Four Interesting Links From A Wild Week in California

Here we are dealing with yet another crazy autumn week of wildfire in California. As we noted earlier this fall, annually, Santa Ana Wind events cause new fire ignitions to become dangerously uncontrollable and have statistically caused the fastest-moving and most destructive fires on record. Now, barely a year removed from last year’s devastating October Fire Siege  Northern California is dealing with the Camp Fire, now the deadliest and most destructive fire in history. Similarly, not even a year removed from the giant Thomas Fire in Ventura County, several nearby coastal communities are dealing with their own widespread evacuations and impacts from the destructive Woolsey fire. RedZone has been working tirelessly monitoring, updating, and aiding our customers in response to both of these unique and tragic events. While tracking the fires, we’ve happened upon some really sad, interesting, and heroic stories. Here are a few we found worthy to share.


Barely a year removed from last year’s devastating October Fire Siege Northern California is dealing with the Camp Fire, now by far the deadliest and most destructive fire in history.


The Search continues on Paradise Fire for the Missing

Vice News investigates the intense search for answers on hundreds of missing people in the wake of last week’s Camp Fire. Many residents are still searching for missing loved ones. Exacerbated by the fact that the 26,000 person city is known for being a large retirement community making success of evacuation even more problematic.


Ten Hours in Hell

Bill Roth was home with his fiancee and dog when the Camp Fire started. After getting them out, he stayed to try saving his house. He spent ten hours in what he called, “hell”.

A second survivor who’s friends weren’t so lucky: https://www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/He-couldn-t-save-his-friends-Now-Camp-Fire-13382947.php#photo-16473858


The Controversial Case for Letting Malibu Burn

damage_proxy_map_malibu_fire

The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created this Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas of Southern California that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of the Woolsey Fire.

Professor Mike Davis has long been infamous for his stance on letting Malibu burn. This stance came around again as this month’s Woolsey fire has destroyed over 1,000 structures in exactly the fire he predicted. What’s your take on Davis’ stance that “the broader public should not have to pay a cent to protect or rebuild mansions on sites that will inevitably burn every 20 or 25 years”?

Read the following the for the recent story and backstory.

Recent Article: https://qz.com/1468286/mike-daviss-case-for-letting-malibu-burn-is-sadly-relevant-again/

Original Take: http://www.ic.unicamp.br/~stolfi/misc/misc/SoCalFires.html


Before and After the Fire: Disaster Imagery

before and after malibu fire

Geospatial Intelligence Center has provided pre and post event imagery from last weeks fires.

Pan around or search for an address on their Esri-powered site:

https://maps.geointel.org/app/gic-public/

Typhoon Yutu

Typhoon Yutu: The Most Powerful Storm of 2018 To Hit a U.S. Territory

On October 21st, 2018, Typhoon Yutu began its development as a tropical depression, east of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth.  Just hours later, the storm reached tropical storm strength over the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. During the period of the next three days Yutu would intensify to a Category 5 Typhoon. Around 2:00 AM on October 25th, Yutu made landfall on the Northern Mariana Islands. Satellite imagery shows the eye of the storm passing directly over the island Tinian (population 3,136), completely encompassing it as the devastation within the eye-wall continued on the surrounding islands of Saipan (population 52,263), Rota (population 2,477), and Guam.  The damage received during the typhoon’s arrival would leave the island communities nearly unrecognizable. Yutu would be recorded as the strongest storm to impact a US territory in 2018, and the strongest to impact the Northern Mariana Islands in recorded history.

Typhoon, Hurricane, Cat 5

This image depicts the Northern Mariana Island chain’s location in the midst of Typhoon Yutu.

Super Typhoon Yutu’s Conditions Upon Landfall in the Northern Mariana Islands

Sustained Winds: Sustained 180 mph, Gusting over 200 mph

Storm Surge: Up to 20 feet

Rainfall: Up to 10 inches

The tone of the statements released by officials leading up to the storms arrival was indicative of the damages that would be seen in the days prior to Yutu’s landfall. The National Weather Service office in Guam released this frightening message before the storms arrival, “Most homes will sustain severe damage, with potential for complete roof failure and wall collapse. Most industrial buildings will be destroyed.” These comments proved to be unnervingly valid once the storm had passed.

After the preliminary aerial damage assessments were completed on October 29th, the figures shown below give insight to just how severe the damages are.

