First East Coast winter storm of the season

If you have been living under a rock the last few days, you might not know that the first big nor’easter of the 2015/2016 winter season is expected to hit the East Coast of the U.S. this weekend. This storm summary will focus on the insured impacts of and provide a historical context for this intensely forecasted event. However, it should be noted that much uncertainty accompanies the forecasts, so predicted impacts could change as the storm develops over the next two days.

The media hyp-o-meter around this storm is at an all-time high due to the fact that there is good agreement among all the various models we use that a big nor’easter is going to happen, and some of its impacts will be major or even record breaking.

 

Collapse from weight of snow
The biggest question that everyone wants answered is how much snow is going to fall. No one can accurately answer that question today, unfortunately. What we do know is that a number of factors will contribute to a high-moisture storm. In other words, there will be a lot of snow. It’s just not possible at this point to say where the most of the snow will fall – but plenty of forecasters are trying! I highly suggest following the local National Weather Services office for the most accurate snowfall forecasts.

NWS human-made snowfall grids look great ... continuous like a global model. Totals thru Sat 7 PM

NWS human-made snowfall grids look great … continuous like a global forecast model.  Totals thru Sat 7 PM. Source WeatherBell Ryan Maue

So far, the storm has slowly trended south on the weather models. Additionally, it has a very sharp temperature moisture gradient on the north side. Due to the uncertainties on the northern fringe of this storm, there’s going to be a razor thin margin between major snow and conversational snow. However, due to the lack of existing snow pack, collapse due to weight of snow at this point in the season is unlikely to cause insured losses to buildings with standard structural integrity.
Of course the first significant snowfall of the year also means drivers must adapt to slippery conditions which will result in accidents and higher auto related losses. Finally, the snow, ice and wind from this storm could also cause prolonged power outage which could results in insured losses.

 

Wind and flood risks
Despite the fact that most of the media coverage is focused on snowfall, potentially destructive wind and coastal flooding often go unreported. This storm is big and slow, and due to the tight pressure gradient, as the storm strengthens off the east coast, it will allow for a strong on-shore flow, which could cause damaging wind gusts and storm surge along the coast. Winds and flooding could cause serious issues for the insurance industry. Depending on its ultimate track, this storm has the potential to become one of the top 5-10 coastal flooding events for folks from the Jersey Shore into Virginia.

blizzard_storm_surge.png.CROP.promo-xlarge2

A National Weather Service storm surge model forecasts water levels more than 5 feet above normal in parts of New Jersey and New York, rivaling some of the biggest coastal floods in history.

To illustrate the threat posed by this storm, consider that an 8.5 foot tide level would rank in the top 8 tide levels of all time at Cape May, New Jersey. As illustrated by the chart below, the Extratropical water Level Guidance from the National Weather Service, highlights the wind/flood risk associated with storm surge guidance for various cities along the coast. For Cape May, NJ, you’ll see the highest tide cycle for this storm ends up at a water level of about 8.5-8.7 feet.

CapeMayNJSurge

For historical comparison in the same location, consider that Sandy produced a tide level of 8.9 feet, an October, 2011, storm produced a tide level of 8.7 feet, and a December, 1992, storm produced a tide level of 8.6 feet.

NE_StormSurgeChart

Forecast as of 01/21/2016 9:20: EST (units in feet MLLW)

Insured property along the coast or back bays of New Jersey, Delmarva, and Virginia, are likely to be the most impacted as the storm has the possibility of lasting 2-3 high tide cycles. If the storm track shifts a bit or the intensity changes, we could see these values change. It’s a fluid but serious forecast for the insurance industry: the coast is where the highest winds will hit, and those winds may gust as high as those of a tropical storm. Speaking of winds, expect severe storms to produce wind damage and possibly an isolated tornado across the state of Florida.

