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BMS Tropical Update 9/7/2017 12 PM CDT

The Critical Turn North

We are now in the critical 72-hour window before Irma’s expected interaction with south Florida.  The model runs overnight have been fairly consistent, but for a 72-hour forecast, there still seems to be a considerable amount of spread in the timing of the northward turn.  I have been blogging about what is causing this northward turn since last Friday, which is a trough of low pressure now positioned over the eastern half of the U.S.  I have also been mentioning that Irma would be breaking all sorts of records, which is certainly the case, as only three other Atlantic hurricanes have logged more time as a Category 5 hurricane than Irma.

What we know about Irma over the next few days

  • Irma will be a major Category 4 hurricane, and perhaps even a Category 5, as it approaches south Florida.
  • The likelihood of a landfall in south Florida is currently 85%.
  • The severity of impacts to Georgia and the Carolinas will ultimately be determined based on whether Irma makes landfall along south Florida or if Irma tracks up Florida’s east coast.
  • There is still a 55% chance that Irma will make landfall along the Florida Keys or points along the southwest coast of Florida.
  • Several models also turn Irma northward before a south Florida landfall which would result in less damage to Florida.
  • Based on my analysis of catastrophic model stochastic events, any Category 4 hurricane making landfall in south Florida will likely create at least a $10 billion insured loss event.

Uncertainty in Irma’s forecast improving

Although there is still a high amount of uncertainty in the short range forecasts, the evening forecast models are converging on the idea that Irma will be extremely close to south Florida by late Saturday night with a possible landfall early Sunday morning.  I have seen only a handful of models that do not bring hurricane-force winds to south Florida.  Most forecast models at this time suggest that winds in excess of 115 mph are possible across the major metropolitan corridor of south Florida.  I expect Irma to grow in size as it approaches south Florida, with hurricane-force winds easily extending 50 miles from the center of the storm.  However, if Irma tracks up the east coast of Florida, the strongest winds would stay on the right side of the storm, similar to what occurred with Matthew.  Irma looks like it could be larger in size than Matthew at this point in time though, so hurricane-force winds would likely have a greater reach inland than Matthew even if Irma tracks up Florida’s eastern coastline.


Depending on whether Irma makes landfall, the impacts beyond Florida could vary.  If Irma tracks up the middle of Florida, it would likely be in a much weakened state as it tracks northward.  If it stays just off the shores of eastern Florida, the hurricane would be in a much stronger state as it tracks up the coast toward Georgia and the Carolinas due to continuously being able to feed off the warm gulf stream waters, and it would likely be a major hurricane at any landfall points north.  Currently, for this model scenario, the border between South Carolina and North Carolina has the highest likelihood of landfall at 60%.

Specific Impacts

Wind Damage

With Irma’s forecast cone of uncertainty shrinking, the BMS iVision Verisk Climate wind swath product is providing its first views of what the expected wind damage across south Florida might look like as Irma makes its turn north.  It should be noted, however, that this is just one scenario of many that is still possible.

Storm surge

At this time it is too early to determine storm surge.  I expect the NHC to run scenarios based on the NHC official forecast beginning Friday.  They have already issued storm surge watches for much of south Florida.  Currently, Irma  is not a worst case scenario for storm surge.   At this point areas along the coastline could expect 5 – 10 feet of storm surge, which is highly dependent on storm movement and location.

Rainfall

At this point it looks like Irma should be relatively progressive, so unlike Harvey, it should not stall out over the Southeast.  However, large amounts of rain in excess of 15” could still fall over Florida as Irma tracks northward over the weekend and into early next week.  These rainfall forecasts will be revised over the next few days.

Irma’s Insured loss

Irma will likely already go down as one of the newest realistic disaster scenarios for the damage it has caused on the Caribbean islands, so I have little doubt the industry will be talking about its impacts to the area for decades to come.  Irma passed 50 miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, last night.  At that time, the strongest hurricane-force winds were on the north side of the storm and extended out from the center of the storm at an estimated 50 miles.  This is important because it appears that the northern coastline of Puerto Rico was spared widespread damage as the strongest winds stayed just offshore, although some local damage is being reported across social media.  This serves as a great example of why the storm track in relation to the radius of hurricane-force winds is critical in understanding the impacts we might see as Irma tracks up the East Coast of the U.S.  The catastrophe modeling companies are releasing event sets to help determine these impacts, but it is premature at this time to share the details of these losses aside from saying the losses will reach into the billions.