Damage inspection, Hurricane, Typhoon

This figure shows the results of the preliminary damage inspections. Officials conducted these inspections during the first fly over after the storm had passed.

These aerial images released by DigitalGlobe give further testament to the absolute devastation that occurred in the disaster area.

It is estimated that these communities will be without power for months in the wake of Typhoon Yutu. Saipan currently has 99 percent of its community without power, Tinian is 100 percent out of power, and the small island of Rota has restored power to 99 percent of the island.

In the 96 hours after the storm’s passing, 121 storm related emergency room visits were recorded. Unfortunately two lives have been lost from this community during this natural disaster.

Yutu continued on its path of destruction after it passed over the Mariana Islands, its next stop, the Philippines. Even though the storm’s intensity, in terms of wind speeds was not as great in this impact area, the devastation was still staggering. With the Philippines  already saturated with moisture from the Typhoon Mangkhut, the unwelcomed rainfall from Yutu exacerbated the troubles for locals in the mountainous areas of the Philippines. As the storm hit, the rainfall caused massive landslides throughout the countryside. Roads throughout the impact area have been blocked by debris making recovery efforts difficult for the first responders. As the recovery process is continues, it truly paints the picture of how bad these events really are for these communities.

Read further:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/super-typhoon-yutu-destruction-1.4879117

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/typhoon-yutu-philippines-1.4883540

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2018/10/24/category-typhoon-yutu-with-mph-winds-is-set-ravage-us-territories-saipan-tinian

https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144137/super-typhoon-yutu

https://www.washingtonpost.com/energy-environment/2018/10/24/extreme-category-typhoon-yutu-makes-devastating-landfall-northern-mariana-islands-us-commonwealth/

 

 

Structural damage from the Magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile in 2016 (Source: Expansion - CNN)

What is the difference between an earthquake’s magnitude and intensity?

Think about sitting around a campfire. The fire emits a measurable level of heat, and the nearer you sit to it, the hotter the fire feels. If you are farther from the fire, the heat is less intense. This simple example can explain common earthquake measurements – magnitude and intensity – and what these earthquake scales mean.

Richter Scale

Consider, once again, the campfire. This temperature is measurable and absolute. When an earthquake occurs, the Richter scale measures the magnitude of the earthquake at its epicenter. The Richter scale was developed in 1935 as a way to quantify the strength of earthquakes. It is a logarithmic scale based on the amplitude of the waves recorded by seismographs. A logarithmic scale means a magnitude increase of 1 relates to an energy increase by a factor of 10. An earthquake measuring a 4.0 on the Richter scale is 10 times as strong as a 3.0!

Seismograph at Weston Observatory at Boston College, Weston, Massachusetts

Earthquake seismograph at Weston Observatory at Boston College, Weston, Massachusetts.

 

Modified Mercali Intensity Scale

Now, you know the closer to the campfire you sit, the hotter the flames feel on your skin. This generally holds true with earthquakes as well. Typically, the nearer the epicenter the stronger the ground shaking you would feel; however, there are other factors that affect the intensity of the earthquake you feel at your location. The type of earthquake, bedrock the shockwaves traveled through, and amplitude of the shockwaves from the earthquake are a few of these factors. The intensity you feel is measured on a scale called the Modified Mercali Intensity Scale (MMI). The MMI scale ranges from “Not Felt” and “Weak Shaking” up to “Violent” and “Extreme” with well-built structures suffering damage.

USGS map and intensity scale for 1971 San Fernando Earthquake (Magnitude - red-circled, epicenter - star, intensity - table)

USGS earthquake map and intensity scale for 1971 San Fernando Earthquake (Magnitude – red-circled, epicenter – star, Modified Mercali Intensity scale – table)

Other Scales Around the World

While the Richter scale is widely known and the MMI scale is used in the United States, there are other magnitude and intensity scales in use around the world. The Japanese Meteorological Agency uses a separate calculation for shallow earthquakes (depth < 60km) which has been shown to be reasonable when the magnitude is 4.5-7.5; however, this magnitude measurement has historically underestimated larger magnitude tremors. Additionally, Japan and Taiwan use the Shindo intensity scale which has significant correlation to the MMI scale. During the middle to late 20th century, the USSR, East Germany, and Czecholsovakia established and utilized the Medvedev-Sponheuer-Karnik scale (MSK) to evaluate shaking and effects from earthquakes. This scale was built upon in the 1990s by the European Seismological Commission as they shifted to implement the European Macroseismic Scale for European countries. The MSK scale continues to be employed in Russia, India, Israel, and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

You can read more about some of these other scales here:

JMA Shindo intensity scale: https://www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/Activities/inttable.html

MSK Scale: https://www.gktoday.in/gk/various-earthquake-scales/

 

Sources:

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/mercalli.php

https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/why-japan-doesnt-use-magnitude-for-earthquakes

How Tsunami Early Warning Systems Work, and Why Indonesia’s System Failed.

