Schrödinger’s cat inhabits a thought-experiment designed to reveal the paradox of quantum properties. A hypothetical cat is sealed in a windowless box, in which there is a device that will administer a lethal poison, according to whether a single atom undergoes radioactive decay. Should the atom decay the cat will be dead. If the atom survives so will the cat. Only the quantum state of the atom is completely unknowable. So, the cat — in principle at least, is half dead and half alive. The simultaneous state of being both alive and dead is called a “superposition”.
While quantum behavior is not an average insurance coverage, (at least until future quantum computer cyber cover emerges), there are situations in the world of risk modeling that come close to Schrödinger’s cat — or perhaps that should better be Schrödinger’s “Cat” (short for Catastrophe)?
In the first twenty days of August, the state of Kerala in southern India received rainfall that was 164 percent above the average. This rain built on very wet antecedent conditions, July had seen rainfall about 40 percent above average. As a result, to manage the flood waters, state authorities were forced to open 80 dams in the region, including the Idukki dam, one of the largest arch dams in Asia. Overall, this resulted in massive flooding, displacing millions of people while claiming the lives of more than 350 citizens, destroying trees and crops and severely disrupting tourism with the closure of Cochin International airport.
All eyes are on Hurricane Lane as it started to make its northerly turn towards the Hawaiian Islands late yesterday (Wednesday, August 22) and at the time of writing (Thursday, August 23, 1600 UTC) Lane is heading north, some 200 miles from the Hawaiian Islands as a Category 4 major hurricane with wind speeds of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour).
If Hurricane Lane did make landfall in the state, according to CNN it would become the first major cyclone to achieve this in 26 years, since Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Landfall does not look likely though; the current best-estimate wind field forecasts from the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) as of 1000 UTC, Thursday August 23, show that hurricane force winds are not currently expected to impact land. But there is still an outside chance; due to Lane’s forecast track, a shift in the track direction and intensity could bring hurricane force winds onto land. Based on the current CPHC wind speed probability, there is a less than 20 percent chance of hurricane force winds impacting any of the islands in Hawaii.
As we are approach the more active part of hurricane season in late August, most of the action so far has been taking place in the Central Pacific with Hurricane Hector passing to the south of the Hawaiian Island chain a couple weeks ago. Now, Hurricane Lane is projected to pass much closer to Hawaii and this time the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has sent in the “big guns”. In addition to “Gonzo” — NOAA’s Gulfstream jet (NOAA has an agreement that allows them to name their aircraft after Sesame Street characters), the Lockheed Orion P3 “Kermit” is also on duty in Hawaii to fly research missions into Hurricane Lane. Kermit brings an arsenal of scientific sensors including the airborne Doppler radar and the Stepped-Frequency Microwave radiometer (called the “Smurf”) and a supply of GPS dropsondes to launch into the storm.
During the development of the current RMS U.S. Severe Convective Storm (SCS) model, we found that claims for U.S. Personal lines were growing much faster than general economic inflation. To update SCS claims trends and to try and understand what could be driving this hyper-inflation, we analyzed the new five-year dataset from 2013 onwards, and also a longer duration 17-year period from 2001 to 2017 when observation datasets are of best quality.
Trends in SCS Event Costs
We gathered SCS losses due to hail, tornado and straight-line wind sub-perils from all the information we have on U.S. client claims, which amounts to over one million claims and several billions of U.S. Dollars in total loss. Figure One below shows the time-series of annual SCS loss totals and the decomposition into claim frequency and severity for the period 2001 to 2017. The 7.5 percent per annum trend in claim severity and 3.3 percent per annum rise in frequency combine to produce a growth of total loss, or SCS claims inflation of 11 percent per annum over the 2001-2017 period.
Memories of last year’s Wine Country fires in Northern California and the Thomas Fire in Southern California are top of mind as we look at the unfolding wildfire events across the state, especially the notable Carr Fire to the northwest of the city of Redding in Shasta County, with a population of around 92,000.
