Understanding Global Weather Perils: Hurricane Risk

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season concluded Nov. 30, ranking fourth for the most named storms in a year, but falling short of the predicted above-average damage levels. Instead, the season ended near average, with a total of 7 hurricanes, 3 of which intensified to major hurricanes. Since the high pressure was quite weak due in part to record-high ocean temperatures, there was a lot of activity but most of the hurricane activity moved deeper out to sea and away from land. This resulted in the 2023 hurricane season being the least impactful for the US in nearly a decade.

Relatively low damage, when compared to other years.

“Hurricane names for the 2023 Atlantic season", Source: The Weather Channel


Initial estimates suggest that the 2023 hurricane season incurred damages ranging between $3-$4 billion. In comparison, the 2017 hurricane season stands as the costliest in U.S. history, causing approximately $300 billion worth of damage. According to NOAA, a significant landfalling hurricane typically results in damages around $22.8 billion.

Hurricane Idalia, the sole U.S. landfalling hurricane in 2023, made its mark on August 30 near Keaton Beach, Florida, as a category-3 hurricane. The storm brought a storm surge inundation of 7 to 12 feet and widespread rainfall flooding across Florida and the southeast. However, economic damage remains limited as the Big Bend region hit by Idalia is one with the lowest urbanization and population density in Florida.

The eastern pacific hurricane season also concluded in November with several impactful storms, including two of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Notable hurricanes include Hurricane Otis, the strongest Pacific storm to ever strike Mexico, strengthened by 115 mph winds in 24 hours and making landfall as a Category 5 hurricane in Acapulco Mexico.

Hurricane Hilary also made history, crossing California as the state’s first tropical storm since 1997, unleashing record-breaking rainfall and causing extreme flooding in one of the driest places in the US, Death Valley National Park.

The fourth most active Atlantic basin hurricane season in the satellite era has also concluded, leaving the U.S. relatively unscathed compared to recent years, marking the least impactful season since 2015.

“Hurricane Idalia", Source: NASA.

How does El Nino affect hurricanes in the US?

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a natural variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the Pacific Ocean, played a pivotal role in shaping the season. El Niño patterns are associated with less favorable conditions in parts of the Atlantic basin for tropical cyclone development, reducing the likelihood of a well-organized storm impacting the U.S. coastline. This effect might have counterbalanced the effect of an above average sea surface temperature in the Atlantic ocean.

Forecasts are still unclear for the next hurricane season but a return to Neutral or La Niña conditions is anticipated by forecast models. However, given the uncertainty remaining the impact on future hurricane seasons remains unclear.

Better data means better hurricane monitoring and reporting.

weather monitoring device


NOAA's new Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System significantly contributed to improved intensity predictions this season. For instance, NOAA's intensity forecasts accurately depicted Hurricane Idalia as a major hurricane approaching the Florida coast by August 28. This extended lead time allowed residents in threatened areas more time to prepare and respond, ultimately preventing storm surge fatalities despite surge inundation reaching as high as 12 feet in certain areas.

In the realm of technological advancements, NOAA launched the first operational launch of a Black Swift drone from a NOAA WP-3D Orion during Hurricane Tammy. Additionally, successful coordination of a low-flying drone (Anduril's Altius 600), atmospheric profilers (dropsondes), and ocean profilers (bathythermographs) launched from a NOAA WP-3D Orion showcased the potential for enhancing hurricane forecasting through innovative data collection methods.

What does this mean for the future of Descartes Underwriting?

The observations and information gathered from these deployments by NOAA hold the exciting promise of reshaping the landscape of hurricane insurance. As an innovative parametric insurance company, the use of enhanced data from sources such as NOAA, translates to superior risk modeling and a greater understanding of risk for our clients. With a dedicated team comprising over 160 PHDs, natural risk modelers, data science engineers, software engineers, and insurance professionals, Descartes leverages cutting-edge data sources, including IoT data and satellite imagery, to craft tailor-made and innovative insurance covers.

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