Irma to cost insurers millions but it won’t be the worst ever
A true picture of the costs from Hurricane Irma may not emerge for weeks or months as Floridians begin to assess a swath of damage as wide as the state, but estimates in the immediate aftermath Monday pulled back from worst-case forecasts.
Boston-based catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide projected insured losses at $20 billion to $40 billion. That was down from an earlier estimate of up to $65 billion in the United States and Caribbean and up to $50 billion in the United States alone before changes in Irma’s path and intensity.
Other estimates have come in as low as $10 billion, making it perhaps still a top 10 U.S. storm but not approaching 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
“Mother Nature did us a few favors,” Weather Channel senior hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross, who covered Hurricane Andrew in South Florida 25 years ago, posted on social media. “Irma ran into the northern coast of Cuba — horrible for the Cubans, there was significant damage and flooding there, but good for us because it disrupted the storm to some extent. Secondly, the track farther south than we thought it might travel delayed Irma’s arrival in the Florida Keys. That timing difference was key to what happened.”
Dollars alone hardly measure the full impact of a storm, of course. The toll in human life includes at least six in Florida and 37 in the Caribbean. And there are still plenty of hazards as people secure or return to their homes. But the impact in Florida could have been worse, analysts said.
Irma, which remained a Category 5 storm longer than any on record as it approached Florida, kept moving west and strafed Cuba before striking Cudjoe Key at Category 4 strength with maximum winds of 130 mph, then made a second landfall as a Category 3 storm at Marco Island near Naples in Southwest Florida. Weakening over land, it became a Category 1 storm near Tampa overnight and a tropical storm by Monday morning.
“Nearly the entire state of Florida has been subject to strong winds and torrential rains, and very dangerous storm surge,” AIR Worldwide said in a statement. Irma pounded the Florida Keys with extreme winds and torrential rains, and some areas were soaked with up to 10 inches or more of rain.
As it weakened, Irma’s sustained forward motion may have helped avoid the accumulation of water and flooding seen two weeks ago in Texas from Hurricane Harvey, AIR noted.
Nonetheless, Irma and Harvey seem poised to emerge as the costliest combination of storms in one season. On Sunday, AccuWeather founder and President Joel N. Myers estimated the two storms will cost up to $290 billion.
“We estimated that Hurricane Harvey is to be the costliest weather disaster in U.S. history at $190 billion or 1 full percentage point of the GDP,” Myers said. He put an early estimate of $100 billion on Irma as the storm was still unfolding.
The AccuWeather figures include not only damage to homes but also economic costs such as disruptions to business, crop damage and higher fuel costs, he said.
“Some of the losses will be covered by insurance, some will not, so the losses will be felt in a variety of ways by millions of people,” Myers said. “Many millions of people have already been evacuated, so their lives have already been affected and they have incurred costs of one sort or another.”
In contrast, AIR said its loss estimates for the United States include wind and storm surge damage to onshore residential, commercial and industrial properties and their contents, automobiles and insured business-interruption expenses and temporary living expenses for residential properties.
Estimates of losses covered by insurance companies do not necessarily include flood damage covered by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, uninsured economic and property losses, and government aid payments.
Gov. Rick Scott said the state had already spent $75 million on Irma as President Donald Trump approved a request Sunday to expedite federal aid. Congress has cleared with way for billions of dollars in assistance for Harvey and Irma, with an initial $15 billion approved last week.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost $41.1 billion in losses covered by insurance companies, ranking it as the most expensive U.S. disaster, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Adjusted for inflation, that was $49.8 billion in 2016 dollars. Harvey’s costs are still being tallied.
By comparison, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 cost $15.5 billion in insured losses at the time and $24.5 billion adjusted for inflation, according to the Institute.
Hurricane Sandy in 2012 produced $18.8 billion in insured losses, or $19.9 billion after inflation.
Storms tend to become more expensive over time, not necessarily because they are stronger but because more people live in their path with more expensive homes, cars and personal property.
Insurers will now begin hearing from their customers. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America advised caution, both in checking out property damage in conditions that can still be hazardous and in choosing contractors to repair the damage.
“As the effects of Hurricane Irma continue to plague Florida, PCI encourages Floridians to safely and thoroughly assess their home, business and auto damage,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI Florida regional manager. “Once you’ve had a moment to assess your property damage, immediately reach out to your insurer to file a claim.”
A Mobil gas station on US 41 in Naples shows damage from Hurricane Irma on Monday.