insured compared to its western equivalents. Many large corporations only insure their property on an indemnity basis, while many small to medium-sized enterprises are completely uninsured.

Taiwan

So far this season, Taiwan has only been impacted by Typhoon Matmo, which passed through the center of the country as a Category 2 storm, bringing heavy rain and strong winds.

Storms typically travel towards the northwest from the Philippines, losing speed when they encounter the mountain chain running north-south down the center of Taiwan, and dropping most of their rain on the eastern side, causing rivers to overflow due to the extra water runoff from the mountains.

The most dangerous typhoons are those that approach from the south. The north-south mountain chain funnels them north up the Taiwan Straits so that they hit the western and northwestern parts of the island, including Taipei, where large industrial and commercial exposure is situated, such as the Hsin Chu Industrial Park in the province of Hsinchu which reportedly has a combined property/business interruption accumulation of $33.33 billion. However, insurers have reported few insured losses arising from wind damage alone, as the main damages are a result of flooding. Most of the losses caused by typhoons in Taiwan are agricultural, and thus uninsured. Insurance penetration is very low compared to some other markets in South East Asia in relation to insurance expenditure, with insurance penetration for non-life at 0.08 percent.