Over the last several days I have tried to finding analog events to match Irma’s intensity and there are very few.  Although there is less uncertainty in the forecast track today, there are too many different solutions, and how those solutions unfold could have a large impact on the heavily insured south Florida coastline.  Given these sensitivities, a difference of even 20 miles can influence loss amounts by the billions.

The catastrophe modeling companies should start issuing their pre-landfall preliminary set of tracks tomorrow which will give some early estimates, but these estimates will also change.  I think even tomorrow there will still be some uncertainty on the track Irma will take northward, either over Florida or off the coast.  As I mentioned, in a search for Category 4 events that make landfall in south Florida, it is hard to find an event with under $10 billion in insured loss.

BMS Tropical Update – Hurricane IRMA GoToWebinar

Due to popular demand for today’s webinar on Hurricane IRMA (4p ET/3p CT), we have changed the weblink for the webinar.

Please use the link below to register for the Webinar.

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7514724755448183553

Andy Siffert, VP/Meteorologist will be providing an update on Irma’s forecasted track and intensity.

Additionally, Julie Serakos, EVP and head of Cat Analytics will provide a modeling update and Kris Westall, COO and Urban Friesz, VP will provide an update on claims and accounting services.

Please join us for this important update.

BMS Tropical Update 9/6/2017 1 PM CDT

One For The Record Books

It appears that the global models have a common case of the flip-flops over the last 48 hours, which is typical with a complex forecast situation. We are also seeing some of the history books on hurricane intensity being rewritten. Based on information received from Phil Klotzbach at Colorado State University, Irma has now had a maximum wind of 180 mph+ for the past 24 hours, which is an Atlantic Basin record in the satellite era. This is just one of the many records Irma is breaking, and unfortunately it’s not done yet as it is still a Category 5 hurricane.

Caribbean Islands take a direct hit

Irma crossed several Caribbean islands overnight and is now moving in a slight west-northwest direction at 16 mph, placing it very near the U.S and British Virgin Islands. The damage I have been seeing across social media on many of these islands is heavy. This is to be expected from a Category 5 hurricane, as even some of the strongest buildings can sustain damage.

Below is a once in a lifetime sunrise as the northern Caribbean islands of Angulla, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten and St. Barts saw daylight break in the eye of the most powerful hurricane to impact these islands in recorded history.

 

Model Flip Flop and Irma’s Future Track
As we continue to watch Hurricane Irma strengthen and shatter the record books on intensity, the question of where Irma will go this weekend is still hanging in the air.  It’s all about the turn north, but when and where will that occur?
As I have been saying since Friday, a potential turn north all has to do with a weakness in the Bermuda high that will develop as a result of the passing of an upper level trough of low pressure on the East Coast. This turn north is very critical in determining Irma’s future track and any resulting impact to the U.S. insurance industry. This past weekend, we saw a lot of model guidance suggesting the possibility of Irma tracking up Florida’s east coast. On Monday and earlier Tuesday, the general model guidance was suggesting that Irma might track closer to the Florida Keys. As of last night and this morning, the model guidance is back to suggesting that Irma could track up Florida’s east coast. This is a classic case of model flip-flop in a very complex weather pattern, and the west and east coasts of Florida are still very much on the table as potential tracks for Irma. However, as I talked about yesterday, if you forecast with the trend, the trend is currently moving towards a track up the east coast of Florida.

Current Water Vapor Image detailing the global weather systems at play causing the model flip flop

The image above is the latest water vapor satellite image of North America. In this image, note the area labeled key polar shortwave. This is the shortwave that needs to be watched very carefully. This disturbance is forecasted to dive rapidly into the Mississippi River Valley within the next three days. The timing of this shortwave may cause it to interact with Irma as the storm moves into the Bahamas.
The concern here is that if this shortwave is stronger than some of the models suggest, than the upper level low will be able to form more quickly. If the upper level low forms faster in the Tennessee River Valley than expected, Irma will be forced to turn northward sooner over the Bahamas, and thus would become a threat for the Carolinas and possibly even Virginia. The possibility of Irma escaping out into the Atlantic Ocean with no landfall is still quite unlikely due to the position of the Bermuda high.
The location of this key polar shortwave is what I think is causing some of the model flip flop because that polar shortwave is in an area of poor sampling.  Therefore the global model guidance used to forecast Irma’s track has a high degree of error, and also why there is so much volatility in the models from run to run. The shortwave is also why the threat of Irma tracking east of Florida to locations further north to North Carolina remains on the table today. However, as I highlighted in yesterday’s post, a track into the Florida Keys and up the west coast of Florida is still a possibility – it’s just not a favorite model solution today.  As shown below, even the NHC official forecast for days four and five are seeing large adjustments, and these forecasts have errors of 175 and 225 statute miles, respectively.

