Insurance Industry Responds to House Approval of NFIP Renewal

Insurance industry trade groups lauded the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote on Nov. 14, reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The 21st Century Flood Reform Act (H.R. 2874) would reauthorize the program for five years and enact operational changes. Advocates from RIMS, the risk management society, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and SmarterSafer.org also asked that the Senate waste no time in passing its version of the measure before its expiration on Dec. 8.

On Sept. 8, President Trump signed legislation passed by both houses to extend NFIP authorization until Dec. 8, which previously had been set to expire Sept. 30.

Dow Jones reports that the act’s reforms include:

  • Authorizing $1 billion to elevate, buy out or mitigate high-risk properties
  • Capping flood insurance premiums at $10,000 per year for homeowners
  • Removing hurdles to the private flood insurance market, which often offers better coverage at lower cost than the NFIP
  • Providing for community flood maps and a homeowner’s ability to appeal their flood designation
  • Better aligning NFIP rates to match a property’s true risk, particularly for in-land and lower-value properties
  • Improving the claims process for flood victims
  • Addressing repeatedly flooded properties, which account for 2% of NFIP policies but 25% of claim payments

While it applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for deciding to reauthorize the NFIP, RIMS, the risk management society, also urged the Senate to quickly follow-up before the program’s Dec. 8 expiration. Allowing the NFIP to expire would have “significant repercussions, impacting both corporate and residential property owners,” said RIMS Vice President Robert Cartwright Jr.

“Nearly five million American consumers rely on the NFIP to protect their homes, properties, and businesses,” said Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “A long-term reauthorization is needed to provide consumers and markets with reliability and stability when it comes to flood insurance coverage.”

SmarterSafer.org, a coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates, said in a statement that this year’s “historic hurricane season has pushed the nation’s debt-ridden flood insurance program past the point of bankruptcy once again, so we applaud the House for passing a legislative package that reforms the NFIP to ensure the program is financially sustainable for the future.” The organization also lauded the House for investing in recommended measures including “mapping and mitigation, addressing affordability and providing consumer choice in the flood insurance marketplace.”

The NFIP was created more than 50 years ago to provide affordable flood insurance as private insurers pulled out of the market. The program’s large debt led Congress to cancel $16 billion of its debt last month. NFIP now has about $6 billion to pay claims and $10 billion left that it can borrow from the Treasury Department, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the program.

6.5 Million U.S. Homes Worth Nearly $1.5 Trillion at Risk of Hurricane Storm Surge Damage

Storm Surge Flooding MISHELLA / Shutterstock.com

More than 6.5 million homes along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of storm surge inundation, representing nearly $1.5 trillion in total potential reconstruction costs, according to Corelogic’s 2014 Storm Surge Report. Of that risk, more than $986 billion is concentrated within 15 major metropolitan areas.

While many homes and businesses most vulnerable to hurricane damage are in Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zones, these represent just a fraction of the structures that suffer a hurricane’s effects. Homeowners who live outside the FEMA flood zones typically do not carry flood insurance, given that there is no mandate to do so, and therefore may not be aware of the potential risk storm surge poses to their properties, Corelogic explains.

Uncertainty about the geographical and meteorological risks may lull many into a false sense of safety. “This year’s season is projected to be slightly below normal in hurricane activity, but the early arrival of Hurricane Arthur on July 3 is an important reminder that even a low-category hurricane or strong tropical storm can create powerful riptides, modest flooding and cause significant destruction of property,” said Dr. Thomas Jeffery, senior hazard scientist for CoreLogic Spatial Solutions.

Florida ranks number one for the highest number of homes at risk of storm surge damage, with nearly 2.5 million homes at various risk levels and $490 billion in total potential exposure to damage. Here’s how all 19 states studied stack up, based on number of homes at risk:

State Table (Ranked by Number of Homes at Risk)

At the local level, the New York metropolitan area (including northern New Jersey and Long Island) contains not only the highest number of homes at risk for potential storm surge damage (687,412), but also the highest total reconstruction value of homes exposed, at more than $251 billion. Take a look at the storm surge risk for the top 15 metro areas:

Storm Surge Risk for Top 15 Metro Areas

Corelogic also noted variation in the costs of rebuilding, which does not directly correlate to the amount of property at risk. The total reconstruction cost value of homes along the Atlantic coast is nearly $951 billion, for example, which is approximately double the value of at-risk properties in the Gulf region’s $545 billion.

