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Should insurers prepare for an active hurricane season?



Climate experts are predicting the next two years are going to be the most active hurricane seasons in the past decade because of El Niño. While Canadians may think that means the Atlantic provinces—or even Quebec and Ontario—will experience more hurricanes, that may not be the case.

David Phillips, a climatologist and weather expert with Environment Canada, says, “It’s more of a public relations gimmick. It’s not whether there’s going to be 10 or 12 or 18 [hurricanes]. It’s the one hurricane that hits you—[that’s] the most important one.”

He says quiet hurricane years can sometimes be more destructive than active years, depending on where you live. He recalls that 1992 was a quiet year, but “Hurricane Andrew turned out to be one of the most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history.” Conversely, hurricanes during active seasons can stay out in the ocean and not affect anyone.

“It doesn’t help insurers to know there’s going to be more or fewer [hurricanes] because, even in quiet years, you can be walloped. More helpful to insurers would be, ‘Are we going to continue to see the weird, wild and wacky weather that has dominated the scene in the last 15 years?’”

23
Number of hurricanes that have made landfall in Canada since 1951 (one every three years)

Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada

6.2
Average number of hurricanes per year since 1968

Source: Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Hurricane Research Division

60%
Increase in damage caused by a 10% increase in wind speed

Source: Phillips

Phillips says B.C. residents are likely more concerned about earthquakes. Alberta, the epicentre of weather extremes, has seen costly wildfires, winds, tornadoes and floods; the Prairies have seen deep windchills and hail; and in the eastern part of the country, there has been flooding and tropical storm activity.

“Insurers are the first to know the weather has gotten much more expensive in Canada. It’s gotten more ferocious.” Insurers are now out more for property damage caused by weather events than by fires. “There’s a worry from insurers because they’re seeing the bottom line changing.”

Phillips’ solution? Don’t insure things that are substandard. “[Insurers] have to get by this notion that they somehow benefit from extreme weather, that people buy insurance or are scared skinny. I think they have to lobby governments and whoever is responsible at the municipal and federal levels to enforce building codes.

“The weather has changed. We’re breaking records at a phenomenal rate. We can’t just design, build and neglect; we have to make sure we’re staying with the changing climate.”

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Copyright © 2016 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Transcontinental Media G.P.