With so many models, it is important to keep track of which model is performing the best. Currently, the ECMWF has the lowest track error at days 4 and 5.

 

This is the current ECMWF and its ensemble of probability. Currently, Florida is at the highest risk of seeing Irma landfall. However, many model members of the ensemble also track Irma into the Florida Keys and up the East Coast.

 


Irma’s future intensity
While the models have a case of the flip-flops in terms of the forecasted track, what is remarkable is that there is very little disagreement on Irma’s future intensity. Since last Friday when I first started writing about Irma, it was well forecasted to become a major Category 4 or 5 hurricane impacting the northern Leeward Islands. These forecasts have been remarkably consistent in an era when forecasting intensity is typically the biggest challenge.

At this time it looks like Irma will track far enough away from the mountainous Hispaniola, which would have a significant impact on the circulation of the storm. Because of this and the warm sea surface temperatures along Irma’s track, the models have been forecasting a major hurricane to impact the southern Bahamas and south Florida for several days now and they are not backing away from this prediction.  At this point it is a very safe bet, depending on track, that Irma will be a major hurricane (likely a Category 4 or stronger) near Florida by early Sunday morning. If Irma does not make landfall in Florida, the areas along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas should also be prepared for a major hurricane landfall.

 

Current water average water temperature along Irma’s forecasted path. 29.3C is 84.7F

 

New Analog Events and Insured Loss

I have been trying to find analog events for Irma, but there are very few events of this intensity that have tracked up the east coast of Florida. The events I provided yesterday would still fit in the model solutions today. However, David 1979 could be used as another possible Florida analog impact, but it was a weaker Category 2 hurricane as it tracked up Florida’s east coast. Due to the current intensity, any historical loss comparison can’t really be used at this time because Irma is expected to be a much stronger storm than anything I could find that has tracked up the east coast of Florida.

With the forecast uncertainty around the potential turn north, it is too early to provide detail on what potential losses could occur. However, just taking a glance at some of the disaster scenarios from catastrophe models, any hit at Category 4 or greater to southern Florida would be at least a $15 billion loss. Some of these scenarios only go up depending on the landfall location, such as a $100 billion loss or even greater, from a direct Miami hit. The ranges of potential losses are great. Matthew, however, showed us that if a storm can track just offshore, it can spare large levels of loss.

Special BMS Webinar Tomorrow

BMS Tropical Update – Hurricane IRMA GoToWebinar

Due to popular demand for today’s webinar on Hurricane IRMA (4p ET/3p CT), we have changed the weblink for the webinar.

Please use the link below to register for the Webinar.

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7514724755448183553

Andy Siffert, VP/Meteorologist will be providing an update on Irma’s forecasted track and intensity.

Additionally, Julie Serakos, EVP and head of Cat Analytics will provide a modeling update and Kris Westall, COO and Urban Friesz, VP will provide an update on claims and accounting services.

Please join us for this important update.

BMS launches BMS Iberia

BMS Group Limited (“BMS”), the independent specialist insurance and reinsurance broker, today announces the launch of a new European venture, BMS Iberia. The operation will be spearheaded by recently-appointed directors Fernando Claro in Madrid and Domingo Albi in Seville, and will report to BMS M.D. & Head of International, David Battman.

Fernando Claro has twenty years’ experience in the Spanish insurance market, having held a succession of senior roles at Marsh Spain, most recently as head of Financial & Professional Lines (FinPro) and M&A at Marsh Spain. Albi joins BMS Iberia with nearly twenty years’ experience and is a recognised market leader in arranging insurance for sports associations and professional colleges, previously at Aon and Marsh.

The launch of BMS Iberia is consistent with BMS’s global integrated hub-and-spoke strategy and will complement its existing international operations, focusing at the outset on a core product offering of financial and professional lines, affinity and reinsurance. It will work closely with broking teams in London and Miami to place inbound reinsurance from Latin America and the Caribbean, plus reinsurance and retrocession from Madrid into London. BMS Iberia will also help expand the work of BMS’s global practice group for affinity.

