Hurricane Irma a potential U.S. threat this weekend

by Artemis on September 4, 2017

Updated – 06:00 UTC, Tuesday September 5th: Major category 4 hurricane Irma is currently heading west across the Atlantic, with winds of 145 mph and a forecast that shows maintained intensity and a potential threat to the United States coastline by this weekend, including south Florida, but with some uncertainty in the exact path still.

Hurricane Irma has intensified into a category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 145 mph, higher gusts and a minimum central pressure of 939mb as at 16:00 UTC on September 5th. Irma is forecast to remain a Cat 4 or even Cat 5 hurricane as it tracks towards the northern Leeward Islands, en route to the Bahamas around Friday and then onwards where it is currently forecast to curve north towards the U.S. at southern Florida.

On the heels of Harvey, hurricane Irma will alert insurance, reinsurance, catastrophe bond and ILS market interests to the potential for a second landfalling hurricane event in quick succession, which could stimulate some interesting activity over the coming days.

Hurricane Irma forecast cone, path and track from the NHC

Hurricane Irma forecast cone, path and track from the NHC

The first concern is the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico, both of which could be at risk of a damaging and potentially deadly blow from major hurricane Irma. That could put some insurance and reinsurance interests at risk, including the CCRIF SPC which counts Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Kitts & Nevis among its members.

The forecast models show considerable uncertainty as to hurricane Irma’s eventual track once it nears the Bahamas, with the storm to get picked up and steered northwards by troughs of higher pressure. The uncertainty in the model runs is becoming lower with each run, with a narrowing cone and a gradual shift west that puts the track directly on Florida with it now impossible to discount a major hurricane landfall in southern Florida either around Sunday or Monday.

The GFS model runs seen below, via the Tropical Tidbits website, all show a landfall, ranging from the Gulf Coast, through southern Florida to the U.S. east coast.

Hurricane Irma GFS forecast models

Hurricane Irma GFS forecast models via TropicalTidbits.com

The forecast is for hurricane Irma to maintain its intensity now it has reached Category 4, with its central pressure likely to continue falling and wind speeds possibly rising to Cat 5, as well as for the storm to continue to grow in size as it progresses towards the Bahamas and Florida.

Hurricane Irma is growing into a very large storm with a wide wind swathe, which can mean even a near miss can be devastating for islands or coastline in its path. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles and tropical-storm-force winds up to 140 miles from the center of Irma.

Hurricane Irma intensity forecasts

Hurricane Irma intensity forecasts via TropicalTidbits.com

This weekend and the early part of next week the global reinsurance industry will be meeting in Monte Carlo for the annual Rendez-vous de Septembre event, where the industry traditionally begins its discussions as the key January renewal season approaches. Hurricane Irma coming so soon after Harvey could make this years event particularly interesting.

Hurricane Irma could trigger live-cat trading activity as it approaches the U.S., if the forecasts continue to show a landfall as increasingly likely. Given the industry has yet to fully comprehend the impact and loss from hurricane Harvey there will be many companies nervous about a second major hurricane landfall, which could push more protection buyers to come forward.

As well as live cat trading activity, hurricane Irma could also stimulate protection buyers to look for back-up covers or second-event protection, given this hurricane is coming so soon after the last multi-billion dollar industry loss event.

Some re/insurers may feel they lack protection in the wake of Harvey, with some of their programs perhaps expected to be eroded, potentially providing opportunities for those markets looking to underwrite peak cat risks on a live basis. This could be attractive for any ILS funds with cash sitting waiting for an investment opportunity.

A landfall from Irma as a major hurricane would without doubt further erode aggregate deductibles, on traditional reinsurance contracts, catastrophe bonds, collateralized reinsurance and private ILS arrangements. A severe landfall in a highly populated coastal region could cause major losses across the sector.

A second hurricane loss event could also push more of the bill into reinsurers sidecars and retrocessional arrangements as well.

For the catastrophe bond market, there is significant U.S. east coast exposure of course, from Florida all the way up the coast, meaning that as hurricane Irma approaches the secondary market could come to life, with investors and ILS funds looking to trade out of positions deemed most risky. But this is unlikely to be a major feature of the market until the middle of the week.

At this time the insurance, reinsurance and ILS investment community will be alert and on watch for hurricane Irma, as it’s still too early to know whether a major impact is a likely outcome, but the chances of a hit will get clearer with each passing day.

NOAA warns of a dangerous storm surge and potentially devastating winds for the Leeward Islands should hurricane Irma track directly across any. This storm poses a significant threat to lives at this stage.

We’ll continue to update you as hurricane Irma nears the U.S. and the forecasts become more certain.

You can track the hurricane season over at our dedicated page and all the graphics in this article will update automatically, so stay tuned.

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