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Many of us in the Northeastern U.S. can remember the Blizzard of 1996 as a crippling winter weather event that dumped multiple feet of snow across major cities along the I-95 corridor of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

20 years later, another historic winter storm has joined the 1996 event in the record books, this time occurring in a more socially connected world where winter storms are given names that share a resemblance to a popular boy band (thanks to the naming by The Weather Channel of Winter Storm Jonas).

winterstormjonas blog

Blowing and drifting snow on cars parked in an unplowed street in Hoboken, New Jersey at the height of the storm.
Credit: Jeff Waters, Meteorologist and resident of Hoboken from RMS

The Blizzard of 1996 saw (in today’s terms) an economic loss of $4.6 billion as well as insured losses of $900 million for the affected states, which corresponds to a loss return period within the RMS U.S. and Canada Winterstorm Model of roughly 10 years. Many of the same drivers of loss in the 1996 event were evident during Winter Storm Jonas, including business interruption caused by halted public transportation services in cities like Washington, D.C., and New York City, as well as coastal flooding along the New Jersey shorelines.

The Blizzard of 2016, dropped as much as 40 inches of snow in some regions of the Mid-Atlantic, causing wide scale disruption for approximately 85 million people, including over 300,000 power outages, cancellation of almost 12,000 flights, and a death toll of at least 48 people. The table below summarizes snowfall amounts for this year’s storm from three major Northeast cities as it compares to similar historic winter storms. These ranges of snowfall correspond to a 10-25 hazard return period event for the affected areas, according to RMS.

U.S. CityBlizzard of ’16Blizzard of ’96Snowpocalypse ’10February 2006

Philadelphia

Philadelphia 22.4in/567mm 30.7in/780mm 8.5in/724mm 12.0in/305mm

Baltimore 29.2in/742mm 26.6in/676mm 25.0in/635mm 13.1in/333mm

New York City 26.8in/681mm 20.5in/521mm 20.9in/531mm 26.9in/683mm

26.9in/683mm

*Data from the National Weather Service

Another comparison between 1996 and 2016 events are seen through the following NOAA link explaining how the two storms compared on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS), which takes into account population and societal impacts in addition to meteorological measurements.

There were warning signs in the week leading up to the event that a major nor’easter would creep up the east coast and “bomb out” just offshore. This refers to a meteorological term known as “bombogenesis” in which the pressure in the center of the storm drops rapidly, further intensifying the storm and allowing for heavier snow bands to move inland at snowfall rates of 1-3 inches per hour.

One of the things that will make the Blizzard of 2016 one to remember are the snowfall rates of more than 1” per hour that affected several major cities for an extended period of time. According to The Weather Channel, “New York’s LaGuardia airport had 14 hours of 1 to 3 inch per hour snowfall rates from 6 a.m. Saturday until 8 p.m. Saturday.”

Another unique aspect of the storm was the reports of a meteorological phenomenon known as “thundersnow,” which according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), “can be found where there is relatively strong instability and abundant moisture above the surface.”

thundersnow nasa

The phenomenon known as “thundersnow” was reported during Winter Storm Jonas and was captured by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in this picture of lightning taken from a window on the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly via Twitter (@StationCDRKelly)

Time will tell how the Blizzard of 2016 compares to historic storms like the Blizzard of 1996 from an economic loss perspective, but the similarities in terms of unique weather phenomena as well as the heavy snowfall amounts across the major Northeastern U.S. cities will keep Jonas in the conversation.

An event like Winter Storm Jonas, coupled with the crippling Boston snowstorms from last year, makes it very important for those of us in the catastrophe risk space to understand its drivers and quantitative impacts. Fortunately, weather forecasting capabilities have improved substantially since the Blizzard of 1996, but its important to further understand the threats that winter storms pose from an insured loss perspective. Please reach out to Sales@rms.com if you are interested in learning more about RMS and our suite of winter storm models.