Tsunamis are a scary and devastating natural phenomenon. On average, two damaging tsunamis occur globally each year. A major, devastating, ocean-wide tsunami occurs roughly every 15 years. To prevent catastrophic loss of life, many countries have independently or jointly developed tsunami early warning systems. Indonesia was hit with a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami last month, and their warning system failed. To understand how these systems work and how they can fail, it is important to understand the causes of tsunamis. At the most basic, a tsunami is caused by a large, sudden motion on the seafloor. Earthquakes beneath or near the ocean most commonly cause this motion, but other potential causes include volcanic eruptions, underwater landslides, or even an above water landslide, such as a large piece of ice breaking off an iceberg or a meteor striking the ocean.

How Tsunami Early Warning Systems Work

Since a vast majority of tsunamis are caused by seismic activity on the seafloor, warning systems start with seismic monitoring. Sensors on the seafloor monitor for seismic activity caused by earthquakes and volcanoes. If a substantial seismic incident occurs, surface buoy sensors then monitor for changes in the sea level. Tsunami waves could be as shallow as three feet high, so these sensors are placed in an array to determine motion as well as height. These seafloor and surface buoy sensors send data to tsunami warning centers, which are staffed 24/7. The centers monitor the data, perform analysis, and quickly determine whether conditions are met to issue a tsunami warning alert. If an alert is sent, it goes to local radio and television, wireless emergency alerts, NOAA Weather Radio, and NOAA websites. Some tsunami threat areas might also issue warnings through sirens, text message alerts, and phone notifications.

 

NOAA’s Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami System (NOAA)

 

What Failed in Indonesia?

On September 28, 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Sulawesi, Indonesia. A tsunami alert was briefly issued cautioning a possible tsunami of 0.5 meters, before a tsunami struck the city of Palu. The tsunami that hit was later estimated to be closer to 5 or 6 meters, causing widespread destruction and leading to over 7,000 people confirmed dead or never found. Another 10,000 people were reported injured.

“Indonesia built a network of buoys for detecting tsunamis, but due to lack of maintenance, the system is no longer operational”

Following the tsunami, officials in Indonesia faced heavy criticism for failing to warn the people of the severity of the incident, and several investigations were conducted into what failed within the system. As is common with system failures of this magnitude, several factors combined to bring about the failure.

Detection: Indonesia built a network of buoys for detecting tsunamis, but due to lack of maintenance, the system is no longer operational. Their closest tidal gauge was 125 miles away from Palu, and only recorded a 2.3 inch rise in water level. These tidal gauges are not primarily intended to detect tsunamis, since their sample rate is only every 15 minutes. Seismometers alone proved inadequate to predict the severity of the tsunami.

Warning: Cell phone towers in the area had already been damaged and were inoperable due to the earthquake that preempted the tsunami and many areas did not receive cell phone alerts. Palu was seen as a fairly protected city due to its deep bay and surrounding mountains. Due to this perceived natural protection, the beach regions were not equipped with warning sirens. The geography of this bay likely contributed to the severity of the tsunami instead of protecting the bay by funneling the water to a concentrated point, similar to how a narrowing river speeds up the flow.

Due to the limitations of the detection and warning systems in Indonesia, officials are stressing educating the public that any earthquake lasting longer than 20 seconds is a tsunami threat. If an earthquake occurs, they recommend getting to higher ground immediately and not waiting for a warning.

 

Sources:

https://www.tsunami.gov/

https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-are-tsunamis?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products

https://www.noaa.gov/explainers/us-tsunami-warning-system

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/02/world/asia/indonesia-tsunami-early-warning-system.html

Platform Software Engineer

RedZone Software seeks a competent and motivated individual to join our team as a Platform Software Engineer. This is an opportunity to develop, build, and manage systems for monitoring and deploying software that enables real-time global disaster monitoring.