Initial observations show similarities to the Wine Country fires in terms of its speed and ferocity, as the Carr Fire spread rapidly overnight on Saturday, July 28, nearly doubling in size. As of 02:00 UTC on Thursday, August 2, the fire is reported to have burned about 121,000 acres (~49,000 hectares) — see figure one below, destroying 1,546 structures, damaging an additional 255 structures, and forcing the evacuation of 38,000 people, according to CAL FIRE and local officials.
July 2013, and Central Europe was just recovering from severe floods during May and June when a series of severe convective storms surprised the (re)insurance industry. On July 28, hailstorm Andreas hit the Stuttgart region in southern Germany, causing widespread damage to property and automobiles. Andreas is also especially remembered as hailstorm Bernd hit the north of Germany the day before on July 27.
Overall, those two events caused approximately US$4 billion in insured losses to the (re)insurance industry. This was the highest insured loss during 2013, and the largest severe convective storm insured loss ever recorded in Europe; above Munich in 1984 (equivalent to US$5.4 billion overall and US$2.7 billion insured loss in today’s value) and Hilal in 2008 (US$1.5 billion insured).
Challenging conventional thinking pays dividends with regards to assessing hurricane risk. And as the current North Atlantic Hurricane Season marches on, here are five points — some of which are insights from last year’s active season, that can help you to reframe and potentially rethink your view of hurricane risk.
1. Hurricane Threat Is Not Just from Wind or Storm Surge
In many respects, Hurricane Harvey was the standout hurricane from last year’s trio of notable events in Harvey, Irma and Maria. The severe amounts of rainfall from Harvey — more than fifty inches (127 cm) in some areas over southeast Texas in August 2017 — certainly differentiated this event.
In 2014, Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS, wrote a blog posing the question whether water, and not wind is the primary driver of hurricane risk and corresponding losses. With events like Harvey in 2017, Robert’s viewpoint becomes more and more valid. Although Harvey was a category 4 hurricane at landfall, around 90 percent of the estimated losses were from inland flooding. The dominance of flood-driven losses in recent events — whether they be caused by storm surge, precipitation, or both — argues for a full hurricane catastrophe modeling solution. If tropical cyclone-induced rainfall is not included as a modeled peril, there is every chance of missing a large contribution of total loss for events like Harvey.
A recent article entitled “A Seismic Change in Predicting How Earthquakes Will Shake Tall Buildings” that appeared in the New York Times on June 27, has generated some concern regarding the performance of tall buildings during earthquakes. The article cites statements made during the eleventh U.S. National Conference on Earthquake Engineering — which several RMS earthquake engineering experts attended, stating that there are large changes being introduced to ground motion models. Ground motion models predict the intensity of ground shaking at a site.
Catastrophe models, conceived in the 1970s and created at the end of the 1980s, have proved to be a “disruptive technology” in reshaping the catastrophe insurance and reinsurance sectors. The first wave of disruption saw the arrival of fresh capital, to found eight new “technical” Bermudan catastrophe reinsurers. The “Class of 1993” included Centre Cat Ltd., Global Capital Re, IPC Re, LaSalle Re, Mid-Ocean Re, Partner Re, Renaissance Re and Tempest Re. Using catastrophe models, these companies were able to set up shop and price hurricane and earthquake contracts without having decades of their own claims history. While only two of these companies survive as independent reinsurers, the legacy of the disruption of 1993 is Bermuda’s sustained dominance in global reinsurance.
A second wave of disruption starting in the mid-1990s saw the introduction of catastrophe bonds: a slow trickle at first but now a steady flow of new structures, as investors who knew nothing about catastrophic loss came to trust modeled risk estimates to establish the bond interest rates and default probabilities. Catastrophe bonds have subsequently undergone their own “Cambrian explosion” into a diverse set of insurance-linked securities (ILS) structures, including those in which the funds go back to supplement reinsurer’s capital. Again, this disruption in accessing novel sources of pension and investment fund capital would have been impossible without catastrophe loss models.