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March 15, 2019
Meet the RMS Impact Trekkers

In our previous blog, we introduced the RMS clients who will be joining this year’s RMS Impact Trek, heading off to the Philippines on March 17 to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change. Now it’s time to meet some of the RMS employees who they will work together with on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal. Simon Athawes: Product Manager (APAC Climate Hazards) I work as a product manager in the Asia climate hazards team at RMS and my most recent project was the RMS Philippines Typhoon and Inland Flood Model, so I was very excited to join this year’s Impact Trek in the Philippines. I’m hoping I can apply my knowledge of the hazards and risks in the country, to help further the aims of Build Change in increasing resiliency in vulnerable communities and ensure they are better prepared for the next catastrophe. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Build Change makes an impact at the local level and hearing the experiences of people in their local communities about living with the risk of earthquakes and typhoons, and to see how risk management and resiliency measures can be applied. Laura Barksby: Product Manager This year’s Impact Trek combines my academic background, as well as my role at RMS working on global earthquake models, particularly for the Asia Pacific region. I am interested to learn first-hand how Build Change raise awareness of typhoon and earthquake risk, when there are other more immediate socioeconomic challenges that affect the local community. This was something that I witnessed during a field trip to Nepal prior to the 2015 earthquake, where the risk, particularly in rural communities was very poorly understood. I am also interested in how our expertise can help Build Change in their work, given the disparity between the risk in the Philippines, and local communities’ recognition and perceptions of the risk. James Cosgrove: Modeler, RMS Event Response I’ve worked in the RMS Event Response team for over two and a half years and have responded in real-time to hundreds of events, including the two super typhoons (Yutu and Mangkhut) that impacted the Philippines in 2018. Tens of thousands of homes, mostly made of light and unreinforced materials, were extensively damaged and dozens of communities were destroyed – and most of the damage was uninsured. With this year’s Trek going to the Philippines, it offers a fantastic opportunity to assist with Build Change’s mission to improve resilience and to see first-hand the tangible improvements they are making, such as retrofitting structures and educating local stakeholders on safer construction practices. And for the first time, the Impact Trek is in a country where RMS has two catastrophe models (Philippines Typhoon and Inland Flood, and Southeast Asia Earthquake). This provides a fantastic opportunity to use our science to help Build Change quantify the economic and social benefits of their pre-disaster retrofitting and reconstruction projects.​ Kate Demchak: Associate Program Manager- Technical The Impact Trek provides the opportunity for participants to drive meaningful, positive change – not just in the location of the travel, but also in their home community, to gain an appreciation for those organizations making a difference to vulnerable communities. And to truly make an impact in an environment different than your own, you must have an understanding of that community’s way of thinking and their values, to understand how our related field of work can contribute outside of our company. The vulnerability of this area is obviously an opportunity to drive meaningful change towards resiliency for this country of over 100 million people. Having a passion and excitement for the change and the impact that you can have as an individual, and as a team will also motivate to pursue different angles of viewing risk and resiliency globally. Theresa Lederer: Consultant, Capital & Resilience Solutions For me, it’s a mix of interest in Build Change and the work they are doing, and the Philippines as a country. Working in the CRS (Capital and Resilience Solutions) team at RMS, I’ve also been involved in quite a few projects which apply risk modeling to help governments and communities better understand and manage their risk – which also ties in very well with Build Change’s mission. One of the projects I worked on last year was focused around providing Philippine cities with access to affordable insurance against earthquakes and typhoon. I’m excited about getting an insight into the daily lives of people in the Philippines, and their biggest challenges, concerns and ambitions around disaster risk – and how the work Build Change is doing is targeting those. Our work at RMS can be very technical, so I think it’ll be interesting to get a more practical perspective on the ground, and to understand what our modeling capabilities can mean for local communities. Find out more about Build Change, and follow the Impact Trek on Twitter. …

