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Forecasters Still Firm on Active Atlantic Hurricane Season; Resilience Remains Critical

Through mid-summer 2022, the Atlantic hurricane season has been relatively quiet, with just three named storms. Those who predict the volatility of the season, however, remain steadfast in their models that the 2022 season will still be active.

Colorado State University, in its August 4 updated extended forecast,[1] maintains an above average Atlantic basin hurricane season.” According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an outbreak of Saharan dust has hindered development of storms blowing off the African coast, where they typically develop in the early months. However, all the key ingredients remain in place for an active season, including abnormally hot water in the Atlantic and Caribbean (+30 degrees Celsius) and an ongoing La Niña.

La Niña, the cool phase of the ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) climate pattern in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean, persists for an unusual third-straight year. That is a recipe for heightened activity and a reason that risk managers in hurricane-prone areas should make windstorm resilience a high priority.

“When ocean waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean are running cooler than average then that’s when you get an official declaration of a La Niña phase of ENSO, which leads to conditions that are less favorable for tropical cyclone activity in the Pacific Ocean, but more favorable in the Atlantic Ocean,” says Steve Bowen, managing director and head of catastrophe insight at Aon. “A La Niña phase correlates to warmer ocean waters and a relaxation of trade winds, allowing storms more opportunity to organize and develop in the Atlantic.”

El Niño conditions, when the waters of the Pacific warm, tend to deliver milder Atlantic hurricane seasons. However, the difference between frequency of La Niña and El Niño conditions is stark:

  • Since 1900, La Niña conditions have occurred slightly more than frequently than El Niño, and that trend has accelerated in the past 30 years.
  • More than twice as many major hurricanes make landfall in the United States (U.S.) during La Niña years than during El Niño periods.

Reasons behind each of these weather facts remain a point of research for experts. However, with increased landfalls under La Niña conditions comes increased damage costs. Catastrophic storms, however, can strike in any conditions, whether it is La Niña, El Niño or the neutral phase. The record-shattering 2005 hurricane season that included Katrina and Rita occurred during the neutral phase. Our recommendation is to always have resilience measures built into the risk management plans of your hurricane-prone properties.

The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies five known impacts of climate change on cyclones:

  1. Higher percentage of hurricane-equivalent storms reaching highest intensity ratings of categories 4 and 5.
  2. Warmer sea surface temperatures that lead to more rapid intensification of storms.
  3. Warmer and wetter atmosphere translating to heavier precipitation on a per-storm basis.
  4. Storms tracking as a higher latitude due to warmer waters from ocean circulation pattern changes.
  5. Slowing forward motion and reduced rates of inland decay following landfall.[2]


The Peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season Has yet to Arrive

Historically, the Atlantic hurricane season kicks into a higher gear in August, peaking around September 10 before officially coming to a close on November 30.

“Just because it has been quiet so far doesn’t mean that it will be quiet for the rest of the season,” Aon’s Bowen says.

September and October hurricanes can also be the most powerful. Of the top 10 hurricanes to hit U.S. shores since 1990 seven occurred in September and October. Only Katrina, Harvey and Andrew occurred in August.


Four Steps to Building Business Resilience

If your business or critical suppliers are located in hurricane-prone areas, take control of your risk by making sure windstorms are included in your business continuity plan. The advanced planning and preparations will help mitigate a storm’s impact and continuity of your crucial business processes. Flexibility and clear, frequent communications will be key in successfully responding to events as they occur.

We recommend incorporating these steps when building and reviewing your response plan:

  1. Identify key stakeholders. A critical element of a proactive hurricane response plan is to identify and have the contact information for key personnel and external consultants and resources, such as your broker, insurance adjuster, legal, accounting/finance and restoration contractors, should an event cause damage or render sites temporarily inoperable.
  2. Designate a response leader. It’s also important to designate an internal leader, such as the CFO or risk manager, and alternate staff to coordinate the response and claims teams to ensure all plan elements are implemented on a timely basis. Creating a flowchart or playbook showing the response and claim elements will help make the entire process more efficient. In addition, simulating the plan using various event scenarios will help work out any issues. Consider implementing “call trees” within the organization, ensuring you can effectively reach all members of your team during and after an event. These items should also be included or cross-referenced in business continuity plans.
  3. Understand your business interruption risks. The plan should also include a comprehensive evaluation of all your organization’s plants and locations situated in hurricane-prone regions to ensure a thorough understanding of business interruption and asset values and their general exposure to hurricanes and other major storm events. There are a number of mobile applications available that provide business continuity plans to ensure all team members have the details at their fingertips.
  4. Address wind, flooding, power outages and loss of communications resources. One lesson learned from major storms is that planning must address not only wind-related loss, but storm surge, flooding, extended power outages and interruption of land line, cell phone and internet access, as well as site inaccessibility.

Learn more about catastrophe preparedness and response readiness at the Aon Hurricane and Natural Catastrophe Planning and Response Site. The valuable resources on the site are designed to support an organization’s preparedness and response to any potential impacts of natural disasters.

[1] Colorado State University Seasonal Hurricane Forecasting

[2] 2021 Weather, Climate and Catastrophe Insight | Aon