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.
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.
Typhoon Trami ravaged the southern coastline of Japan this weekend, only 26 days since Typhoon Jebi made landfall on September 4. Trami first swept through the southwest chain of Nansei Islands, and then skirted along the southern coasts of the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, eventually making landfall over Wakayama Prefecture in the Kansai Region, during the evening of Sunday, September 30.
The southwest of Japan bore the brunt of Trami, and as of Tuesday, October 2, the Japan Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) reported a total of 2,494 buildings damaged across 32 prefectures, with 1,749 of the 2,494 damaged buildings reported as “partially damaged”, and 108 buildings “destroyed” or “partially-destroyed”. A further 637 buildings were flooded in the event. At least 195 people across 29 prefectures have been injured, with many hurt by windows shattered in high winds. 750,000 homes across Japan lost power, together with significant disruption to transport. These numbers are expected to rise as damage assessments conclude.
Four hundred miles southwest of the Japanese mainland on Okinawa Island, the largest of the Nansei Islands with a population of 1.3 million, wind gusts reached 126 miles per hour (202 kilometers per hour) at Itokazu locality in Nanjō City. Five or so miles up from Itokazu, winds topped 103 miles per hour (165 kilometers per hour) and gusts exceeded 132 miles per hour (212 kilometers per hour), at the Kadena Air Base.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday, September 28, has already claimed the sinister accolade of being the deadliest earthquake in the world this year.
According to local authorities, there have so far been 1,374 reported fatalities, but this figure is set to rise as rescue efforts spread out from the main cities. At this stage, thousands of people are believed to still be trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, and at least 60,000 people are displaced with limited food and water supplies.
The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi on Friday, September 28, approximately 48 miles (78 kilometers) north of Palu, a coastal city with around 330,000 residents. The earthquake triggered a ten foot (three meter) high tsunami, that impacted the coastal areas of western Central Sulawesi, including Palu City and Donggala, a regency with a population of around 275,000.
Florence’s much anticipated landfall occurred at 11:15 UTC (7.15 a.m. local time) today, Friday, September 14, near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, as a Category 1 hurricane. Florence remains just within the Category 1 hurricane classification on Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS); as of the 18:00 UTC National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory today, maximum sustained winds were 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour). Previous observations showed that at Cape Lookout there were sustained winds of 83 miles per hour (133 kilometers per hour) and gusts of 106 miles per hour (170 kilometers per hour). Florence is now moving slowly toward the west at near five miles per hour (7 kilometers per hour).
Over the coming 36 hours, Florence is expected to meander into northern South Carolina and then progress further inland across the western Carolinas and into the Appalachian Mountains through the early part of next week.
The expectation that surge and inland flooding, rather than wind, would be the primary hazards associated with Florence was quickly realised as the storm approached the Carolinas coastline yesterday.
Excessive rainfall and dangerous storm surge present the greatest threat over the next few days. The potential for heavy rainfall has extended to the south and west given the change in projected track over the last 48 hours. Projections of over 15 inches (380 millimeters) of rain now cover much of southern North Carolina and northeast South Carolina — much of North Carolina is expected to receive in excess of six inches (152 millimeters) of rain.
No hurricane landfall forecast is simple. But looking back at the forecast tracks for Hurricane Florence from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the ensemble members of the leading global forecast models a couple of days ago, what stood out was how relatively straightforward they were. Florence was anticipated to make a steady, assured progress directly towards the Carolinas, make landfall, and move directly inland.
In a somewhat remarkable turn of events that few, if any, models predicted 48 hours ago, Florence is now expected to stall over, or very near to, the Carolina coastline.
The huge shift in the forecast guidance is the anticipated result of a reduction in Florence’s steering flow due to two competing areas of high pressure. The hurricane is currently being steered across the southwestern Atlantic Ocean towards the southeastern U.S. around the southeastern periphery of a mid-level ridge centered northeast of Bermuda. As the system approaches land, it will come under increasing influence from a competing mid-level ridge that is forecast to begin building over the east-central United States later today. The net result of these competing steering flows will see Florence slow, meander, or even become stationary for possibly 48 hours before the system moves ashore.
This possibility could bring prolonged hurricane-force winds and storm surge throughout Saturday and Sunday, to coastal areas along North and South Carolina, and significant inland flooding to whole region.