The Great Galveston Storm of 1900
This barrier island along the gulf coast was home to millionaires and large elaborate mansions sprawling the coastline. The highest point of elevation being 8.7 feet above sea level, the community is ripe for devastation from a hurricane.
In the year 1900, this area was struck with a horrendous hurricane that would ultimately destroy the entirety of the community and kill an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people.
2018 Hurricane Season Quick Stats
Each spring, several predictive services release their forecasts for the upcoming Hurricane Season, which officially runs June 1 – Nov 30. While named storms can form outside of this range, they are significantly weaker and rarely reach hurricane strength levels.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
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.
- Timeline: Aug 30 – Sept 13, 2017
- Severely Impacted Areas: USVI, Puerto Rico, Georgia, Florida
- Maximum Sustained Winds: 180 mph
- Fatalities: 52 direct (wind-driven debris, storm surge), 82 indirect (heart attack, house fires, vehicle accidents)
- Damages: $64.76 Billion (5th costliest tropical cyclone on record)
Hurricane Irma’s Trek Across the Atlantic
This week marks the anniversary of Hurricane Irma forming and making landfall across the Southern United States. Tropical Storm Irma became a named storm on the 30th of August, 2017. It moved steadily across the Atlantic Ocean at 10-15 mph. A week later, now a Category 5 Hurricane, Irma passed by Puerto Rico narrowly missing it to the north. The storm continued skirting along the northern coasts of the Caribbean Islands including the Dominican Republic and then Cuba. Then, a glancing landfall moment happened along the North Cuban coastline, briefly weakening Irma to a Category 3 Hurricane as it turned north toward Florida.
Throughout Irma’s approach to the US Mainland, forecasts remained uncertain and models were not in agreement. Every update led to questions: would Miami or Orlando would be directly in the path, would the storm would move farther west and trail the Gulf Coast side of Florida, or would it shift a bit more west and come up the Gulf and end up hitting the Florida panhandle? One thing was certain – wherever landfall occurred, winds, rain, and storm surge were going to be affect a lot of people and infrastructure. Hurricane Irma ended up making landfall as a Category 3 Hurricane on September 10th, 2017, just south of Fort Myers along the SW part of Florida’s peninsula.
While power has been restored and roadways cleared, many areas still see the impacts of these storms. The Florida Keys and much of Florida’s peninsula experienced hurricane force winds, nearly a foot of rain, and around 10ft of storm surge. Cleaning up the wide-spread damage is a daunting undertaking; however, FEMA, charities from around the world, and community efforts came together to assist residents to get their areas back to habitable conditions. By October 1st, much of Key West’s historical district was back in operation and welcoming guests. Nearer the main land, the damage was more extensive. Some businesses and homeowners have chosen not to rebuild and now those that had less significant repairs have vacant lots as neighbors. Each family has to make the best decision for their circumstances and many chose to shift to a new location rather than go through the extensive rebuilding process.
When coming home after a storm, reentering the region, property, and structure safely is important. Ensuring flooding conditions haven’t led to moldy conditions, debris is properly removed, and the structure remains sound are just a few common checks. FEMA and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety shared Safety Guidelines useful to making this process as smooth as possible.
National Hurricane Center, The Weather Channel, FEMA
This year Hawaii has already experienced lava flows and earthquakes from the Kilauea eruption, now the state braces for high winds, flooding, mudslides, brushfires and even the possibility of tornadoes caused by the approaching Hurricane Lane. Hurricane Lane became a named storm on Wednesday August 15th off the southwestern coast of Mexico. The storm gradually strengthened, becoming a hurricane by that following Friday. As the hurricane churned its way slowly westward, early forecasts were already predicting the storms turn towards the Hawaiian Islands.
Rare for Hurricanes to Make landfall on the Islands
Hawaii is normally protected from approaching hurricanes because of cooler waters around the islands. An additional buffer is provided by a high pressure system that sits over the state during the majority of the hurricane season. Only two hurricanes have made landfall in Hawaii since the 50s. Hurricane Dot (1959) & Hurricane Iniki (1992). It has been a slow year in the Atlantic, but this year’s warmer than normal waters in the Pacific Ocean has fueled storms. Hurricane Lane, which briefly became a Category 5 hurricane on August 21st, is the 12th named Pacific Storm this year. The storm continued its track towards Hawaii with most forecasts predicting its path to skirt the islands before turning to the west. Lane weakened to a Category 3 on Thursday the 23rd but the outer bands of the hurricane began unleashing torrential rains over the islands. The Big Island recorded 8” of rain during these initial hours and landslides were already beginning to threaten homes and close roadways.
Hurricane Lane Current Conditions
Hurricane Lane continues to churn to the north, slowing its forward movement and dropping to a Category 2 today. The outer bands of the storm continue to bring downpours all over the islands with rainfall rates reaching 1 to 3 inches per hour. So far Hawaii’s Big Island has been the hardest hit, receiving 31 inches of rain as of this morning. Widespread flooding has inundated downtown Hilo and flash flood watches will remain in effect until at least Friday evening.
Evacuations have been issued for flood prone areas on the Big Island, Kauai, Molokai and Maui. There have also been reports of power outages and mudslides have closed several roads. Forecasters are confident the storm track will have the hurricane skirting the islands. Landfall, however, isn’t the biggest worry as the slow movement of the storm greatly increases the amount of rainfall that will impact the already water logged and slide prone slopes.