 

Insured Loss Analogs
Historically, the East Coast is no stranger to large nor’easters. In fact, last year’s large snow event and winter time insured losses should be fresh in the insurance industry’s mind given the record breaking snowfall over New England and one of the costliest winters ever for the industry.
On average over a 56-year period, 1.3 nor’easter occur every year, and 2.3 large snow storm events occur as defined by the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). In the last ten years, these non-inflation adjusted event level losses have averaged out to cost just over $300M per event.
The table below provides a few analog storms that resemble the forecast guidance for the current storm. Right now, the model guidance does not suggest a repeat of the first Superstorm / “Storm of the Century” (March 12 – 15th of 1993) which still stands as the costliest nor’easter to impact the insurance industry.
NE_SnowStormEventLossChart

CZM4ydEWEAMqCZ2

Source: http://www.eas.slu.edu/CIPS/ANALOG/analog.php

Are We Done with PCS Winter Storm Losses for 2014?

With February 28 marking the close of meteorological winter (December – February), a mountain of interesting stats are about to be released – so be prepared for media fact overload!

For the most part, these facts should show that points east of the Mississippi have experienced one of the coldest, snowiest winters since the late 1970s – and in some cases, depending on the area, the coldest, snowiest ever or at least since 1917. But, as last spring proved, the weather doesn’t pay close attention to the calendar. As a reminder, the north-central U.S. was cold and snowy with North Dakota having a record cold April and Duluth, MN having its snowiest month ever – helping to contribute to the fifth-largest April U.S. snow cover extent on record. Given the long-range forecasts, the extreme cold and some significant snow will continue in March, which will add to the records and likely create new ones.

The average U.S. temperature anomaly from Dec 1 – Feb 26 (shown below) clearly demonstrates the U.S. as a whole has been colder than the 30-year average. In fact, it would appear the U.S. has experienced 6 – 7 Polar Vortex episodes of cold air, when the nation’s average temperature anomaly dropped below -4 C (25 F). Interestingly, the nation as a whole was colder for a longer period of time during the first Polar Vortex outbreak during the second weekend in December than it was during the main event on January 5 – 8 – which the media dubbed the “Polar Vortex.”

Are we Done with PCS Winter Storm Losses for 2014?

Image Source: Weatherbell.com – Ryan Maue

To-date, PCS has estimated $1.5B in loss due to the media-dubbed “Polar Vortex.” This freezing, ice, snow and wind event brought blizzard-like conditions to some areas of the country, with cold air producing wind chills as low as -60 F and gusts of up to 45 miles per hour with white-out conditions. The cold temperatures often forced schools and businesses to close and caused water damage from frozen and burst pipes. The frontal system impacted many states as it moved south and east across the United States – including Mississippi and Georgia, which saw extensive damage from the wrath of this extreme event.

So far this meteorological winter season, five PCS Winter Storm events have contributed to $2.1B in loss – and $2B of that has come in 2014. Given that PCS digital records only go back to the 1950s and the PCS definition of a Winter Storm can be multifaceted (potentially including severe weather aspects such as tornadoes and hail) it is difficult to estimate the true Winter Storm component of PCS losses.

So… Have we seen the end of the Winter Storm losses for 2014?

Looking at the PCS Winter Storm data in January and February that include Winter Storm event perils such as snow, wind, ice, flooding and freezing – but exclude Severe Convective Storm  (SCS) event perils such as tornadoes and hail for states east of the Mississippi, the answer is essentially “yes” – with a projected 93% of the loss already incurred based on historical loss development. There are only five years on record when Winter Storm losses occurred in March, with the biggest impacts happening during the historic winter of 1976.

However, if you base the answer on the wider definition of Winter Storm perils, which include SCS events, we are not done yet. The U.S. could easily still experience a Winter Storm that creates severe weather such as tornadoes and hail across the southern states while producing Winter Storm-like perils across the north. A classic example of this type of PCS event is the March 12 – 14 1993 Storm of the Century, also known as the ’93 Superstorm (1993 PCS #46). The 1993 Superstorm still ranks as one of the costliest Winter Storm events of the 20th century, creating a PCS CPI adjusted loss of $2.8B. Based on the definition of Winter Storm that would include SCS perils, only 71% of losses have occurred thus far in 2014. With March roaring in like a lion and more cold, snow and severe weather forecasted for the eastern half of the nation over the next few weeks, we should anticipate adding yet more losses to the PCS Winter Storm total.