Hurricane Harvey Hits Texas with Up to $30 Billion in Damages

Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas on Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane, has so far caused at least five deaths and more than a dozen injuries. Now a tropical storm, Harvey has dumped more than 30 inches of rain on the Houston area, with another 15 to 20 inches anticipated by Friday.

According to the New York Times:

  • With record floodwaters devastating much of southeast Texas, more than 450,000 people are likely to seek federal aid in recovering from Harvey, the storm that has battered the Gulf Coast for days, Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said on Monday. The agency has estimated that about 30,000 people will seek emergency shelter, and that federal aid will be needed for years.
  • The Houston region now looks like an inland sea dotted by islands, with floodwaters inundating roads, vehicles, and even bridges and buildings. Thousands of people have been rescued from flooded homes and cars and many more are stuck in homes that remained above water but are cut off.

Bloomberg reports that damage from Harvey is expected to reach as much as $30 billion when factoring in the impact of flooding on the region’s labor force, power grid, transportation and other aspects supporting the energy sector.

Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimates that industry insured losses resulting from Hurricane Harvey’s winds and storm surge in Texas will range from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion. AIR noted that these estimates do not include the impact of the ongoing torrential rain and catastrophic flooding from the hurricane unprecedented precipitation.

Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, caused about $160 billion in total economic damages, with about 47% covered by the insurance industry.

The Wall Street Journal said that despite the high damage anticipated, the timing is good for insurers and their customers:

Personal and commercial insurers have record levels of capital, the money they have on hand that isn’t required to back obligations. With insurers’ overall strong capital position, Harvey is unlikely to cause extensive damage to the industry’s financial strength, although it could hurt quarterly earnings for those carriers with blocks of business in hard-hit areas.

According to the Wall Street Journal, analysts estimate it would take $100 billion or more of losses in a 12-month period to cause distress within the insurance industry. The Insurance Information Institute reported that insurers had $709 billion in surplus during the first quarter of this year, which translates to $1 in surplus for every 75 cents of net premiums.

Although 52% of residential and commercial properties in the Houston metro are at “High” or “Moderate” risk of flooding, they are not in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to CoreLogic. Properties within SFHA zones, categorized as Extreme or Very High Risk, require flood insurance if the property has a federally insured mortgage. Properties outside SFHA zones are not required to carry flood insurance.

Levels of flood risk for properties in seven metro areas likely to have severe rain and flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey:

A factor in insurance costs, according to AIR Worldwide, is that more than half of the commercial buildings in both Texas and Louisiana are steel and concrete. Unlike residential structures, commercial buildings are often built to stricter standards, making them less vulnerable than single-family homes. More than 40% of buildings in the U.S. Gulf Coast region meet Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) standards set in 1980, AIR said.

Recap of 2016 Weather Events

The 2016 hurricane season, which ends today, has been the deadliest since 2005 and the most active and costliest since 2012. In all there were 15 named storms and seven hurricanes, three of them major hurricanes. Hurricane Matthew, a Category 5, was responsible for more than 1,600 deaths and insured loss estimates of about $7 billion.

Other major storms that hit the United States in 2016 include Winter Storm Jonas, Louisiana flooding, hailstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes. For a recap of 2016 storms check out Interstate’s year-in-review infographic:
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Anticipating Hurricane Matthew, 4 States Declare Emergency

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Rebounding to Category 4 hurricane classification, Matthew now has winds up to 140 miles per hour and has caused at least 28 deaths in three Caribbean countries. It is heading for the southeastern U.S., where four states—Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina—have issued a state of emergency and evacuation orders in coastal regions.

Matthew was a Category 4 hurricane through Tuesday, was downgraded to a Category 3 early on Wednesday, and has now returned to Category 4 strength today, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a warning on Thursday urging those in evacuation zones to leave immediately. “Based on the current forecast, the heights of storm surge will be above ground. Waves will be crashing on roofs. Homes will be destroyed,” he tweeted in both English and Spanish on Thursday morning.

“Time is up, Hurricane Matthew is approaching Florida. If you are in an evacuation zone, leave now,” he said in a statement. “To everyone on Florida’s east coast, if you are reluctant to evacuate, just think of all the people the hurricane has already killed.  You and your family could be among these numbers if you don’t take this seriously.”

Scott said that so far more than 4,000 National Guard members have been activated to help with evacuations and sheltering. He tweeted that as of 6:00 a.m., more than 3,000 people were in about 60 shelters. The state offers a mobile app to help those in flood-prone areas find the nearest shelter and also avoid traffic congestion.

A state of emergency has been declared by Georgia’s governor for 13 coastal counties. South Carolina’s governor declared a state of emergency and has begun coastal evacuations that may affect up to 1 million people. Because of heavy traffic, lane reversals on some highways are in effect, and schools and government offices in 25 South Carolina counties are closed today. North Carolina’s governor has declared a state of emergency for more than 50 counties and issued a mandatory evacuation order for Ocracoke Island, AIR Worldwide reported.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent personnel and supplies to all four states, and President Obama is meeting with FEMA officials coordinating the response to Hurricane Matthew at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

According to CoreLogic, a Category 3 storm hitting Miami could potentially damage 176,000 homes at a reconstruction cost value (RCV) of about $3.8 billion.

CoreLogic’s Storm Surge Risk Report estimates that more than 6.8 million homes located along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are at risk of storm surge damage, with a total RCV of about $1.5 trillion.The length of coastline, coastal elevation and density of residential development all contribute to the risk of storm surge flooding.
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According to CoreLogic, the total number and total value of residential properties for the four states currently bracing for Hurricane Matthew are:

Total Number and Total Value of Residential Properties by State

NOAA Releases 2014 Hurricane Season Outlook

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In a press conference this morning, the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its official 2014 outlook for the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific hurricane seasons.

The East Coast may see below-average activity this year, thanks, in part, to the anticipated development of El Nino this summer. According to NOAA, “El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Niño can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.”

There is a 50% chance for a below-average season, a 40% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10% chance of an above-average season, the center predicts. “For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which three to six could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to two major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher),” they announced.

2014 Atlantic Hurricane OutlookBut the forecast is no reason to take preparations lightly. “Thanks to the environmental intelligence from NOAA’s network of earth observations, our scientists and meteorologists can provide life-saving products like our new storm surge threat map and our hurricane forecasts,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “And even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it’s important to remember it takes only one land-falling storm to cause a disaster.”

On the West Coast, it may be a more tumultuous summer. The outlook calls for a 50% chance of an above-normal season, a 40% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season. The center predicts there is a 70% chance of 14 to 20 named storms, which includes 7 to 11 hurricanes, of which 3 to 6 are expected to become major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale).

“The key climate factor behind the outlook is the likely development of El Niño this summer. El Niño decreases the vertical wind shear over the eastern tropical Pacific, favoring more and stronger tropical storms and hurricanes,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “The eastern Pacific has been in an era of low activity for hurricanes since 1995, but this pattern will be offset in 2014 by the impacts of El Niño.”

Next week (May 25-31) is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and NOAA and FEMA will be offering additional tips and insight on their websites ahead of the official start of hurricane season on June 1.