Reflections from the 2018 Windstorm Insurance Network Inc. Conference
This year’s “WIND” conference in Orlando, Florida marks the 18-year anniversary that folks from all over the U.S. have gathered to network, learn, and in many instances, conduct settlement talks on active cases to resolve issues involving wind losses and other perils covered by property insurance.
Without a doubt, this conference was very successful and well attended with a reported headcount of around a thousand professionals from various disciplines. However, I was somewhat surprised the attendance was not greater given what happened during the 2017 hurricane season.
So, what did happen in 2017? Well according to the gentleman from the National Hurricane Center who was the opening day keynote speaker, 2017 is in the record books for a couple of reasons. First, September was the most active tropical storm month ever recorded. Then we have the record broken for the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin which was Hurricane Irma. While those records were devastating to folks all over the Caribbean and Florida, some good news was reported.
According to the NHC, their 5-day forecasting ability broke all records which clearly is beneficial to everyone exposed to the windstorm peril. This year’s reports included flood forecasting for the first time. Why is the new flood component so important? Well, for a lot of us in the trenches, our experiences have taught us that often the flood peril precedes the wind and thus it is critical for people in flood zones to have a forecast of when the storm surge water will arrive before the winds make landfall. The NHC folks did stress that they are still working on fine tuning their intensity forecast. Many of the folks in the disaster business are well aware that the intensity of a storm can ramp up very quickly just based on the storm passing over a warm eddy of water in its path. And remember, Hurricane Maria went from a Cat 1 hurricane to a Cat 5 IN ONE DAY, a truly frightening event!
But first let’s not forget Hurricane Harvey in Texas and all the communities whose homes and businesses were destroyed by the unprecedented flooding in Houston and the wind losses in the Rockport area of Texas where Harvey first came ashore. It has been reported that damages from Hurricane Harvey are around $125 billion! Likely a lot of those losses are not insured due to limitations and exclusions for the flood peril which is just sad for those impacted.
So back to Irma and Maria, how bad it was depends on who you ask and what area you are talking about. Over on our side of the Gulf, Florida for the most part was spared. Of course, the folks in the lower Keys know how bad it was, as just north of Key West looked like a typical hurricane war zone. But as the storm crossed Florida Bay, the storm’s track fortunately shifted ever so slightly resulting in a Cat 1 hurricane up Florida’s spine and not the Cat 3 that was feared.
To me, all these September storm events explain why the “WIND” Conference was in my opinion not as well as attended. It’s a no brainer that folks in the disaster business are just totally overwhelmed with work from St. Maarten/St. Martin, Puerto Rico, B.V.I.’s, U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida. I know our staff is, but to us WIND is too important a learning event to miss and our guys adapted their schedules accordingly.
To put things in perspective, just consider the damages and claims that are being reported from just one side of the tiny island of St. Maarten in the Leeward Islands. This is an island I know well. The French Insurance Federation has reported that the losses on their side of this island and including St. Bart’s will result in the most expensive natural disaster in French history. That’s French as in the mother country, France
As of the closing days of January 2018, 24,700 claims have been reported with an expected loss valued at $2.23 billion. A whopping 95% of the buildings on the island have been damaged with 6,600 cars destroyed! And remember, this is on one side of a very small island in the Caribbean. The Dutch side that shares this island was equally hit as hard and I can tell you those losses are yet to be determined as there is no central insurance clearing organization. But the Dutch government in the Netherlands is putting a bridge loan/grant assistance package together of $550 million Euros which is outside of insurance payments just for Dutch St. Maarten. Then you have the B.V.I.’s, U. S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and last but not least Florida. It’s a real mess that too many property owners are still dealing with.
This past hurricane season is totally unbelievable to me. I have not seen anything like this. If the events in the latter months of 2017 are not a wakeup call to property owners, officials and law makers, I don’t know what will be. It’s time to be proactive. And to top it off, I just read that early predictions for this year’s coming hurricane season is going to be “active” with 2 to 3 major storms expected to hit the U. S.
Finally, I’d like to share a video from the New York Times which asks the question, “Are the Billion dollar storms the new norm?” Regardless of your political, social, or business perspective or feelings regarding global warming, the theme of this report has got to give all of us some pause to consider the bigger picture. Let us know what you think.