New Forecasting Method Predicts 75% Chance of El Nino in 2014

There is a 75% chance of an El Niño event in 2014, according to an early warning report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The researchers used a new method that uses network analysis to predict weather systems up to a year ahead, instead of the usual six-month maximum of other approaches. The model successfully predicted the absence of El Niño in 2012 and 2013.

El Niño events are characterized by a warmer Pacific Ocean, which results in a disruption to the ocean-atmosphere system. This can lead to warmer temperatures worldwide, droughts in Australia and Southeast Asia, and heavy rain and flooding in parts of the U.S. and South America. If such an event occurred toward the end of 2014, the increased temperatures and drought conditions could persist through 2015.

The researchers suggested that their work might help farmers and government agencies by giving them more time to prepare and to consider investing in flood- or drought-resistant crops.

“Farmers might find it worthwhile to invest in drought- or flood-resistant varieties of crops,” Josef Ludescher and Armin Bunde told Businessweek. “A strong El Niño event in late 2014 can make 2015 a record year for global temperatures.”

The current highest record global temperatures date back to 1998, during the last strong El Niño. Given the continued increases in baseline temperature around the world, an El Niño event this year could lead to the record-breaking heat.

Last week, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center issued a similar warning. While the forecasters expect neutral conditions through the spring, a change in temperatures may “portend warming in the coming months.”

El Nino Phenomenon

Colorado Flood Damage Estimated at Over $2 Billion

Colorado River at Flood Level

Economic damages from the recent flooding in Colorado are expected to surpass $2 billion, according to a recent report from catastrophe risk modeler Eqecat. Most of that financial burden will fall on residents because very little flood risk is insured in the state.

Between 1,500 and 1,800 homes have been destroyed and thousands of homes have been damaged, leaving more than 10,000 people displaced. The estimated total cost to repair destroyed homes averages $300 million and early reviews of residential flood damage indicate an average of $20,000 to restore each of the 17,500 flooded homes that were not destroyed. But because of exclusions to the basic homeowners insurance policy, most of the losses will not be covered by insurance.

Historically, a very small portion of homeowners purchase flood insurance on homes outside of the 100-year flood zones outlined by the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program, which provides insurance as part of a mortgage. Of the 17 counties impacted, most of the areas are not within defined flood zones.

President Obama declared a major disaster in nine of the hardest-hit counties, making residents eligible for direct federal grants to repair their flood-damaged homes, replace personal property and provide rental assistance, Reuters reported. This status also allows workers left jobless by the disaster to claim unemployment payments of up to 26 weeks and makes special low-interest loans available to farmers and small businesses to help cover their uninsured flood losses.

While these measures may help with immediate need, the extensive damage will require months of recovery and more rain is currently expected to cause rivers to crest another foot above flood stage today. With hundreds of miles of road flooded and many bridges and dams damaged or destroyed, Eqecat estimated losses to commercial and government properties and related expenses to total around $1 billion. Colorado officials announced a Dec. 1 target to complete temporary fixes to at least some of the heavily damaged roads, according to the Weather Channel. State highway crews and National Guard troops have already begun work to repair highways to mountain towns cut off by the flooding – roads that will only lead to more treacherous situations in remote areas as winter approaches.

Residents of one town have been told they will be displaced for up to six months, according to NBC News. Lyons town administrator Victoria Simonsen told a public meeting last week that E. coli bacteria had contaminated the drinking water system and the wastewater system incurred at least $1 million in damage, leaving the town unlivable for the foreseeable future.

This morning, authorities announced the eighth confirmed death from the flooding. Reuters reported that the search for hundreds of missing residents is winding down, with all but a half-dozen people now accounted for.