Ahead of the Rains High Winds Spread Brushfires
High winds associated with Hurricane Lane are also caused of a brushfire that ignited around 1am Friday morning near Lahaina, Maui. Fire fighters are currently battling the 300 plus acre fire which has prompted evacuations and already impacted numerous structures. Another fire near Kaanapali on Maui threatened homes and burned down a banana tree patch before being contained. Maui is expected to get over 8 inches of rain today which should help to extinguish the fires and allow fire fighters to gain containment, but the burn scars could exacerbate debris flows.
After its westward turn Lane is expected to lose strength, dropping to a tropical storm. The threat to Hawaii, however, will continue well into next week as the storm continue to drop heavy rainfall.
Hurricane season arrived early this year, as Subtropical Storm Alberto became the first named storm of the season late last week. Alberto ruined a Memorial Day weekend for the majority of the Gulf Coast as it doused the area with rain and even flooding. This anomaly subtropical storm actually came slightly earlier than the official start date of hurricane season. The official hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th for the Atlantic Ocean, and May 15th through November 30th for Eastern Pacific Ocean. After last fall’s major hurricane impacts, RedZone wanted to relay what the hurricane forecasts are predicting about the upcoming hurricane season.
Colorado State University releases an “Extended Range Forecast of Atlantic Seasonal Hurricane Activity and Landfall Strike Probability” report each year. This report is based off models that incorporate 30 years of atmospheric conditions, and hurricane data for statistical analysis. The current conditions in the Atlantic Ocean seem to be in a weak La Niña currently. This means that the oceans temperatures are relatively cooler than average. This is not conducive for hurricane formation and strengthening. As a reminder, ENSO, otherwise known as the El Niño and the Southern Oscillation, is the periodic fluctuation of sea surface temperature. The worry from the Oceanic forecast, though, is that the ENSO transitional phase will occur during the summer months. The thinking is, the transition from La Niña conditions into even a mild El Niño (warmer sea surface temperatures) could result in above normal hurricane activity this hurricane season.
This figure depicts the final analysis made by Colorado State University in totality regarding numbers related to the upcoming hurricane season. As you can see this year is expected to be above the 30 year average in every category that is shown. Below is a figure depicting FEMA’s modeling outlook for the Hurricane season. FEMA’s model shows very little variation from what Colorado State’s results were.
Have you ever wondered how home insurance companies deal with writing new policies in an ongoing disaster zone? Well the truthful answer is they don’t. For instance, when a large wildland fire is threatening homes or has the potential to, insurance carriers place a moratorium on the surrounding landscape. A moratorium is a temporary, but indefinite hold on writing any new home insurance policies within the blanket area that is declared. The purpose of this practice is to stop new customers who aren’t covered for fire, or other disaster related damages, from buying a policy right before the home is damaged. The problem is the geographic regions that are typically chosen for a moratorium are too large. The regions that are chosen usually include areas that are not threatened by the disaster in any way shape or form. This leaves an undesirable gap in business for both the insurers and possible policy holders. Here at RedZone we like to focus on utilizing technology coupled with expertise to solve complicated problems such as this one.
With advances in current wildfire modeling, insurance companies can have a more precise understanding of what is taking place on the ground currently, as well as what is likely to take place in the upcoming hours of the fire. Wildfire modeling accounts for the essential driving factors behind a wildfire so it can accurately depict where the fire is heading. You can read more about the aspects taken into account in RedZone’s Wildfire model here. By using a wildfire model, insurance companies can reduce the size of the geographic areas that are placed under a moratorium. Then the carriers will have an understanding of where the fire will be moving. This benefits both parties involved in many ways. If a home is not covered for wildfire, and a fire breaks out near the home it may spark an interest for the homeowner to obtain coverage on their home for fire. If the area that the home is located in is under a moratorium, the homeowner will not be able to purchase a policy for that type of coverage.
In the case of hurricanes, insurance carriers are even more precautious about writing new business when a storm of hurricane magnitude is approaching. The process of putting a moratorium in place for a storm begins when the National Weather Service declares a low pressure system to be of a tropical storm magnitude. You can learn more about hurricane formation and power at RedZone’s Blog on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Insurance companies immediately put a moratorium into effect for the projected zones that will be impacted by the incoming storm. These areas range from zip codes to counties and even expanding to encompass entire states that could possibly be impacted by the storm. A large portion of homes that are located in a moratorium of that size will likely not be affected by flooding or wind damage from the storm.
One of the ways that GIS (Geographic Information Systems) can help with this problem is with a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) Dataset. When loaded into a GIS this data will depict what the terrain on the ground will look like. These elevation layers coupled with flood plain data would give an accurate depiction of the level of threat to a structure. What has to be taken into account is that each storm is different. The flood data chosen must accurately match the expected rainfall from the storm in the general location. One solution is to utilize the most severe flood data available, so that the estimations are on the safer side. Another factor that needs to be considered is the damage that occurs from wind during one of these events. GIS is capable of running buffers based on the projected storm path. A buffer coinciding with the relative wind speeds that are capable of damaging homes would be a safe way of creating more accurate moratorium zones during a hurricane.