Tag Archives: wildfire

California Wildfires: Special Climate Conditions Drive Enhanced Risk

Satellite image taken on December 5, based on observations of visible, shortwave infrared, and near infrared light. Image Credit: NASA

Wildfires are once again raging across California, this time focused in the southern part of the state. Prior to the ignitions, weather forecasts called for a significant Santa Ana wind event from Monday (December 4) through Thursday evening (December 7), driven by a high-pressure system across the western United States. The NOAA Storm Prediction Center noted in their Day 1 Fire Weather Outlook valid for Monday, December 4, that, “A very strong surface pressure gradient… coupled with strong low-level northeasterly flow will easily support sustained offshore winds of 30-40 miles per hour (48-64 kilometers per hour) across parts of Ventura into Los Angeles counties beginning later this evening and continuing through early Tuesday morning. Wind gusts of 60-80 mph (96-128 km/h) will be possible across the mountains/foothills of these counties where channeling and terrain effects can locally enhance the already strong flow, with gusts of 45-60 mph (72-96 km/h) likely at lower elevations.”

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California Wildfires: How Quickly Your World Can Change in 24 Hours

This week’s wildfires in Northern California are an example of how nature, weather, and environment combined into the perfect fire storm that no defense could have prevented. And, when an event like this happens and directly impacts your family and friends, resilience takes on a whole new meaning.

At RMS, we are used to thinking about the “what if” of catastrophic events such as the recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and cyberattacks. We are accustomed to working with our clients, public agencies, and city officials to think about how best to protect their communities from disasters, defining what defenses are needed to keep tragedy at bay, and how to “build back better” should an event happen. But this all comes into sharp focus when it affects people you know and love.

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Wine Country Wildfire Progression and Loss Estimate

Kevin Van Leer, senior product manager – Model Product Management, RMS

22:00 UTC Thursday, October 12

 

After four days of active burning throughout the wine growing regions of Northern California, there are still eight fires threatening both lives and significant amounts of exposure. Conditions conducive to fire ignition and spread persist, and have resulted in extreme fire behavior, especially during the nights of Sunday, October 8, and Wednesday, October 11, in which strong, dry Diablo winds were observed. In total, over 100,000 acres have been burned in Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties alone, with several additional fires ongoing throughout the state of California.

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Rapidly Spreading Wildfires Impact Northern California Wine Country

Kevin Van Leer, senior product manager – Model Product Management, RMS

17:00 UTC Tuesday, October 10

Figure 1: Neighborhood near Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, California. Image credit: Golden Gate California Highway Patrol

Driven by Diablo wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour (112 kilometers per hour) and with very low relative humidity, 14 fires burning across swaths of eight Northern California counties have resulted in significant property damage and loss of life.

These strong winds caused the fires to spread quickly. The Tubbs Fire, located just north of Santa Rosa, grew from 200 acres on Sunday night (October 8) to over 20,000 acres by Monday morning (October 9) and is now over 27,000 acres. As of 4 p.m. Pacific Time (PT) on Monday, October 9, the Tubbs Fire together with the Atlas Peak Fire, located just north of Napa, combined have destroyed over 50,000 acres of land, and impacted several wineries along with high value residential and commercial structures. So far, 1,500 structures are reportedly destroyed, making this at least the fifth most destructive fire in California history as shown in the table below.

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The California Drought: A Shift in the Medium-Term View of Risk

Indications are growing that there is a shift underway in the risk landscape in California that may last several years, prompted by the ongoing severe drought.

It’s no secret that California is a region prone to drought. History shows repeated drought events, and there is emerging consensus that the current drought has no end in sight. In fact, there are indications that the drought could just be getting started.

The situation could be exacerbated by climate change, which is increasing the rates of water evaporation in western regions of the U.S.

We also learned recently that the groundwater levels in Colorado have been depleted by a “shocking” amount, which affects California as a significant amount of water used in the state’s agricultural industry comes from the Colorado basin.

California’s abundant agricultural industry has been fueled by its high sunshine input and the availability of water from the Colorado basin.The state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to statistics from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The sustainability of the agricultural industry is now in question given the emerging information about the security of the water supply, with long-term implications for food production—and therefore prices. While the threat is not to the California economy as farming accounts for little more than two percent of the state’s $2 trillion economy, implications will be to broader food prices and food security issues, as well as the security of those employed to work in this industry.

From a natural catastrophe perspective, we can expect the severity and frequency of wildfire outbreaks to increase significantly for several years to come if current indications prove true. In addition, we can expect that more areas will be impacted by wildfires.

The insurance industry needs to pay close attention to methods for estimating wildfire risk to ensure the risk landscape is accurately reflected over the coming years, just as it adapted in the late 2000s to a forward-looking, medium-term view of the probability of landfalling hurricanes accounting for multi-decadal cycles of increased and decreased hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin relative to the long-term average – and the subsequent consequences for the medium-term risk landscape.