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NOAA hurricane alerts to include storm surge forecasts


This year the hurricane alerts and forecasts sent out by the U.S. NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) will for the first time include storm surge maps to show the potential for hurricane induced surge to cause flooding on the U.S. coastline.

The National Hurricane Center has announced the introduction of its newest feature, the Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map, which will be available from the beginning of the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season in June. These new storm surge forecast graphics will be made available by the NHC alongside tropical storm or hurricane watches.

Using color-coded and ready-to-broadcast maps insurers, reinsurers, ILS investors and homeowners will be able to see which geographical areas are vulnerable to storm surges and flooding, while also being able to see the potential height surge levels could reach.

Storm surge forecast information for approaching tropical storms or hurricanes is already available through many of the risk models used by insurers and reinsurers. However, with the introduction of these new storm surge maps from the NHC this is the first time it will be readily and freely available to anyone with an interest.

The new storm surge maps will typically be issued at the same time as the initial hurricane watch or, in some cases, with a tropical storm watch. The maps are based on the NHC’s latest forecast track and intensity for the tropical storm or hurricane, and takes into account likely forecast errors.

The maps show inundation levels that have a 10 percent chance of being exceeded, so represent a reasonable worst case scenario for a given location. The maps will be updated regularly, perhaps as frequently as every six hours, with the latest advisories and updates from the NHC. The NHC notes that the maps will be experimental for a two-year period while feedback is collected from users and a decision is made whether these will become a permanent operational product.

Example storm surge forecast map from the National Hurricane Center

Example storm surge forecast map from the National Hurricane Center

Many hurricane related deaths are often caused by storm surges and the new technology is inspired by a previous lack of focus on storm surges and flooding, with the wind speeds of the hurricane typically being the primary concern.

For homeowners in regions vulnerable to hurricanes the new mapping system could prove invaluable, as a greater understanding of storm surge risks will ultimately lead to better judgement on factors such as evacuation, resulting in more lives being saved. Rising sea levels and a heavily populated coastline emphasise the need for storm surge and flooding education, and developers believe the Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map is a big step in the right direction.

Of course the insurance, reinsurance, ILS and catastrophe bond market will also find these new storm surge forecast maps invaluable, providing them with a valuable prediction for storm surge flooding as a hurricane approaches the U.S. coastline.

The first storm surge focused catastrophe bond MetroCat Re Ltd, the first and only cat bond issued purely for storm surges as a result of named storms, came to market in June 2013. This successful transaction demonstrated a heightened awareness of the potential damage that storm surge can cause in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and surge is likely to become an increasing focus for ILS and cat bonds with sea levels forecast to rise over the coming decades.

This, combined with The National Hurricane Center’s innovative tool, indicates a better industry understanding of how sometimes storm surges and flooding can cause more destruction than hurricane force wind speeds from the storm itself.

You can follow the storm season on Artemis over on our 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season page. As any severe tropical storms or hurricanes develop and threaten landfall we will include these new storm surge maps in our coverage.

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