Hurricane Michael has strengthened once again, becoming a major Category 4 storm with 155 mph sustained winds and higher gusts and is forecast to make landfall in Florida in the coming hours as an extremely dangerous storm, with experts warning of a life threatening situation from winds and storm surge.
Hurricane Michael has strengthened further overnight over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters and with lighter than expected wind shear, meaning that some additional strengthening is also possible. Hurricane Michael is now expected to make its landfall in the Florida Panhandle area of the Gulf Coast as at least a Category 4 minimum, or even as a strong Cat 4 storm.
The NHC noted that the hurricane is now much better organised, allowing for more strengthening and the Center says that hurricane Michael is now a strong Category 4 storm and is expected to have winds of over 130 knots (155mph) at landfall in its latest update.
Typically Gulf of Mexico hurricanes are seen to weaken on approach to making landfall but some meteorologists believe Michael may not weaken as much as would normally be anticipated due to conducive conditions still.
Uncertainty does remain though over the actual landfall strength of hurricane Michael, as the storm is anticipated to weaken rapidly on interaction with the land. However the threat to lives and property from the storm surge is expected to be extremely severe and Michael is a dangerous storm.
Whatever happens a strong hurricane landfall in the Panhandle region looks certain, putting the insurance, reinsurance, catastrophe bond and insurance-linked securities (ILS) markets on watch for more potential losses.
Hurricane Michael has maximum sustained winds of around 155 mph with higher gusts currently. Some further strengthening is forecast and the NHC expects Michael will remain a major hurricane at landfall tomorrow.
Hurricane force winds extend outwards as much as 45 miles and tropical-storm-force winds up to 185 miles from the center of Michael. Minimum central pressure has dropped and is now pegged at 919mb.
The latest NHC update says:
Michael is moving toward the north-northeast near 14 mph (22 km/h). A turn toward the northeast is expected this afternoon or tonight. A motion toward the northeast at a faster forward speed is forecast on Thursday through Friday night. On the forecast track, the core of Michael will move inland across the Florida Panhandle this afternoon, and across southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia tonight. Michael will move northeastward across the southeastern United States through Thursday night, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the United States on Friday.
Recent data from NOAA and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 155 mph (250 km/h) with higher gusts. Michael is an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Michael should weaken as it crosses the southeastern United States. Michael is forecast to become a post-tropical cyclone on Friday, and strengthening is forecast as the system moves over the western Atlantic.
There remains little but relatively favourable conditions, in terms of sea surface temperatures and moderate wind shear, between hurricane Michael and a strong category landfall now, with some model runs suggesting a Category 4 landfall is now assured with wind gusts of 140mph+ likely along the coast in the landfall area.
Forecast models suggest that hurricane force wind speeds of up to 90 mph will be felt as far inland as Georgia, with the Florida Panhandle likely to widely experience 100 mph winds, suggesting an expanding damage footprint.
The NHC said, “Hurricane conditions will also spread well inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia.”
The spread in the forecast cone for hurricane Michael has narrowed somewhat, with most meteorologists now anticipating a landfall in the Panama City to Apalachicola area, with landfall expected around Mexico Beach the middle of Wednesday local time.
The track could still shift and some forecast models continue to show an easterly shift, rather than west, which could see hurricane Michael spend a little more time over the Gulf, making for a potentially more intense landfall scenario.
Wind shear is becoming less of a factor now as Michael nears landfall, which is expected to be around midday local time. As a result a little further strengthening is possible.
Additionally, sea surface temperatures where hurricane Michael is set to travel through the Gulf of Mexico are near 30C, plenty warm enough to fuel a major hurricane and to strengthen the storm.
Hence hurricane Michael will continue to power its way towards the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle region, putting insurance, reinsurance and ILS market interests on watch for the next significant loss event of 2018.
Warnings for storm surge show forecasts for inundations as increased to up to 14 feet, which will be a threat to property and lives in the landfall area, especially as hurricanes can push waters into the Panhandle area, which can exacerbate surge heights and is a particularly shallow and low-lying area along the coast.
Storm surge forecasts:
Tyndall Air Force Base FL to Aucilla River FL…9-14 ft
Okaloosa/Walton County Line FL to Tyndall Air Force Base FL…6-9 ft
Aucilla River FL to Cedar Key FL…6-9 ft
Cedar Key FL to Chassahowitzka FL…4-6 ft
Chassahowitzka to Anna Maria Island FL including Tampa Bay…2-4 ft
Sound side of the North Carolina Outer Banks from Ocracoke Inlet to Duck…2-4 ft
Additionally, 4 to 8 inches of rainfall, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches, have been forecast for parts of Florida and the adjacent Gulf Coast states. Rainfall is also expected for the Carolina’s as hurricane Michael makes its way north and then back out into the Atlantic.
After numerous attritional catastrophes around the globe in recent weeks, another landfalling hurricane will serve to perhaps underpin reinsurance rates somewhat at the upcoming January renewals. It likely won’t help them rise, but it may serve to stop them falling.
A major hurricane Michael landfall in Florida will inevitably put some ILS investments at risk, with numerous exposed catastrophe bonds and collateralized reinsurance positions, as well as sidecars and quota share deals.
The fact there have been other loss events in recent weeks and months does mean that for some international re/insurance players, aggregate and attritional losses have been mounting, meaning any further sizeable loss from hurricane Michael could see reinsurance and retrocessional arrangements quickly coming into play.
However, the intensification of hurricane Michael as it approaches land and the ultimate location of its landfall is everything with this storm. Both will have a significant bearing on the potential for losses to go beyond just largely an event for primary insurance market interests and into reinsurance and ILS markets.
Now at Category 4 the wind damage from hurricane Michael will be more severe and as a result there is an expectation of greater impacts to property and further inland, than had been anticipated yesterday.
Of course the major Floridian primary insurers, which along with the major nationals are the most exposed, all use significant amounts of reinsurance and collateralized reinsurance protection, meaning some level of losses for ILS interests appears likely, if hurricane Michael makes a strong category 3 or low category 4 landfall (which now seems likely).
Historical Florida Panhandle hurricane events have caused industry losses ranging up to almost $20 billion, at today’s dollar values. However, most early signs point to something in the mid to high single-digit billions of dollars as the most likely outcome, or possibly in the low double-digit billions of dollars if Michael made a direct hit with its eye on somewhere like Panama City.
But as ever the eventual loss is impossible to forecast at this stage and interested parties need to keep watch as Michael nears the coast, as landfall intensity will be everything.
Michael’s minimum central pressure has now fallen rapidly as the storm became better organised, realising some meteorologists worst forecasts for the hurricane. This means an intense landfall is now assured and hurricane Michael is likely to be the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in a century.
Another point of note is the Gulf of Mexico energy industry, with offshore oil platforms having evacuated workers, bringing a halt to as much as a fifth of daily oil production and up to a third of gas production, it’s been reported. Meanwhile, five oil drilling rigs have had to be moved out of Michael’s path. As ever, the energy sector could be a source of some business interruption impacts for insurance interests as a major hurricane proceeds through the Gulf.
RMS told Artemis that, based on the latest forecast data and its analysis, the nearest comparison storm from history could be hurricane Dennis from 2005, which RMS says would have caused a roughly $1.2 billion industry loss today. At that level of loss the ILS market impact would be minimal and no catastrophe bonds would be triggered.
However, it’s important to also note that with the rapid intensification of hurricane Michael that was seen today, other modellers say the economic loss potential from the storm has nearly doubled.
It’s also important to note that areas Michael is targeting are not that densely populated, which means despite the extreme winds the eventual industry loss may not be as high as the ferocity of the hurricane belies.