By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
What if we were to extend the hurricane season, by a week on the front end, let's say, and another two or even three weeks on the back end? That would move forward the start of the hurricane season from June 1 to May 23, and push back the end of the season from Nov. 30 to Dec. 15.
What would a three-week or month-long extension of the season do to property-catastrophe insurance rates?
Perish the thought. Hurricane Klaus sweeping up the East Coast or barreling into the Gulf Coast 10 days before Christmas, flooding stockings with flotsam? What kind of present is that from Bad Santa? No present at all.
But Mother Nature, hot and bothered this late in the season, appears to be warming to the idea of slapping the North American continent with some late-game reminders of just who's in charge.
The National Hurricane Center has tracked 19 named storms this season so far, with the latest-- Hurricane Tomas churning in the Atlantic at Category-1 strength--aiming on Friday, Nov. 5, for Haiti, the southeastern Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and the Cuban province of Guantanamo.
"Currently, the biggest threat to Haiti will be the heavy rain that is forecast to continue over the weekend, which could produce accumulations of up to 15 inches," said Neena Saith, senior catastrophe response manager at modeler Risk Management Solutions Inc., in a written statement on Friday.
Great, just what Haiti needed in the wake of a devastating earthquake last winter, which leveled the capital Port-au-Price and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.
In a statement issued Nov. 1, modeler AIR Worldwide Corp. said that the formation of Tomas as far south as Grenada this late in the year was "unprecedented." As of Nov. 5, the hurricane has caused more than $13 million in damage.
Peter Dailey, director of atmospheric science for Boston-based AIR, said that the company already accounts for the storms that occur outside of the conventional "hurricane season," so risk pricing is thus factored into the models. The June 1 and Nov. 30 dates are "arbitrary and do not influence model development," he said.
"As for the actual length of the hurricane season--it does appear that the hurricane season is getting longer, which relates to climate trends, and there is ongoing research on this topic," Dailey also said.
How the 2010 hurricane season stacks up with regard to last-season storms will eventually have to wait until all the data come in, but two unique developments in low-pressure systems during this year's season bear watching.
In the United States, October saw the second strongest nontropical or post-tropical low pressure system recorded in the continental United States, reinsurance intermediary Aon Benfield said. In September, the Atlantic was roiled by hurricanes Igor and Julia, both Category-4 storms, at the same time. It is the first time since 1999 that two major hurricanes have formed at the same time, according to weather forecasters.
"It's hard to pull conclusions from those events," said Lara Mowery, managing director and head of the global property specialty practice at reinsurance broker Guy Carpenter. "When you look back, you find constant anomalies collectively making up the norm."
Mowery said that property-catastrophe insurance contracts are placed on an annual basis, usually from Jan. 1 to Jan. 1 of the following year, or from June 1 to June 1.
"From a contractual standpoint, there's coverage no matter when events occur," she said.
November 5, 2010
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