Based in London, James works within Model Development as a member of the RMS Event Response team, supporting real-time Event Response operations and assisting on various Event Response projects. James holds a bachelor’s degree in Physical Geography and Geology from the University of Southampton and a master’s degree in Applied Meteorology from the University of Reading.
Power outages in Chiba Prefecture looked set to continue into the coming weeks as the region continues to recover from Typhoon Faxai. It was one of the strongest landfalling typhoons on record in the seven prefectures of the Kanto region surrounding Tokyo and the strongest to impact the Greater Tokyo area since Typhoon Ma-on in 2004.
Two Landfalls as Faxai Travels Across Tokyo Bay
Faxai made a brief landfall over the Miura Peninsula, Kanagawa Prefecture in
the Kanto region of Japan, just 35 miles (57 kilometers) south-southwest of
Tokyo early morning local time on Monday, September 9. The center of the
typhoon then tracked northeast across Tokyo Bay and made a second landfall over
the city of Chiba (pop. ~979,000), Chiba Prefecture, Japan, 20 miles (32
kilometers) east of Tokyo.
According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, Faxai had maximum sustained wind speeds of 102 to 106 miles per hour (165 to 170 kilometers per hour) at its landfalls, equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Initial reports from the Bahamas suggest that the islands of
Great Abaco and Grand Bahama have been left devastated from Major Hurricane
Dorian, evoking memories of the destruction on the eastern Caribbean island of Barbuda
in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma just two years ago.
A Record-Breaking Hurricane for the Bahamas and the Atlantic
Dorian underwent an unprecedented period of rapid intensification between August 31 and September 1, that took its maximum sustained wind speed from 150 miles per hour to 185 miles per hour. No other Atlantic hurricane on record has intensified as rapidly as this from such a high initial wind speed. Dorian joins an exclusive group of Atlantic hurricanes to attain wind speeds of 185 miles per hour or greater: Allen (1980), Wilma (2005), Gilbert (1988), and the Labor Day Hurricane (1935).
Dorian maintained this intensity on September 1, and then made a series of landfalls – first across Great Abaco island, and on September 2 across Grand Bahama. In doing so, Dorian became the strongest hurricane in modern records to strike the northwestern Bahamas. As the Category 5 hurricane traversed the islands, its forward speed slowed and it became near stationary over Grand Bahama for roughly 36 hours before gradually moving northwest. Dorian’s eyewall subjected some areas of these islands to destructive wind gusts of up to 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and catastrophic storm surge in excess of 20 feet (6 meters).
Dorian looks set to pass over the northern Bahamas in the coming days as
potentially a Category 5 major hurricane, but forecasts regarding future U.S.
impacts remain significantly uncertain, with the latest guidance providing a
twist in the tale that no one anticipated a few days ago.
Understanding the Uncertainty: A Matter of Timing
The meteorological situation that Hurricane Dorian finds itself in is as fascinating as it is uncertain. Several days ago, Florida was bracing itself for potentially its third major hurricane landfall in as many years. Now, Dorian looks more likely to make landfall in the Carolinas, or, as some models increasingly suggest, it may recurve soon enough that is misses the U.S. entirely. So, why have the forecasts been so uncertain? It’s all to do with timing.
Now that we’ve reached the halfway stage of the 2019 North Atlantic hurricane season, now feels like a good opportunity to review the season to date and look ahead to what the remainder of the season might have in store.
A Quiet Start to the Season
If you thought the Atlantic had been a little quiet through
the early summer, you’d be correct. The basin has had its quietest start since
2014. The strongest of these storms to date, Barry, made landfall near
Intercoastal City, Louisiana, on July 13 as a weak Category 1 hurricane. RMS
estimated that the insured U.S. losses from Hurricane Barry would not exceed US$500
million, inclusive of wind, storm surge, and inland flood damage, including
losses to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
The 2019 North Atlantic hurricane season officially got underway on Saturday, June 1, and marked the start of a six-month period that runs right through to November 30. Blatantly ignoring this official start, the North Atlantic has already produced its first named storm of 2019. On May 20, Subtropical Storm Andrea formed over open water in the western Atlantic, several hundred miles south of Bermuda. It was a relatively weak and short-lived storm, lasting for less than a day before dissipating. This is the fifth consecutive year that a storm had formed ahead of the official start date of the hurricane season.