This role requires a technically competent, well-organized person who can work closely with our development team.

This job makes a difference. For the past decade, our work at RedZone has continuously contributed to public safety awareness and improved emergency response, and has ultimately saved lives and property. In return for your intelligence, initiative and dedication, we offer a supportive environment, a flexible schedule, a wide range of technical opportunities, and chance to be a central contributor to a unique business.

Responsibilities

– Serve as a hands-on engineer with a thorough understanding of the SDLC
– Build, manage, and monitor AWS cloud infrastructure
– Manage system and software deployments
– Design and implement load testing
– Conduct and oversee QA/QC

Requirements

– BS or MS in computer science or related field
– 2+ years experience consistent with the Responsibilities listed above
– Experience with Amazon AWS
– Excellent communication skills; ability to work well with a smart, passionate team

Desired Skills

– Experience with Puppet, Chef or other continuous delivery applications
– Demonstrated ability to troubleshoot and resolve problems, and to develop and implement elegant solutions
– Ability to quickly learn new technologies
– Excellent reliability, dependability, and trustworthiness
– Strong attention to detail and accuracy

This is a full-time salaried position with benefits that include health, PTO, paid vacation and 401K. Compensation is negotiable and will be based on education and experience. RedZone is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. RedZone does not accept solicitations from recruiters or employment agencies.

Please email your resume, cover letter and portfolio (if available) to resumes@redzone.co with the subject line “Platform Software Engineer”. Calls and faxes will not be accepted. We will contact you via email or phone to schedule an interview.

RedZone Disaster Intelligence

October Brings Highest Risk of Destruction to California

This past weekend, from Saturday into Monday morning, much of the Northern California Bay Area was under a Red Flag Warning due to strong winds around 40 mph with gusts to 60 mph. Despite much of the country receiving some level of precipitation recently, California remains just above the drought threshold. The gusty winds and dry fuels the state sees every fall leads to heightened fire weather conditions this time of year. Fortunately, with this strongest wind event thus far this Fall, fire agencies across the region responded rapidly and en masse to any new reports of ignition.

“Of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.”

Transitioning out of Western Fire Season

Most of the Western fire season began the seasonal transition out of its peak in early September with fall’s cooler temperatures and precipitation. October and November mark another transition as the focus typically shifts to California  where fire activity remains a major concern with summer-dried fuels and occasional Foehn wind events develop across California until winter rains come.

October Fire potential

Significant Wildland Fire Potential for October 2018

Brief Look Back to October 2017

Monday, October 8th, marked one year since 21 major wildfires started across Northern California and devastated the Napa-Sonoma area. Collectively the fires burned more than 245,000 acres over the course of the month. The Northern California Firestorm, as it came to be called, destroyed nearly 9,000 structures and was responsible for 44 civilian fatalities and caused 14.5 billion dollars in damages.

The fire spread was remarkable as ember showers spread from house to house throughout several communities and the fires moved at record-setting speeds. Gusting and strong winds were an instrumental driving force behind the massive levels of damage caused by the conflagrations. What wasn’t record setting was this type of fire weather happening in October or later in California. As the table below shows, of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.

14 top fires have happened in October and later

14 of the Top 20 Most Destructive California Wildfires have started in October or later

Obviously all that late season activity means, historically, the Western Fire Season is far from over in California. Fire Departments remain at full staffing, on the ready, with ears perked to every new start that could be the next big one…especially with the fire weather possibilities this time of year. RedZone does the same, and those of you in the insurance world reading this, so too should you. Those 14 wildfires have collectively caused tens of billions of dollars in damage over the years.

Read Further

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-ana-winds-20180925-story.html

https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/fire2/?wfo=mtr

https://www.kron4.com/news/bay-area/red-flag-warning-this-weekend-in-parts-of-bay-area/1502972515

Fire Regime

Five Years of Wildfires Devastate Lake County, an Insurance Risk or Opportunity?

With Lake County now holding the title of the largest fire in California’s recorded history, the Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex, it leaves one to wonder what exactly it is that’s producing the conditions for these enormous fires to thrive in this area. It has been estimated that in the last 5 years, over 55 percent of the surface area in Lake County has burned in wildfires. It has become an unfortunate understanding of the residents that have chosen to settle in this county that it is not if a big fire will occur, but rather, when will the next one occur. In regards to wildland fire, there are three main elements that are known to have the most impact on fire behavior: weather, topography, and fuels. Unfortunately for Lake County, the area has all three of these influential factors working against the fire regime of the area.

