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.

Wildfires Blaze through Western U.S. and Canada

Following a wet spring, at least six western states are now fighting wildfires, which have been intensified by extremely high temperatures, wind gusts and lightning.

In northern California, about 4,000 people evacuated and more than 7,000 were told to prepare to leave as fires burned in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The fire has burned nearly four square miles, injured four firefighters and destroyed at least 10 structures so far, fire spokeswoman Mary Ann Aldrich told The Oregonian. The area burning was southeast of Oroville, where recently spillways in the nation’s tallest dam began crumbling from heavy rains, leading to evacuation of 200,000 residents downstream.

More than 14 fires are burning in Nevada and a state of emergency was declared in Arizona. While a 15-square-mile fire is partially under control in Montana, hot, dry weather and thunderstorms are threatening.

Other states including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and New Mexico are either battling fires or monitoring conditions in order to prevent them.
Western Canada is also seeing its share of wildfires. Evacuations are in effect for up to 10,000 residents in British Columbia, as 17 fires burn.

Kevin Skrepnek, chief information officer for the British Columbia Wildfire Service, told the Vancouver Sun that gusty winds and hot, dry conditions are expected to continue for days.

“Unfortunately, in terms of the weather forecast, we’re not really seeing any reprieve in the immediate future,” he said. Skrepnek noted that 572 fires have started and that 98,842 acres have burned since April 1. About 1,000 firefighters are currently on the front lines.
Residents of Fort McMurray, Canada, who saw major losses after a fire last year burned for months, are still rebuilding. Risk Management Magazine reported in September that the fire became the largest and most expensive natural disaster in Canada’s history, surpassing floods in Alberta in 2013. The Fort McMurray wildfire charred more than 1.43 million acres of land and destroyed at least 10% of the city, including more than 2,400 homes, businesses and other structures.

Commercial and personal damages from the wildfire are estimated at $6 billion, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. Thomas Johansmeyer, assistant vice president of property claim services strategy and development at Verisk Insurance Solutions, said the preliminary estimate for insured losses has come in at $3.5 billion (CAN $4.6 billion). Oil sands losses are included in the commercial component of the estimate.

To help people who are currently displaced in British Columbia, residents of Fort McMurray are rallying to collect and deliver much needed supplies. They are filling trailers with item requested, including water, bandages, eye drops, energy drinks, department store and gas station gift cards, sunscreen and toilet paper, and delivering them to British Columbia residents in need.

Make Your Hurricane Preparations Now

With the Atlantic hurricane season’s official start on June 1, the time to check your buildings and existing contingency plans—or start a new one—is now, during hurricane preparedness week.

For 2017, Colorado State University’s hurricane research team predicts slightly below-average activity of hurricanes making landfall, with a forecast of 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.

The 2016 season is seen as a wakeup call, as 15 named storms and seven hurricanes formed in the Atlantic Basin—the largest number since 2012. Among the hurricanes was Matthew, a Category 4, which devastated Haiti, leaving 546 dead and hundreds of thousands in need of assistance. After being downgraded to a Category 2, Matthew pummeled southeast coastal regions of the U.S., with 43 deaths reported and widespread flooding in several states.

Here are 10 preparedness steps offered by FEMA:

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) warns that small businesses are especially vulnerable. Of businesses closed because of a disaster, at least one in four never reopens.

IBHS offers these steps for preparing a business for hurricane season:

  1. Have your building(s) inspected and complete any maintenance needed to ensure your building can stand up to severe weather.
  2. Designate an employee to monitor weather reports and alert your team to the potential of severe weather.
  3. Review your business continuity plan and update as needed, including employee contact information. If you do not have a business continuity plan, consider IBHS’ free, easy-to-use business continuity plan toolkit for small businesses.
  4. Remind employees of key elements of the plan, including post-event communication procedures and work/payroll procedures. Make sure all employees have a paper copy of the plan. Review emergency shutdown and start-up procedures, such as electrical systems, with appropriate personnel, including alternates.
  5. If backup power such as a diesel generator is to be used, test your system and establish proper contracts with fuel suppliers for emergency fuel deliveries.
  6. Re-inspect and replenish emergency supplies inventory, since emergency supplies are often used during the offseason for non-emergency situations.
  7. Test all life safety equipment.
  8. Conduct training/simulation exercises for both your business continuity and emergency preparedness/response plans.

Interstate Restoration has a day-by-day list of steps for business storm preparation, based on NOAA recommendations. They include research, planning and documenting, gathering emergency supplies, checking insurance coverage and supply chain and finalizing your plan.

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

With the official opening of 2017 Atlantic hurricane season fast approaching, researchers appear cautiously optimistic the relatively quiet streak will continue.

Today, Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project released the extended range forecast of 2017 Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity, predicting slightly below-average activity in the Atlantic basin, with a forecast of 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.

Philip Klotzbach, CSU

The probability of at least one major (Category 3+) hurricane making landfall on the entire U.S. coastline is 42%, compared to an average of 52% over the past century. The probability of such a storm hitting the East Coast, including peninsula Florida is 24%, compared to an average of 31%. Thus, CSU noted, the estimated probability of a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. this season is approximately 80% of the long-period average.

Hurricane activity may not be as critical a determinant for how insurers and property-owners will fare, however. Aon Benfield’s Global Catastrophe Recap reports have consistently noted the rising toll of economic and insured losses due to severe weather events including severe thunderstorms, hailstorms, and flash flooding. In Texas alone, for example, Aon Benfield reports the state incurred record thunderstorm-related losses for the year, with insurers citing costs exceeding $8.0 billion.

Other recent studies support this trend. In the Willis Re and Columbia University report Managing Severe Thunderstorm Risk, researchers found the risk to U.S. property from thunderstorms is just as high as from hurricanes. Their review of Verisk Analytics loss statistics for 2003 to 2015 found the average annual loss from severe convective storms including tornadoes and hailstorms was $11.23 billion, compared to $11.28 billion from hurricanes. Considering the past decade alone, severe convective storms posed the largest annual aggregated risk peril to the insurance industry.

willis re severe convective storms