The new venture will provide BMS with a long-term solution for accessing business in the European Union post-Brexit.

David Battman commented: “Our aim is to bring something new to the Spanish and Portuguese markets. We believe that our target client base – corporations, independent retail brokers, professional and sports associations, MGAs and insurers – is seeking a new type of broker that simultaneously offers real expertise, focusing on the customer through personal service and the use of technology.”

“As BMS expands, we see our entrepreneurial culture attracting the very best talent in the market, and expect to make further hires from a variety of sources in the near future.”

BMS Tropical Update 9/5/2017 12 PM

Irma Heading Into The History Books

I mentioned in Friday’s BMS Tropical Update that Irma would become a major hurricane, possibly a Category 5, near the Leeward Islands. As of this morning, Irma can be found 180 miles east of Antigua and moving at 14 mph, officially a Category 5 hurricane. In terms of wind, Irma is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Basin since Felix 2007, and in terms of pressure, the strongest since Igor 2010. Regardless of history and what records might be broken by Irma over the next few days, the fact is that it’s a large and dangerous hurricane not seen in the Atlantic Basin in a long time, and it likely won’t weaken below a major hurricane this week as it tracks closer to the U.S. coastline.

In the short term, Irma will remain a major hurricane as it impacts the northern Leeward Islands later tonight and into tomorrow. These small islands will likely suffer a significant amount of damage as it has been a very long time since a hurricane of this magnitude has impacted these islands (e.g., David 1979 and Sept 1928).

Only 2 Category 5 in NOAA’s best track database w/in 200 nm of the Northern Leeward Islands: David (’79) and Sep. 1928. Both were Category 5 after center passed Leewards Islands.

Irma will track into the southern Bahamas toward the end of this week. There is a chance Irma could weaken slightly due to land interaction with the northern Caribbean islands, but the water in Irma’s path has plenty of energy, which will limit any weakening in the coming days.

The tropical cyclone heat potential (TCHP), is defined as a measure of the integrated vertical temperature from the sea surface to the depth of the 26°C (78.8°F) isotherm. The warmer the more fuel for hurricanes.

Meteorological Rule of Thumb

In my last update, I mentioned that Irma’s ultimate track could be influenced by a trough of low pressure that is now moving into the Upper Midwest and will be hanging around the East Coast for the next several days. Below is a great illustration I found by Philippe Papin, a PhD student studying atmospheric sciences at the University of Albany.


As Philippe mentions, Irma will be moving along the southern edge of the Bermuda high pressure over the next several days. At the same time, a deep trough of low pressure will be moving to the East Coast. This steering flow around the high and the deep trough will begin to turn Irma to the northwest later this week. However, the combination of the trough of low pressure, which gets elongated along the East Coast later this week, and the strength of the Bermuda high likely won’t allow for Irma to turn north before it gets to the Florida coastline. However, what will likely happen is that it will allow for an abrupt northward turn in Irma’s track later this weekend as the storm is near south Florida, when Irma is on the southwestern periphery of the Bermuda high. This abrupt change in track northward means Irma could significantly slow its forward motion as it turns northward late this weekend into early next week. This increases the chance of major inland flooding due to its slower forward motion.

All of this meteorological assumption is based on an understanding of large scale atmospheric motion 120 hours from now, which is five days. Although five day forecasts are improving, small details in the large scale motion can have a big impact on where Irma ultimately makes landfall. In fact, the NHC track errors on a four and five day forecast are 175 and 225 statute miles, respectively.

According to the University of Albany, which keeps track of model forecast errors, the NHC’s five day forecast error is currently running about 200 miles.

Current mean absolute error for Irma forecast tracks from various weather models.

Keep your eye on the ECMWF model, which currently has a very low track error, but overall it’s bound to errors as well. Just look at how the 10-day ECMWF ensemble forecast (an ensemble is a forecast of 52 similar forecasts with different settings) has already evolved for Irma since Friday.

This is the ECMWF Ensemble Forecast from last Friday of all the various track scenarios for Irma.

Irma has been consistently defying the modeling of a northward turn up the East Coast, which was the most common model ensemble solution last Friday. Today fewer ensemble forecasts track Irma in between Bermuda and the East Coast.