Fire History

This map displays all of the fires inside a 1 mile buffer of Lake County that reached over 100 acres since 2012.

Topography

Lake County is located in the Coastal Range of northern California, on the west side of the Sacramento Valley. Lake County resides in a mid-altitude area that is high enough above sea level to be above the influence of the marine layer, but not high enough in the mountains to feel impacts of the cooler upper atmospheric air. In  the center of the county rests Clear Lake, which is the lowest point in elevation throughout the entire area. Surrounding this geographic feature are seemingly endless mountains, hills, and valleys extending in every direction until they arrive in the northern reaches of the Mendocino National Forest. These areas of tremendous elevation variation are where fires tend to thrive. Fires are able to take advantage of these slopes to preheat the fuels up-slope from the fire, while simultaneously utilizing the convection column of hot gasses being funneled through these drainages to fuel the fire’s spread.

Weather

The local weather patterns of Lake County tend to have a negative impact on fire behavior in the area. During fire season, the predominate winds blow from the northwest, with the occasional shift coming from the northeast, bringing the warm and dry air from the northern portion of the Sacramento Valley into the area. On the extreme side of the spectrum are Foehn Wind events that cause extreme fire behavior when they occur. Foehn or “sundowner” winds bring hot, dry air into the area, with an uncharacteristic down-slope flow that allows fire to spread at unfathomable rates. When these events occur, fires can continue to burn actively through the night which is usually the time when fire behavior begins to moderate.

Fuels

Lake County is relatively diverse in terms of the vegetation species throughout the county’s boundaries. Nearly every major fuel type that exists is contained within the county including grasslands, oak woodlands, brush, mixed conifer forests, and hardwood forests. Due to the wide spectrum of vegetation species here, fires can range from low intensity grass fires, to extremely high intensity forest fires. The map below depicts the vegetation classifications throughout the entire county. Starting in the southern areas of the county, the predominate fuel type is comprised of annual grasses and oak woodlands. As you move up in elevation on both the east and the western side of Clear Lake, the fuel type primarily changes to a chaparral-based fuel bed. Progressing further north into the Mendocino National Forest, the dominant fuel type changes once again to one of a heavy timber, mixed conifer, and hardwood forested area.

Vegetation

This map depicts the vegetation types throughout Lake County. Visualizing this data clearly shows the predominant vegetation type shifting as you progress north, from the southern border of the county.

The reasons above are all variables in what seems to be a devastating half-decade of fire history for the Lake County region. The complicated wildfire situation in this area has been influenced by the recent years of drought, which has decreased the available moisture in the region, drying out the vegetation and furthering their susceptibility to fire. Lastly, Lake County has had an increase in residency due to increasing interest in the Napa/Sonoma Wine country. With more human influence comes the increased probability of fires igniting.

Insurance risk or Opportunity?

Will this information impact insurance companies when considering existing policies, writing future business, or even adjusting premium rates in this county? Does this amount of fire activity in such a small time frame deter insurance carriers from writing new business in these areas? These recently charred areas should be considered as an opportunity to obtain new clientele due to the diminished risk from wildfire in the upcoming years based off the lack of vegetation. Some factors to take into account would be the return interval rate of fire in each of these fuel types. This knowledge would give an estimation of how long that specific site will have before it is ready to burn if the new vegetation is the same species. For example, Chaparral brush which, is a large portion of Lake Counties fuel, has a highly variable fire return interval ranging from 10 to over 100 years. If properly managed an individual could easily keep fire from returning to the landscape for a long period of time. Another advantage of insuring homeowners in recent burn areas, is the opportunity to educate them with advice on how to manage the vegetation around their home as it begins to regrow. This would in turn, promote defensible space around the structure, and give the client a piece of mind that their insurance company cares for their home, while simultaneously protecting the insurers investment.

