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Destructive winds & storm surge forecast as Dorian reaches Cat 4

30th August 2019 - Author: Matt Sheehan

Updated, Sat Aug 31st: The latest update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns of “life threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane-force winds” for parts of the Bahamas and Florida as Dorian continues to build in intensity, now reaching Category 4.

Hurricane Dorian has now strengthened to maximum sustained wind speeds of 150mph, Cat 4 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Please refer to the forecast map below for the latest information.

However, the storm is still expected to reach the upper-end of Cat 4 (130-156mph) strength on its approach to the east coast of Florida, with sustained wind speeds of around 150mph and gust speeds of close to 170mph possible.

Hurricane Dorian’s will approach the Florida coast on Tuesday, as the storm has slowed considerably since yesterday and is currently crawling northwest at a speed of just 10mph.

The storm is expected to maintain intensity through Monday and remain at least Cat 3, perhaps Cat 4 on Tuesday, before weakening later in the week.

Yesterday, forecast updates had shown Dorian making landfall further to the south in Florida than had originally been predicted. This could have been a problem for the insurance and reinsurance industries, as it puts more high-value and highly insured areas in the path of the hurricane, including property around West Palm Beach.

But now the latest track shows a curve to the north earlier, slightly before the coast of Florida, although there is still some uncertainty and the track could move to the west closer to the U.S. coast.

This leaves significant uncertainty in the potential damages that could occur, given the track and timing of this northerly curve is now all-important in whether Dorian comes ashore or not, or rakes the coastline as it travels north. The scenarios are many and the models are going to struggle with forecasting industry losses as a result.

Still, a northerly track close to the Florida peninsula as a Cat 3 or 4 hurricane, or even just on or adjacent to the coastline, could cause damage over a very large area in the state, although there will be some relief that the chances of Dorian making a double-landfall, by crossing into the Gulf of Mexico and turning up into the Florida panhandle, now seem less likely.

“A prolonged period of storm surge, high winds and rainfall is likely in portions of Florida into next week, including the possibility of hurricane-force winds over inland portions of the Florida peninsula,” a statement from the NHC said.

With forecasts now leaving little doubt about a Florida landfall, the re/insurance market looks set to take a significant loss, with analysts at Credit Suisse putting potential industry losses at between $10 billion and $30 billion.

Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW) have also suggested that the majority of losses from a major Florida landfall could be borne by reinsurers, rather than the primary insurance market.

Analysis released today by CoreLogic shows that 68,052 single-family and multifamily homes along the east coast of Florida, with a combined reconstruction value (RCV) of $144.6 billion, are at potential risk of storm surge damage from Hurricane Dorian if makes landfall as a Cat 3 storm.

Dorian has already become the strongest storm of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, and, if it reaches Florida, it will be the fourth year in a row that a hurricane has hit the state. That would be the most consecutive years since the 1940s.

If it reaches Florida as a Cat 4 storm, Dorian would be the strongest hurricane to hit Florida’s east coast since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Catastrophe modeller RMS today released some exposure figures on five similar Florida hurricanes as a reference for the potential losses that Dorian could cause.

The most costly of these was the Cat 3 ‘Three’ hurricane in 1871, which is estimated to have caused $37.2 billion of insured losses in Florida alone, adjusted for inflation.

This was followed by the Cat 4 Fort Lauderdale and ‘Florida’ hurricanes in 1947 and 1949, respectively, which caused industry losses of $26.1 billion and $24.6 billion.

The Cat 3 Jeanne and Treasure Coast hurricanes in 2004 and 1933 also caused industry losses of $13.5 billion and $11.3 billion, respectively, according to the data from RMS.

These kind of scenarios will certainly be on everyone’s mind as Dorian creeps closer, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency for the whole of the state, telling residents of the east coast to “monitor this storm closely”, and advising them to stock up on at least seven days’ worth of food.

“The clock is ticking right now,” he added. “Don’t waste time. Prepare yourself and your family.”

Jeffrey Byard, Associate Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), also said he was anticipating a multibillion dollar price tag on Dorian. “This is going to be a big storm,” he told reporters. “We’re prepared for a big response.”

Since the storm had minimal impact on Puerto Rico, the agency is shifting staff from the island to Florida in preparation.

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