Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming! So says the time-honored long-range weather prognosticator, the Farmer’s Almanac. Following a mild winter in 2015-2016, weather forecasters from the Farmer’s Almanac are expecting a colder than average winter, at least in the East. Although the rest of country may skate by with milder than average temperatures brought on by a weak La Niña in the Pacific, the insurance industry should be prepared for an "avalanche" of claims in the Northeast.

It bears noting that catastrophic winter storms occur every year, even during mild winters. From 1995 to 2014, winter storms caused about an average of a $1 billion of catastrophe losses each year. The 2015-2016 winter was the warmest December-February period in 121 years and it still caused more than $1.5 billion in insured losses and spawned Winter Storm Jonas (aka Snowzilla), which was one of the heaviest snowstorms ever in several Eastern cities. So, even if the 2016-2017 winter is milder than expected, it is little guarantee against the threat of devastating winter storms.

Interestingly, scientists predict that climate change will, perhaps counter-intuitively, increase the severity of winter storms. Warmer ocean surface temperatures can result in higher levels of moisture in storms and greater intensification. Not only that, snowfall during higher temperatures closer to the freezing mark produces wetter and heavier snow than snow that falls during more frigid temperatures. Heavier, wetter snow causes more roof collapses and damage from downed tree limbs than dryer, lighter snow that forms at colder temperatures. Indeed, there were around twice the number of extreme snowstorms in the second half of the 20th century than the first. 

Roof collapses are probably the most common claims caused by winter storms. The weight of snow and ice produced by a winter storm invariably causes such collapses. Additionally, wind combines with the snow and ice to bring down tree limbs, often on structures and other property.   By definition, a blizzard – winds in excess of 35 mph with visibility less than ¼ mile for at least 3 hours – unleashes high winds.   

Of course, it does not always take a storm to produce winter-related claims. Cold temperatures cause damage to frozen pipes and create ice dams every winter, especially when temperatures plummet in the Midwest and Northeast. Policies often exclude damage from burst pipes unless the insured has taken reasonable measures to protect the building from heat. Even fires are more likely during the winter. So get ready now because winter is coming!!!!

Posted by Seth Jackson and Jeff Gordon