Sources

http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Assets/County+Site/Fire+Safe+Council/cwpp/eco.pdf

http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Government/Boards/lcfsc/LCCWPP.htm

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-lake-county-fire-epicenter-20180814-story.html

http://www.californiachaparral.com/fire/firenature.html

https://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/The-Foehn-foehn-wind.htm

https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Training/certification/CWMS/S-190-Intro-to-Wildland-Fire-Behavior.ashx?la=en

Flooding Woes Trending in the Wrong Direction

Back in April we outlined how Flooding is the by far the most common natural disaster and therefore the worst in terms of costliness, death, and destruction. Flooding woes come in many ways too, including long-term swelling lakes and rivers, storm surge and coastal flooding from Hurricanes and Tropical storms, and flash floods from downpours from severe thunderstorms. Last year’s Hurricane Harvey alone caused over 125 billion dollars, mostly from the widespread flooding across East Texas and Louisiana.

More Flooding Woes from Hurricane Florence

Yet another example of the ongoing cost of flooding was this month’s Hurricane Florence over the Carolinas. Five major watersheds saw an average of 17.5 inches of rain over four days, calculated to be the second worst in the last 70 years (second only to Hurricane Harvey’s 25.6 inches). The storm caused widespread flooding across a 14,000 sq mile area across both states. With two of the worst storms in consecutive years, leading meteorologists are blaming warmer oceans, more moisture and slower moving storms due in various ways to climate change causing tropical cyclones to dump more rain.

florence landfall lead to flooding woes

NOAA’s view of Hurricane Florence making Landfall near Wilmington, NC on September 14th

12 counties in North Carolina, where the storm made landfall near Wilmington, remain under varying types of evacuation orders as flood waters are either still cresting or very slowly receding. Consequently, nearly 300 roads are still closed across NC and neighborhoods in cities that thought they made it through the event unscathed are now being impacted. The toll on residents and infrastructure is estimated in the ballpark of 38 billion (and rising), making it the sixth costliest tropical cyclone on record.

Insurance Should Help, No?

Just as after last year’s Harvey impact (125 billion), flood insurance again has been a hot topic. With estimates of a million people dealign with flooding woes across the two states, it’s no surprise that in the aftermath of Florence there’s been a heap of national news coverage on the issue. If you google “Florence Flood Insurance” every article highlights the dire situation and elaborates on the fact that typical homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover most of the people (estimated at 85%) affected. The other 15% have opted in to their insurance plan’s specialized flood coverage or were informed enough to join the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Whether the others are uninformed, can’t pay, or don’t want to pay extra they are now (similar to Houston residents after Harvey) in what these articles are calling a ‘miserable’ fallout situation.

Rescued from flooding woes

Members of the 106th Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard, drop from an HC-130J Combat King II aircraft during a rescue mission during Hurricane Florence, Sept. 17, 2018.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyle Hagan)

Florence, like Harvey, turned out to be less of a wind event and with flood excluded on most homeowner’s policies, experts from the insurer point of view are expecting to deal with a “manageable” and “insignificant” event. Of the $38 billion dollar bill, only an estimated $1.7 billion to $4.6 billion will fall on the insurance industry from Florence’s winds and storm surge (damage from which are covered).


Question: Who will pay for homeowners who want to rebuild their homes then?

Answer 1: The Homeowner

  •  Uninsured homeowners will have to pay out of pocket or get loans from the Federal Government to pay for repairs to their flood-damaged homes. The loans have to be repaid in full.

Answer 2: The Taxpayers (indirectly)

  • The NFIP is vastly under-funded by policyholder revenue and multiple loans and bailouts since Hurricane Katrina have the taxpayers regularly on the hook for billions of dollars in relief.

This New York Times article sums this up nicely.

Flooding affects the US populace, both coastal and inland, every year. Implications from flooding events are statistically worsening whether from continued warming oceans and climate change or something else causing these outlier events to be more regular. Flooding woes like this month’s Florence is life changing for a huge number of people and communities, and unfortunately, it seems it’s but a matter of time until the next one with the same storyline.


Sources

CBS News
NY Times
Insurance Journal
Think Realty
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
FEMA

ember zone waldo

Five Areas with Higher Wildfire Risk Than You Might Think

RedZone has highlighted five lesser-known areas where homeowners have increased wildfire risk

  1. Mid-slope areas
  2. Areas Adjacent to Wildland Fuels
  3. In the Ember Zone
  4. In Urban Canyons
  5. Proximity to Highway Grade

Mid-Slope

Mid-slope is an area commonly thought of as midway up a hillside, in this case, were using in terms of how it’s viewed in a wildfire-prone area. Homes are built and bought in these areas which are one of the least safe places to be during a wildfire. Typically, wildfires burn up a slope faster and more intensely than along flat ground. The steeper the slope the longer the flame lengths and faster-moving the fire.  Any slope can potentially increase the amount of heat a structure will be subject to during a wildfire, enhancing wildfire risk.

