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It’s time to prepare for 2020’s anticipated “above average” hurricane season.

As if 2020 wasn’t already an eventful year, this year’s Atlantic hurricane season is predicted to be “above average.” And, according to both International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the NOAA/NWS Climate Prediction Center (CPC), models suggest it is increasingly more likely that we will see a La Niña event to add fuel to hurricane activity; particularly between August-October 2020.

The 2019 season caused less damage, just USD 13B compared with USD 50B and USD 220B in 2018 and 2017, respectively. But the storms moved slower and dropped significantly more rain. Systems are also developing and intensifying in strange places, including the far eastern Atlantic. And that, combined with the slower moving storms, makes forecasters worry about what’s in store for future seasons.

In 2018 and 2019, even without La Niña, we saw 15 and 18 named storms, respectively. The likely culprit, according to Weather Underground: “consistently and unusually warm sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic basin. This occurred in tandem with widespread global oceanic warmth in both 2018 and 2019—a flashing-red indicator of human-produced climate change. The Atlantic is starting out 2020 in a similar overheated state.”

La Niña is the name for half of the temporary changes in the climate of the Pacific Ocean; the other half is called El Niño. According to the National Weather Service, La Niña exists when cooler than usual ocean temperatures occur in the eastern Pacific. The relationship between El Niño and La Niña events is rather complex. The National Weather Service has a lot of helpful information.

So, how does La Niña increase Atlantic basin hurricane activity? Again, the NWS, has the explanation: vertical wind shear, the change in wind speed and direction between 5,000 - 35,000’ above the ground can tear apart developing hurricanes or even prevent them from forming in the first place. La Niña weakens vertical wind shear, which can contribute to greater hurricane activity. Again, there’s a lot more to it.

Could the COVID-19 pandemic affect the 2020 hurricane season? With the start of the season coming June 1 and the lingering uncertainty around COVID-19, it’s hard to say what the effects might be. But despite the uncertainty, there are some things we need to consider.

Storm Preparation
When a hurricane is bearing down to make landfall, homeowners and business owners typically head to stores for supplies and materials like plywood, screws, generators. We’ve seen the long lines of people trying to buy what they need before supplies run out in previous years. What might play out in a retail environment complicated by COVID-19?

  • Social Distancing Restrictions. Many grocery stores and other essential businesses began limiting the number of people allowed inside, to help ensure social distancing. Certainly, steps like this have the potential to cause significant delays and logistical concerns, including need for enhanced security and traffic/crowd control.
  • Hoarding. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleansers. Early restrictions and uncertainty helped fuel panic buying. Fear of home damage combined with COVID-19 uncertainty could drive similar behavior with hurricane preparedness supplies.
  • Supply Chain Impact. The pandemic has already caused disruption to the global supply chain. How COVID-19 will continue to have an impact remains to be seen. 

Given these potential challenges, advance preparation to protect property is more important than ever. To help, AXA XL Risk Consulting’s property risk engineers prepared some helpful checklists for severe weather planning.

 

Fortunately, greater adoption of claims technology has already proven helpful in managing claims in past natural catastrophe events and will be employed again to reach difficult areas.

Evacuations
Getting people to heed evacuation orders can be challenging in normal circumstances. A tornado outbreak across the southeast of the United States in late March raised questions about wisdom of going to a crowded shelter in the midst of the pandemic. The American Meteorological Society issued guidelines for staying safe in shelters, however there were community shelters that were not opening out of safety concerns.

  • First responders. Police, fire and other officials could be stretched thin to manage traffic and enforce security and mandatory evacuations sooner and in greater numbers.
  • Healthcare. Should there be a rise in COVID-19 infections along with injuries and illness directly resulting from the storm and its aftermath, an increased burden on healthcare facilities could certainly occur.
  • Shelters. If social distancing is required, more shelters would be needed to avoid super spreader conditions. Need for PPE (personal protective equipment) – already in short supply – for shelter operators and users will increase.
  • Outbreak Spikes. Despite best efforts to maintain social distancing in shelters or stores and other public areas, an increase in COVID-19 infections could occur.

Claims Response
Hurricane damage to property requires timely attention. Claims teams are typically among the first on the scene following a cat event. Depending on how COVID-19 social distancing restrictions continue into hurricane season, claims may require use of new technologies such as drones to assess damage from a distance. Fortunately, greater adoption of claims technology has already proven helpful in managing claims in past natural catastrophe events and will be employed again to reach difficult areas.

Uncertainty around this year’s hurricane season is significant. Not only are there concerns of an above average season, those concerns are further complicated by the potential for a La Niña event and added questions of COVID-19-related risks.

Despite the uncertainty, there are certainly a few things businesses can do now to prepare for whatever this hurricane season brings:

  • Stay informed. Knowledge is your best defense. Subscribe to updates and alerts from FEMA, National Weather Service/NOAA in addition to your state and local authorities.
  • Update plans. Take the time now to update disaster plans and account for COVID-19-related variables.
  • Replenish supplies. Get ready in advance and replenish the supplies you need before a storm is imminent.
  • Have a look at our Severe Weather Planning Checklist for a list of loss prevention suggestions.

 

 

About the Authors
Scott Ewing is Americas Engineering Leader, Property Risk Engineering, AXA XL Risk Consulting and can be reached at scott.ewing@axaxl.com. Mark Evans is AXA XL’s Head of Energy, Property, Construction Claims for the Americas and can be reached at mark.evans@axaxl.com.



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