As I shared in a previous blog, storms can form at any time of year, but it is important to remember that there is no historical relationship between the date of the first named storm and the overall seasonal hurricane activity, so the early start to 2019 does not provide us with any clues as to how the season might pan out.
Many of us in the catastrophe risk management industry actively help communities in need after natural disasters – through donations, working with organizations to promote resilience, or through on-the-ground assistance. Our intimate understanding of the power of these catastrophes makes us acutely aware of the need to act.
RMS and Build Change
Every year, a team of RMS employees and clients work together to help support our longstanding partner, Build Change, on how to ensure vulnerable communities benefit from safer housing, 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 use this knowledge to develop resilience is highly valued.
Following successful visits to Haiti and Nepal in recent years, this year’s RMS Impact Trek visits the Philippines for the first time, with the team (including myself) on the ground in the country from March 17–25.
Build Change have been active in the Philippines since 2013. They have worked on a range of long-term projects from helping to rebuild schools, pre-disaster retrofitting of homes in poorer areas of Manila, through to training technicians in disaster-resistant construction skills in Guiuan in southeast Samar.
The North Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 but based on the large exposure the (re)insurance industry has to hurricanes, intrigue about what each season will deliver persists year-round. And with three months to go until the official start of the 2019 season, (re)insurers and catastrophe modelers are actively looking ahead to see what it might deliver.
Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) does not issue its annual seasonal activity forecasts before late May, others in the meteorological community do provide early indications of upcoming activity. These started as early as December last year with forecasts and commentary issued by Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) and Colorado State University (CSU). But how skillful are these extended range forecasts and what insight, if any, can we gain from them?
From first light yesterday (October 11), the full extent of the damage from Major Hurricane Michael across the Florida Panhandle and the wider region became clear — and it really was as catastrophic as we all had feared.
Although Major Hurricane Michael could be regarded as a more traditional “wind and surge” event compared to recent flood events of hurricanes Harvey and Florence, this was not just a coastal event. The trail of destruction extends far from the landfall location near Mexico Beach (pop. ~1,000) and neighboring Panama City (pop. ~36,000) and well into the state of Georgia. Whether it is from the destruction of homes in the towns near landfall, or the widespread power outages, felled trees, damaged roofs, and debris, the clean-up operation is going to be a long process. And tragically, as of Friday, October 12, eight fatalities have been confirmed, including four in Florida, one in Georgia, and one in North Carolina.
After the flood-driven impacts of Category 1 Hurricane Florence just under a month ago, yesterday’s unfolding drama from Major Hurricane Michael was dominated by damaging winds that were within touching distance of a Category 5 storm.
Major Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, at 17:15 UTC (12:15 CST) on Wednesday, October 10, as a Category 4 major hurricane — the first Category 4 or stronger hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle on record. At landfall, its maximum sustained wind speed was 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour), just two miles per hour short of Category 5 classification.
Michael’s intensity at landfall has set numerous records. It becomes the strongest hurricane (by wind speed) to make landfall in the continental U.S. since Andrew in 1992 and the strongest (by wind speed) October landfilling hurricane in the continental U.S. on record. Its minimum central pressure of 919 millibars makes it the most intense hurricane (by minimum central pressure) to make landfall in the U.S. since Camille in 1969.
Michael had undergone rapid intensification of 35 knots and 46 millibars in the 24 hours up to landfall, benefiting from ideal development conditions — minimal wind shear and a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico with sea surface temperatures one to two degrees Celsius above average. Its intensification was relentless right up to landfall and resulted in catastrophic damage in portions of coastline along Florida Panhandle.
Prior to landfall, more than half a million people were under evacuation orders, and more than 20 million people in five states were under either a hurricane or tropical storm warnings.
In its short life, Hurricane Michael has certainly developed quickly — it only achieved tropical storm status just four days ago on Sunday, October 7. And now, according to the latest bulletin from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), as at 12:00 UTC today, Michael has strengthened further, into an extremely dangerous Category 4 major hurricane, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 145 miles per hour (233 kilometers per hour).
The 09:00 UTC NHC bulletin placed Michael at about 140 miles (225 kilometers) south-southwest of Panama City, Florida, tracking north at 13 miles per hour (20 kilometers per hour). Hurricane-force winds currently extend outward up to 45 miles (75 kilometers) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles (295 kilometers). According to the latest RMS HWind Forecast Storm Track Probabilities and Deterministic Scenarios chart (pictured below), Panama City has a 95 percent probability of the center of Michael passing within 50 miles.