This is last nights ECMWF Ensemble forecast which show a much more westward track.

In fact, as I talked about the recurving typhoon rule in my Friday post, I was thinking of another rule that is taught in meteorology school – don’t forecast against the trend. In this case, the trend has been for Irma to track further westward, meaning the chances of Irma ending up in the eastern Gulf of Mexico early next week are much higher today than even just a few days ago. Regardless, Irma will likely have an impact on south Florida along its forecasted path. Based on the latest forecast, there is an 80% chance that Florida will see a major landfalling hurricane.

Initial Insurance Analog Events For Irma

The probability is high because Irma will be a very large hurricane this weekend, with a large eye and hurricane force winds that could extend out from the center for up to 50 miles. With the southern part of Florida only being separated by just over 100 miles from east to west, it seems very likely that some part of southern Florida will be exposed to hurricane force winds.
At this point, the insurance industry should be preparing for another U.S. landfalling hurricane. To help understand the potential impacts at this early stage, a few analogs come to mind. Donna 1960 could be a good analog to the forecasted track of Irma over the next few days. If Donna occurred today, the Florida wind and surge insured losses could amount to $13.6 billion according to one catastrophe modeling firm. Potentially a more extreme analog might be the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which today would cause an estimated insured loss from wind and surge for Florida at around $40.7 billion.

There is still a great deal of uncertainty in the forecast for later this weekend, and there are many different scenarios that could play out. One thing for certain is that there has been a large population growth in Florida with a 27% increase in the number of homes since 2000, according to the U.S Census. The exposure is significant, and if Irma arrives with major hurricane force winds, the current building codes over much of the state will likely be challenged.

BMS Tropical Update 9/1/2017 12 PM

As mentioned in the last BMS Tropical Update, it’s a bit early to determine where hurricane Irma will be heading 10 to 15 days from now, which is when it could be eyeing a potential U.S. coastline impact. However, as much of the U.S. insurance industry heads into a long weekend, here is what my gut thinks will happen with Irma over the next 10 days.

When forecasting in the long range, it is important to look at what is occurring worldwide. There is a very good chance that Irma’s future track will be influenced by what is going on in the West Pacific. Currently there is a typhoon named Sanvu southeast of Japan. This typhoon is expected to recurve into the westerlies over the next few days.

Current location and track of Typhoon Sanvu in the West Pacific Ocean

There is a general rule of thumb in meteorology that when this occurs, it could cause a trough of low pressure to move towards the U.S. East Coast between 6 to 10 days later. This means that if the typhoon recurves as forecasted over the next few days, a trough of low pressure could potentially be on the East Coast sometime between September 7th and 11th. In fact, some global models are picking up on this trough of low pressure for next week. Some even produce the first frost of the season for parts of the Upper Midwest, so it will have some punch.
Around September 7th and 8th, Irma will be a major hurricane and will likely be a Category 4 or perhaps even a Category 5 over or near the Leeward Islands. This will result in three potential scenarios for later next week, based on the forecasted trough of low pressure and Irma’s latitude at that time:

  1. Irma could be at a high enough latitude that it gets pulled north by this trough of low pressure, similar to Gret’s path the second week of August, and recurve in between the U.S. and Bermuda.
  2. Irma could be at a low enough latitude that it misses getting pulled into the trough of low pressure and tracks south of Puerto Rico, perhaps into the Gulf of Mexico.
  3. If Irma is near the Northern Leeward Islands, it could get pulled up by the trough of low pressure, but miss the full connection, and head towards Florida and the East Coast with a close landfall threat later the following week.

Right now this might be the best graphic I have found on the future of Irma. Its based on the ECMWF Model, but it provides a good long range outlook at this time of the three opitons above. Source The Weather Channel

 

Based on the current forecast of Irma being a major hurricane near the Leeward Island next week here is a history of all the major hurricane over this forecasted area and where they tracked. It follows The Weather Channel guidance nicely, but keep in mind this is history and not a forecast.

At the start of the season, I thought the East Coast was going to be the biggest threat of landfalling storms in the U.S., and I don’t see a reason why that should change. Based on the forecast and history, there is currently a 60% chance of Irma impacting the U.S as at least a tropical storm, and  a 30% chance of seeing a major hurricane impact at this time.

As a reminder, I still feel that the MJO will make it more difficult for new storm formation between September 10th and 25th, so the peak of the season could be quiet for new development.