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Warning of 20% increase in losses from US hurricanes by 2050

Storm damage: flood water pours into a subway station in New Jersey in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy reached the New York and New Jersey area. A new report has looked at how climate change may affect hurricane risk in the US during the next 30 years (File photograph by AP/Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

An increase in frequency of hurricanes, coupled with additional storm surge flooding due to sea levels rising, would result in financial losses in the United States being 20 per cent greater by 2050 than they are today.

That is the finding of report that looked at how climate change may affect hurricane risk in the US during the next 30 years.

“While climate change is likely to affect hurricanes in multiple ways, the report highlights two important aspects: an increase in the frequency of the strongest storms, and additional storm surge flooding due to sea level rise,“ Albert Benchimol, president and chief executive officer at Axis Capital Holdings Ltd, said.

Bermudian-based Axis, along with experts from Brookings Institution and catastrophe modelling firm AIR Worldwide, collaborated on the 44-page report titled Quantifying the Impact from Climate change on US Hurricane Risk. It looked specifically at financial losses related to residential and commercial properties.

The report highlighted that a growth in the number of stronger storms, and landfalling storms overall, increased modelled losses by approximately 20 per cent, with slightly larger changes in areas such as the Gulf and southeast coast.

The report explored future hurricane-generated storm surge losses for selected study areas around New York, Houston, and Miami, as indicators of the additional risk created by rising sea levels, and showed that increased event frequency and sea level rise “will have a meaningful impact on future damage”.

Loss increases extended to inland areas, as stronger storms may penetrate farther from the coast. The report found that the impacts from sea level rise, using the analysis of storm surge for New York, Miami, and Houston suggested that by 2050 sea level rise may increase storm surge losses by anywhere from one-third to a factor of almost two, with larger impacts possible.

Dr Peter Sousounis, vice-president and director of climate change research, AIR Worldwide, said: “This analysis points to increased damage and losses from hurricanes without factoring in any changes to the concentration of property exposure along the coast.

“With more intense hurricanes making landfall, and storm surges from more strong storms on top of a higher sea level, the results presented in this study are only the first step. Additional research into a wider range of impacts is necessary to complete what is surely a more complex picture, particularly related to how risk may change geographically.”

Critical factors include whether the strongest storms become not only more frequent, but also more intense; whether storms could remain stronger at higher latitudes; how much additional rainfall hurricanes might produce, and whether storms are slowing down at landfall and maintaining their intensity longer after landfall.

Click on Related Media to access a PDF of the full report

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Published January 26, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2021 at 2:48 pm)

Warning of 20% increase in losses from US hurricanes by 2050

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