Not only is a home in this area more at risk, fire-fighting operations there are increasingly dangerous as well. Just one example from a few years ago, a mid-slope fatality is now a lesson learned from the Coal Canyon Fire in Fall River County, South Dakota. Essentially, firefighting orders will not allow for crews to work mid-slope assignments above a fire without large defensible space or a barrier/structure. Due to the adherent wildfire risk, both Fire Prevention Divisions and Underwriting guidelines suggest an aggressive vegetation modification and maintenance plan if the home or business is located mid-slope or at the top of a steep slope. The insured must also be aware of building materials used, especially if the structure is set back less than 15 feet.

mid-slope home is a wildfire risk

A worrisome home built along a mid-slope road near Lake Elsinore, CA


Adjacent to Wildland Fuels

It is well known that neighborhoods in or bordering the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), have a greater risk for impact by wildfire. In depth studies have learned that within those neighborhoods, homes on the outskirts have a higher risk than those located more interior. One of the main reasons why homes bordering the natural vegetation are at a higher risk of ignition is the lack of any buffer between the structure and the surrounding vegetation. These homes are located in extremely close proximity to the natural vegetation of the surrounding area and, thus, vulnerable to more direct flame impingement. This effect is exacerbated if the individual property owner has not taken the time to prepare his or her land for the occurrence of a wildland fire threatening their property.

Conversely, homes within the development have defensive barriers surrounding them. The inner structures have roads separating them from the structures bordering the surrounding natural vegetation and topography. These interior homes also are more likely to have moisture-rich vegetation such as, lawns, gardens, and manicured brush, making for more difficult sources of ember ignition.

The Sage Fire, near Simi Valley, CA is a good example of the homes located on the outskirts of these neighborhoods being at higher risk than the ones located within. As the fire made a push upslope to the ridgeline, it also spread out following property barriers on the outskirts of the neighborhood. The homes bordering the flame front were at a very high risk of the fire finding an ignition source to endanger it. Homes deeper into the neighborhood were less vulnerable because of the barriers aforementioned and those provided by the outlying homes. In the case of the Sage fire, no homes were impacted due to a small fire break in the vegetation immediately bumping the properties.

sage fire map wildfire risk

2016 Sage Fire burned between dense neighborhoods in Simi Valley, CA


In the Ember Zone

The “Ember Zone” can be defined as the area that could potentially have ember fall out due to a fire burning in the near vicinity. This zone can be up to a mile away from an active wildfire, depending on the size of the fire and wind speed. These embers are thrown from the fire and carried by the wind in the direction that it is blowing. If embers are hot enough and land in a receptive fuel bed, this can lead to an ignition of a spot fire ahead of the active fires edge. Spot fires caused by embers pose a threat because they sometimes go unnoticed for an extended period of time by fire personnel. This is especially the case when spot fires ignite at a distance away from the head of the fire.  The longer the new start has to become established, the harder it is for firefighters to respond effectively to save structures in the path of the newly ignited spot fire.

Another way the Ember Zone can pose a threat to a homeowner would be the process of the embers being blown into uncovered vents on the home, or an ignition source located near or inside the home, resulting in a fire starting in the structure itself. An example of how the Ember Zone proved catastrophic is in the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado. This fire experienced a drastic wind shift during the second operational period. This wind shift threw embers upwards of half a mile in the direction of the structures located in Colorado Springs. 346 homes were lost in the tragic fire of 2012, some of these were a direct result of ember fall out. Others were lost because of their direct contact with the active fires edge.

waldo 2013 wildfire risk

Embers contributed to many of the 346 homes lost on the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2013 in Colorado Springs, CO


In Urban Canyons

San Diego is known for its mix of wild canyons in between urban, even historic, developed neighborhoods. Most canyons have homes butting up adjacent to the canyon walls, due to San Diego’s unique mesa and valley/canyon landscape. These canyons offer convenient hiking trails and a natural landscape that is unique in an urban environment.  They also provide heavy fuels, steep slopes, and human activity that lead to dangerous fires that often threaten homes. A relatively small wildfire can threaten many homes in these environments.

