Andrew J Siffert, Assistant Vice President & Meteorologist with the BMS Analytical Services Team discusses the implications of Hurricane Sandy.

Superstorm Sandy made landfall October 29th just south of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite land falling as a post-tropical system, it left in its path some impressive weather statistics. Its central pressure was the lowest ever recorded for an Atlantic named storm, north of North Carolina, breaking a record set by the devastating ‘Long Island Express’ hurricane of 1938. It is also the first storm in recorded history to landfall in New Jersey at a perpendicular angle to the coastline. Furthermore, Sandy resulted in record surge heights along many parts of the East Coast including a tide surge reading of 14.60′ at Bergen Point, NJ. Its massive wind field had a diameter of tropical storm-force winds at landfall of 945 miles and is one of the largest ever recorded. Given Sandy’s uniqueness it should be no surprise that the cat models used by the insurance industry to understand hurricane risk would most likely have very few stochastic events that would provide guidance to the expected loss potential and should be used with caution when analyzing this event.

Sandy’s uniqueness has also raised many questions of the damage impact from aspects of the event which are not modeled or not modeled well. The exceptional size of the wind footprint, the scale of storm surge, the large number of lengthy power outages, and the impact to major infrastructure, have added to the considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the interpretation of insurance coverages, whether in relation to wind versus water, business interruption or windstorm deductibles.

Superstorm Sandy could easily place high on the list of the most costly hurricane losses for the insurance industry with insurance estimates ranging from $7 billion to over $20 billion and economic damage exceeding $50 billion. If Sandy causes $50 billion in economic damage (in 2012 dollars), it would rank as the 7th most damaging hurricane or tropical storm (out of 242) to hit the U.S. since 1900. The wake up factor is Sandy was far weaker than any other storm topping this list. Sandy was not even officially a hurricane when it made landfall along the U.S. coast. If Hurricane Irene in 2011, which impacted the Northeast as only a tropical storm, caused $4.3 billion in insured losses and didn’t raise questions as to how vulnerable the northeast coastline is, Superstorm Sandy will.

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