The peak of hurricane season starts in mid-August, and a new outlook released Thursday by the National Weather Service calls for an unusually active year — though not as severe as the agency had forecast in May.
Even so, just one major storm such as Storm Sandy last year could prove to be more costly in damages to homes and other property than all the natural disasters during the first half of the year combined.
For example, hail, thunderstorms and tornadoes ravaged much of the inland U.S. during the first half of 2011, causing havoc from Springfield, Mass., to Joplin, Mo., and farther west. The insurance costs of all those combined was $17.8 billion for the first six months of the year.
But that was less than the $18.7 billion cost to insurers caused by Storm Sandy alone last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a property-casualty research entity.
A tropical storm hitting anywhere in the U.S. could be very costly for Connecticut property-casualty insurers such as The Travelers Cos. and The Hartford Financial Services Group.
“Sandy-type events are simply likely to be more common in the future,” said Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the Insurance Information Institute. “And I think that it’s not just insurers who have come to expect them, I think it’s the National Weather Service, and I think that low-lying communities and the states that they are a part of are beginning to slowly adapt to that reality.”
The damage from Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 are fresh in the collective memory of Connecticut residents.
“Until Sandy hit last year, catastrophe losses were running approximately 50 percent below their 2011 levels, and then Sandy brought us basically right on par with 2011,” Hartwig said.
A new outlook to the season released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, slightly downgrades the severity and frequency of storms predicted for this year. But the federal agency is still calling for an “above normal” season.
The season will bring 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to nine will be hurricanes, the revised outlook says. Three to five of those will be major hurricanes, the center said.
A named storm has sustained winds of at least 39 mph, and a hurricane has sustained winds of at least 74 mph. A major hurricane is Category 3 or greater, meaning it has sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
The seasonal average is 12 named storms and six hurricanes, three of them major.
Hurricane season starts June 1 and goes through Nov. 30, though the peak season is from mid-August to late October.
“The peak of the hurricane season is almost upon us, and it’s important to remain prepared for hurricanes through November,” Joe Nimmich, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s associate administrator for Response and Recovery, said in a prepared statement. “Make sure to review your family emergency plan, check that your emergency kit is stocked and consider insurance options. Learn more about how you can prepare for hurricanes at www.ready.gov/hurricanes.”
NOAA’s revised forecast released Thursday is down slightly from its forecast in late May. At that time, NOAA expected the season would bring 13 to 20 named storms, of which seven to 11 were to be hurricanes, and three to six of those were to be major hurricanes.
The updated outlook on the season was scaled back because of a lower expectation of extreme activity, partly due to a decreased likelihood that La Niña will develop and bring reduced wind shear, which exacerbates the hurricane season.
Also driving the reduced outlook was the lack of hurricanes through July, more variability in wind patterns across the tropical Atlantic and decreased predictions from hurricane modeling, according to NOAA.