Authors: Martha Bane Robby Kunz
Until Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on September 28, four Category 4 hurricanes had hit the U.S. since 2017: Harvey, Irma, Maria and Ida. Ian brought that tally to five. With the addition of category 5 hurricanes, Michael brings that count to six.
As Floridians begin the seemingly insurmountable task of rebuilding their lives, homes and businesses, we must ask, what lessons have we learned to better protect ourselves from future events?
The good: searching for Hurricane Ian's silver lining
We feel it's important to find some semblance of good news for Floridians who have been battered by negative statistics and headlines — a light at the end of the tunnel. Insurance as a vehicle for recovery should inspire hope for a future in which residents and businesses alike can return to the lives they enjoyed and not be scared away from their homes and communities.
A Gallagher Re assessment of Hurricane Ian1 points out that global tropical cyclone activity has shown no "statistically significant increase with time" since 1851, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) began tracing storm paths. So while storms have seemed more frequent in recent memory, statistics suggest we are bound to enter a time of peace and quiet. The only question is when.
With each passing hurricane season, insureds in the Sunshine State undertake efforts to make their assets more climate resilient. Insureds who have proactively made these investments or retrofitted older buildings may find that Hurricane Ian was a proof of concept for those investments and is money well spent.
For example, a report from artificial intelligence solutions provider Arturo2 noted that metal roofs are designed to withstand hurricane-force winds of up to 160 mph, clay/concrete tiles are rated for 130 mph, and brand-new asphalt shingles typically fail at wind speeds of about 110 mph. For roofs with older or reclaimed asphalt shingles, wind resistance can drop as low as 50 mph.
Hard-hit communities in Ian's path experienced wind speeds of up to 140 mph. Fortunately, many homes in those regions were built — or rebuilt — after building codes were updated to require that homes can withstand wind speeds that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCI) predicts will return every 700 years. As this table from the Gallagher Re Hurricane Ian assessment1 shows, Hurricane's Ian's wind speed was below the 700-year wind speed for five example communities. If nothing else, this data should inspire confidence that Florida can build back better, stronger and more resilient.
||ASCE-7 Design Standard: Mean Recurrence Interval Wind Speed||Estimated Ian Wind Speed|
|Bonita Springs||117 mph||129 mph||159 mph||100-115 mph|
|Fort Myers Beach||118 mph||129 mph||159 mph||120-140 mph|
|Punta Gorda||113 mph||124 mph||151 mph||125-140 mph|
|Cape Coral||115 mph||127 mph||155 mph||125-140 mph|
|Kissimmee||105 mph||115 mph||140 mph||75-85 mph|
The bad: Storms are getting bigger, stronger, wetter and slower
Although tropical cyclone activity hasn't statistically increased with time, the storms themselves have changed. Hurricanes hold more water, linger longer over land and move slower, especially in lower-lying areas. This change — for which climate change is believed to be the key driver — leads to more water damage and flooding.
A recent study3 about water risk and resilience found that:
- Between 2022 and 2050, economic losses due to water-related risks could erase $5.6 trillion worth of global gross domestic product (GDP), and storms are projected to account for 49% of that number or $2.7 trillion.
- The global water cycle is changing in such a way that the volume of rainfall is increasing storm and flood risks.
- Extreme water events like storms, floods and droughts affected 100 million people in 2021 alone.