March 11, 2019
Meet the Trekkers

This year’s RMS Impact Trek, to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change, heads off to the Philippines on March 17. A team of RMS employees and RMS clients will work together on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. The skills that both our employees and clients bring are very complementary to these tasks, and knowledge of risk modeling and analytics, and how to apply this knowledge to develop resilience is highly valued. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal. Here’s a chance to welcome our client participants and find out more about why they wanted to join this year’s RMS Impact Trek: Doris Azarcon: Director, Actuary – Risk, SCOR I grew up in the Philippines, where typhoons and earthquakes often pummel the country. Poor design and construction shortcuts are avoidable causes of death and destruction. The country remembers events such as the collapse of the six-story Ruby Tower in Manila from the Mw 7.3 Casiguran earthquake in 1968, which killed 268 people. More recent typhoons and earthquakes have caused massive destruction of property and loss of lives across the Philippines. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan was particularly personal since it ravaged a province where my mother grew up. An elderly aunt who lived by the sea, lost her home and loved ones, and while she was thankfully found and airlifted several days later, she died within the year from the impact on her health, and some said from heartbreak of seeing her beloved hometown devastated. I am extremely grateful to Build Change and RMS for choosing to bring the Impact Trek to the Philippines this year. What appealed to me was the opportunity to use my risk analytics skills to make a truly impactful contribution to people’s lives. We will work on a project aligned with Build Change’s mission, and plan to use RMS’s catastrophe models and our combined skillsets to understand the human and housing losses from a large disaster, and quantify the benefits that would result from strengthening housing. Build Change recently completed a study on the demand for retrofitting homes in the Philippines, identifying financing needs. The trek participants will use risk analytics and risk capital expertise to prepare and make presentations on behalf of Build Change to existing and prospective partners who can provide financing and insurance for the retrofitted homes. We will also develop a strategy to approach local insurers to provide coverage for houses that are strengthened. Because I grew up in the Philippines and still have close ties to family and friends there, I hope to help the team navigate the existing and prospective partnerships, as well as provide some logistical tips for the trekkers. SCOR is a global life and property and casualty reinsurer with presence in all continents but Antarctica. I have seen the tremendous amount of expertise that we have, and my involvement in the Impact Trek gives me a voice to support something that I truly believe in. Victoria Jarman: Risk and Exposure Manager, Chaucer Having visited my family that live in the Philippines last year, it was clear to see the impact heavy rainfall can have on local infrastructure and housing. In the future, these communities are going to become more vulnerable as a result of climate change and a growing population, therefore it is important that the insurance industry looks to improve the resilience of these communities through sustainable solutions. I am looking forward to the opportunity to be able to work with Build Change to better understand how best to support communities like these that get less attention in the London insurance market. I first heard of some of the work that Build Change carry out at the RMS Exceedance conference. It is humbling to hear about the long-lasting impact they have had on communities all around the world. As a member of the Chaucer CSR committee, we encourage colleagues to use their professional skills in their volunteering and this is a brilliant example to the business on how this can be achieved. I am keen to better understand how I can combine my interest for creating positive change in vulnerable societies, and my role within the (re)insurance industry. I have begun to participate in the broader debate around the impact of our industry on society, and I want to continue in this vein and take more time to develop my thinking around this and what I can do to contribute. Emma Watkins: Senior Manager, Exposure Management, Lloyd’s This is a great opportunity to meet people who are working to build and rebuild their lives in the Philippines, and to find out what makes the biggest difference to them, to see the world from their point of view. I am increasingly convinced that in order to decide where best to expend time and resources, we need to listen to those who might need our support and develop a level of understanding that cannot necessarily be achieved without seeing and hearing firsthand. The work that Build Change is doing in the Philippines on pre-disaster retrofitting or “future-fitting” is different from many projects in its consultative nature, which ensures that projects are both successful and sustainable. For a nation that is at risk from both earthquakes and typhoons, increasing resilience is a vital tool in the arsenal of “disaster finance”, but also the best way to enhance and to save lives. And I’m sure that there are lessons that can be learnt from work in the Philippines that can be applied in other catastrophe-prone regions, not to mention other regions where the future risk may be heightened by sea-level change, for example. I am also very interested in the role that insurance can play in the financing of resilience, and would like to share my knowledge of how financial modeling (specifically catastrophe modeling) can help communities, businesses, governments and other entities make sense of the investment decisions they are faced with. I like to look at things from a different perspective and can relate to the marginalized and those whose opinions may not always be heard, to be able to help explain very technical concepts in a way can be that will be meaningful to our stakeholder audiences. Lloyd’s Charities Trust aims to support communities most at risk from disaster on behalf of the Lloyd’s market. For the last three years, they have actually been partnered with Build Change to fund the retrofitting of vulnerable homes in Medellin in Colombia and in Manila.  I am excited to see for myself how the project been successful on the ground in Manila and how it can be scaled up sustainably. Find out more about Build Change. …

ryan leddy
Ryan Leddy
Senior Product Manager, Product Management, RMS

At RMS, Ryan is responsible for guiding the insurance market’s understanding and usage of RMS models with a main focus of North America, Southeast Asia and Japan earthquake.

Ryan joined the Model Product Management team at RMS in late 2015 after four years as a Sales Consultant within RMS Client Development. In his current role, he assists the development of RMS model release communications and strategies, and regularly interacts with internal and external industry constituents on RMS model releases, updates, and general model best practices.

Ryan holds a BS in meteorology from Penn State University and an MBA from Rutgers University with concentrations in Global Business and Strategy.

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