I have been focusing on Irma’s insurance impacts since August 28th and what a ride it has been as we finally start to close the book on this historic event. Thankfully, its U.S. story will not be as historic as some of the early forecasts were suggesting last week. As I talked about just yesterday, Irma made a last minute eastward shift in track which will ultimately reduce insured losses from what was previously expected. Below are some of the surprises that have occurred over the last 24 hours that likely changed the overall outcome of insured losses.
Surprise 1 – Shift in Track East
Irma’s shift in track east is likely going to result in a much lower loss for the insurance industry. If Irma would have stayed just off shore, this would have put the highest winds right along some of the more urban centers along the western coast of Florida. If you look at the BMS iVision 3-second wind swath below, you will see that although some of the strongest winds are right along the coast, the core of Irma’s wind went right up the spine of the Florida peninsula.
This is a fairly remote section of the state consisting of mostly isolated small towns and pasture land. If these high winds would have tracked 30 – 50 miles further west, a lot more damage would have occurred up the western coast of Florida. By the time Irma tracked into the more populated I-4 corridor, it had already weakened and its winds were not as strong as they were over the south central part of the state. The highest winds and degree of damage I have seen are from a swath from the southern Florida Keys up to Naples and Fort Myers, with Marco Island just south of Naples taking some of the highest damage outside of the Florida Keys.
Overall, minor damage has been reported in other parts of the state and, as mentioned yesterday, this damage will be localized, depending on individual risk construction types and the frictional effects around each risk. Overall, it would appear that the winds across much of Florida were a great test to Florida’s strict building codes, which are some of the highest in the nation.
Surprise 2 – Water could not be replaced fast enough
As I mentioned yesterday, water was being sucked out of the bays and inlets ahead of Irma’s northward track due to the offshore winds. In some places, the water dropped to record low levels – yes Record Low levels, not high levels. As an example, the water in Naples dropped to -5.68 feet which is the second lowest water level on record, but within two hours, the water rose over 9 feet, to 4.5 feet above mean sea level the highest on record.
So, the overall concern of high storm surge did not occur in many locations on the west coast of Florida because so much water was sucked away from the coast and could not be replaced fast enough, as Irma’s winds weakened during the track northward. This is not to say that some areas did not suffer storm surge damage. Everglade City and even the Miami area saw record high water, especially in the financial district of Miami. However the storm surge and flooding could have been much worse in cities like Tampa or Sarasota which will decease the overall insured losses from Irma.
Surprise 3 – East Coast Storm Surge
To some it was a bit surprising to see the high levels of surge and water damage along the eastern coast of Florida where the constant onshore winds allowed for record water build-up in the Jacksonville area. As shown in the BMS iVision wind duration product above.
Surprise 4 – Power Outages
7 million customers were without power at one point. This is far more than the roughly 3 million that was predicted leading up to Irma’s landfall. However, with the high number of tree fall reports and high winds across the area, the number of outages is understandable. This also mean there could be more tree fall on structure that caused damage as well increasing the insured loss. Power-outages could also cause issues for business increase BI related losses.
BREAKING: Irma power outages climb to more than 7 million homes, businesses in several states; majority in Florida. https://t.co/C3mrL4dSL7
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 11, 2017
Overall, the historic insured losses that were predicted even 24 hours ago will turn out to be wrong and although large losses will occur across the industry, there is a good chance that the Caribbean losses will be higher than what will be experienced in the U.S.. There are also many other factor that will also come into play as insurance losses are accounted for. Irma could heighten the AOB issue that is ongoing in Florida because there is already a shortage of claims adjusters due to Harvey just a few weeks ago.