Examples of wildfires starting in urban canyons:
  • Poinsettia Fire – Destroyed 22 homes and burned 400 acres. Fire started on a golf course and rapidly spread up the canyon.
  • City Heights Fire – Less than 2 acres, but came within a few feet of homes within an hour of a fire being reported.
  • Manzanita Canyon – Several instances of homeless cooking fires getting out of control in the canyon.
urban canyon brings wildfire risk

Homes with little to no defensible space in a San Diego Urban Canyon


Proximity to Highway Grade

If you are considering buying a home near a highway grade, you may get a nice view but could also be at higher risk for wildfires. Steep highway grades add additional complexity and stress on vehicles. Traffic collisions, mechanical failure, electrical issues, and fuel system malfunctions can cause vehicle fires that can extend to vegetation as well. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there is an average of 152,000 vehicle fires per year in the United States. Poorly maintained vehicles, put under stress while climbing up or braking down grades, can break down. As the driver pulls over to the shoulder or off the road entirely, catalytic converters, brakes, dragging exhaust parts, or cigarette butts can ignite dry grasses along a highway. Also, improperly loaded trailers can drag chains; creating sparks that can ignite grasses as the vehicle passes by unknowingly. All of these things can happen at any point along a highway, but the added stress and heat generated by steep grades increases the likelihood of a fire starting and therefore wildfire risk.

Examples of large wildfires starting on major highways:
  • Blue Cut – Highway 15 along the Cajon Pass. Destroyed 105 homes and burned over 36,000 acres.
  • Springs Fire – Highway 101 along the Conejo Grade. Caused by an undetermined roadside ignition. Fire burned 15 homes but threatened 4,000 and burned 24,000 acres.  The fire burned until it hit the coast.
  • Grade Fire – Ridgewood Grade on Highway 101. Caused by a vehicle fire spreading to grass. Burned 900 acres.

SOURCES:

http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_protection/downloads/redsheet/Jesusita/JesusitaReviewReport.pdf

http://www.firehouse.com/article/10469914/which-factor-is-present-in-most-wildland-firefighting-fatalities-and-burnovers

https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/fatalityData/detail?fatalityId=3935

http://www.firesafemarin.org/topography

http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Vehicle-Use/

http://www.nfpa.org/public-education/by-topic/property-type-and-vehicles/vehicles

http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/TechnicalNotes/NIST.TN.1910.pdf

https://books.google.com/survivingwildfire

Hurricane Florence Starts its Assault on North Carolina

Hurricane Florence Current Situation

As of: 2100 UTC, Sep 13nd, 2018

  • Location: 100 miles ESE of Wilmington, NC
  • Size: Category 2
  • Maximum Sustained Winds: 100 mph
  • Present Movement: WNW at 5 mph
  • Minimum Central Pressure: 955 mb
  • Impact: Up to 11 feet of storm surge, heavy rain causing flash flooding
  • Incident Page: NHC Public Advisory
  • News Article: WunderBlog

Hurricane Florence Outlook

Hurricane Florence has started to impact North Carolina’s barrier islands. As it reaches landfall, the storm has been downgraded to a Category 2 Hurricane, but don’t let the category number fool you. Florence remains a massive and devastating hurricane. The storm continues to grow in area and is predicted to impact a large portion of the North and South Carolina coasts. Maximum sustained winds are hovering around 100 mph, with some higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend up to 80 miles from the eye of the storm. Some coastal areas are already seeing storm surge flooding.  At the peak of the event, areas around river outflows could be dealing with storm surges up to 11 feet. The greatest storm surge inundation is expected between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras where river outflow will meet the storm surge inundation.  Inland areas are not necessarily in the clear from the damage. Significant flash flooding and prolonged river flooding could extend as far as the Appalachians through early next week as the storm moves inland.

Nearly 2 million people are under hurricane Warning. Authorities are cautioning residents in evacuation zones to get out because first responders will not be able to perform rescues during the storm. Power outages are already affecting around 100,000 people and are expected to get worse as this incident continues.

Click here to look back on this year’s hurricane season outlook to see how the predictions are panning out.

View of the storm path and cone of uncertainty.

 

Predicted Flash Flooding Risk