It’s officially hurricane season, but this year may look a little different than others as rising ocean temperatures and El Niño are set for an unprecedented clash. It’s a match-up that has experts an...
It’s officially hurricane season, but this year may look a little different than others as rising ocean temperatures and El Niño are set for an unprecedented clash. It’s a match-up that has experts and scientists watching closely—and should have property owners thinking about its potential for damage.
It is not uncommon for El Niño to occur. In fact, we last saw the weather event in 2019—and 2016 before that. What makes this season unique, however, is rising sea surface temperatures, which hovered near 70° Fahrenheit at the beginning of the month and have been elevated all spring.
While hurricanes thrive on warmer upper-ocean temps, El Niño could influence wind shear in a way that hinders an active season. But if El Niño doesn’t form this year, residents along the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts could be in for disastrous weather. In this blog post, we’ll discover how hurricanes form, learn more about El Niño, and see what expert predictions could mean for property owners this year.
A “Simple” Recipe for Complex Storms
For all of hurricanes’ massive destruction, they only require two things to form: heat and wind shear. Warm surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean provide the kindling to ignite a tropical storm and vertical wind shear generates the dry air it needs to grow. Each hurricane season, the temperature of the Atlantic indicates potential storm activity, which is why this year’s record-high temps are cause for alarm. The last hurricane season that occurred during unseasonably high sea surface temperatures was in 2020, which saw a record 30 tropical cyclones.
El Niño’s Influence
Despite being separated by a continent, the Pacific’s naturally occurring El Niño phenomenon can cause large-scale changes in atmospheric conditions that influence weather in the Atlantic. It occurs through a scientific process known as teleconnection. If tropical eastern-central Pacific Ocean temps get high enough for El Niño to form, the east-west winds in the upper atmosphere of the tropics may temper hurricane activity.
Expert Predictions for This Year
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center have a good idea of what this season has in store. With 70% confidence, they are predicting a near-average season that may produce:
- 12 to 17 named storms (winds greater than 39 miles per hour)
- 5 to 9 potential hurricanes (winds greater than 74 miles per hour)
- 1 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5, with winds greater than 111 miles per hour)
It’s important to remember that an “average” hurricane season doesn’t equate to safety. Even a typical season like the one predicted can be catastrophic. In a statement from NOAA, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell warned: “As we saw with Hurricane Ian, it only takes one hurricane to cause widespread devastation and upend lives. So, regardless of the number of storms predicted this season, it is critical that everyone understand the risk and heed the warnings of state and local officials. Whether you live on the coast or further inland, hurricanes can cause serious impacts to everyone in their path.”
How Homeowners Can Prepare for Any Hurricane Season
While you may not be able to anticipate exactly what hurricane season may bring, you can control important aspects of your preparedness. To keep yourself and loved ones safe—and your property as secure as possible—here are some points to considers:
Have a Plan
A comprehensive emergency plan for your household is a crucial first step. It should include evacuation routes, designated meeting points, communication methods, and a well-stocked emergency kit containing essential items.
Backup Important Data
Protect your valuable data, important documents, or cherished memories by backing them up to an external hard drive or the cloud. This may include photographs, financial records, and other important paperwork.
Safeguard Your Property
Inspect your home and address any areas that may be vulnerable to extreme weather. This may include reinforcing doors and windows, installing storm shutters, and securing loose items in your yard that may become dangerous projectiles in high winds. If there are trees and branches near your home or roof, trim them back as much as possible to minimize potential damage.
Review Insurance Coverage
Standard insurance policies typically do not cover flood-related losses, so review your policy to ensure coverage is adequate. Standard flood insurance policies offered by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) typically cap at $250,00 for residential property coverage, with maximum content coverage of $100,000. SWBC’s excess flood insurance can offer a higher level of coverage to pay for property rebuilds, content replacement, and other expenses that exceed the government-funded program.
Whether or not El Niño pans out this year, one thing is certain: There will be storms. Stay informed, take proactive measures, and secure adequate insurance coverage to help mitigate the potential financial fallout associated with hurricane damage. When it comes to protecting your most valuable assets, no step is unnecessary.
John Hannah is the AVP of Product Management for SWBC Insurance Partners. In his role, he reviews and analyzes P&C insurance product programs to meet and exceed financial goals. He assesses the risk and profitability of prospective and existing clients, to include underwriting, coverage and pricing recommendations.