While most natural hazards occurring in the United States last year saw average or below average activity, the exceptions were flood and wind, according to the CoreLogic report Natural Hazard Risk Summary and Analysis, released today.
Severe flood events driven by substantial rainfall were the dominant natural hazards, with Louisiana and North Carolina floods being the major loss contributors. As in 2015, hurricanes and tropical storms in 2016 continued to cause inland flooding through increased and intense rainfall—even when not making landfall, according to the report.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there were 12 individual weather and climate disaster events in the U.S. with losses exceeding $1 billion in 2016.
According to the report:
Based on NOAA and CoreLogic analysis, the overall flood loss in 2016, driven by six, 1,000-year plus rain events, was approximately $17 billion, which is six times greater than the overall flood damage experienced in 2015.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recorded 943 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in 2016, with more than 60 percent of these earthquakes located in Oklahoma.
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported a total of 5,415,121 acres burned from 62,864 separate fires in 2016. While the total acres burned in 2016 fell below the 10-year average, significant losses occurred, with thousands of homes in California and Tennessee destroyed by several smaller fires that burned in populated areas.
Wind activity in 2016 was slightly above average, due in large part to strong winds brought by Hurricane Matthew.
Hail activity in 2016 was near the average, and Texas experienced the worst of this natural hazard.
Tornado activity in 2016 was near average compared with previous years.
Hurricane Matthew developed late in the year and grew to a Category 5 storm, resulting in substantial damage along the southeastern seaboard.
There were below-average levels of tropical cyclone activity in the western North Pacific Basin encompassing East and Southeast Asia in 2016.
However, 2016 became known as the year without a winter. Nine winter storms impacted the U.S. in 2016, the most notable being the late-January winter storm in New York.
“History has continually shown us that it is impossible to determine exactly when or where the next wildfire, flood or earthquake will strike, which is why preparedness, response and post-loss assessment are paramount,” CoreLogic said.
From hurricanes to hail to droughts to tornadoes, 2015 was a busy year for extreme weather events. Drought in California continued to worsen, increasing the risk of wildfires. While record rainfall in Texas and Oklahoma alleviated drought, it caused severe flash flooding in Texas. There have been 25 Category 4-5 northern hemisphere tropical cyclones—the most on record to date, breaking the old record of 18 set in 1997 and 2004.
The Insurance Information Institute reported that insured losses from natural disasters in the United States in just the first half of 2015 totaled $12.6 billion—well above the $11.2 billion average in the first halves of 2000 to 2014.
Interstate Restoration provides a look at 2015 weather events:
Growing populations around the globe have created larger cities, as well as greater concentrations of risk. It is projected that a rise in sea levels and increased intensity of events will amplify the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, floods and droughts. Because of this, climate change is seen as one of the biggest threats to cities and businesses and could account for an estimated 20% of the global GDP by the end of this century, according to “Business Unusual: Why the climate is changing the rules for our cities and SMEs” by AXA.
While some cities have worked to put resilience plans in place to reduce the impact of flooding and other disasters, there is much to be done and businesses are vulnerable, especially small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Only 26% of SMEs have taken action to protect themselves, yet 54% are worried about the impact climate change could have on their business, and the number rises to 75% in emerging markets, the study found.
“These disasters would be magnified by the fact that populations and assets have never been so concentrated in disaster-prone areas,” Henri de Castries, chairman and CEO of AXA Group said in the report. “Half of the world’s population now resides in cities, often along coastlines, and this proportion is due to rise to nearly two-thirds by the middle of the century, representing some 6.4 billion people. It comes as little surprise, then, that 80% of the climate change adaptation costs for 2010-2050 would be borne by urban areas.”
According to the report, these are common elements of resilience planning:
Risk assessments to identify key vulnerabilities.
Adaptation of essential infrastructure to withstand changes to the environment.
Development of flood defenses to protect inhabited areas from flooding caused by extreme weather events and increased rainfall.
Urban planning and relocation of buildings, including adapting to future developments that allow greater resilience to the consequences of climate change.
Development of emergency warning and response plans—emergency response planning is a core pillar of resilience strategy.
Community engagement and awareness-raising activities.
Establishing state and local building codes would insure resilient construction and stop the cycle of spending to rebuild after disasters such as hurricanes, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The organization said it supports the BuildStrong Coalition’s National Mitigation Investment Strategy, which calls for a comprehensive federal plan to improve disaster resilience across the U.S.
The plan focuses on investment in pre-disaster funding using unspent, non-FEMA grant program funds to reduce damage caused by natural disasters—funds that were established in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, IBHS said.
“We can’t keep doing things the same way, with lives and communities being destroyed over and over again by disasters, year after year,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO said in a statement. “The National Mitigation Investment Strategy will help break this cycle of destruction.”
The Strategy recommends:
establishing a new FEMA-administered resilient construction state and local building code grant program to help qualified states defray cost of enforcing building codes
increasing FEMA funding for pre-disaster mitigation activities by $100 million per year from fiscal years 2016 to 2020
passing new congressional initiatives to create resilient construction incentives for states, builders, and individual homeowners
According to the BuildStrong Coalition:
The reality of the nation’s current disaster policy is this: costs associated with natural disasters in the United States continue to rise, and the federal government is absorbing more and more of the costs as sympathy for victims often creates a political expediency for billions in off-budget, unaccountable federal spending that is allocated for cleanup and recovery. The result is an endless cycle of destruction where cities are rebuilt only to be devastated again by the next big storm. A new approach to federal disaster policy is needed.
The report looks into why more needs to be done before a disaster and describes ways to target more resources to building codes. Doing so through a new national disaster policy focused on pre-disaster mitigation will benefit homeowners and building owners that are of the most immediate concern post-storm.