Navigating Hurricanes and Their Impacts on Businesses
Peak hurricane season is approaching (September 10th) and while the 2023 season so far has been mild, NOAA published a new outlook August 11th that includes a 70% chance of 14-21 named storms, of which 6-11 could become hurricanes, and 2-5 could become major hurricanes. (NOAA) So there’s no better time than now to review what hurricanes are, and what their effect on businesses can be. These powerful natural phenomena can have profound impacts on businesses, making it crucial for leaders to understand what hurricanes are, their categories, their changing patterns due to climate change, and the potential consequences for their organizations.
A hurricane, also known as a tropical cyclone, is a rotating storm system characterized by strong winds, heavy rainfall, and low atmospheric pressure. Forming over warm ocean waters, hurricanes gain energy and strength as they absorb heat from the water’s surface. As they intensify, these storms can cause widespread destruction along coastlines and even far inland.
Hurricanes are categorized based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which classifies storms from Category 1 (weakest) to Category 5 (strongest). The categories are determined by a hurricane’s sustained wind speeds:
- Category 1: Wind speeds of 74-95 mph
- Category 2: Wind speeds of 96-110 mph
- Category 3: Wind speeds of 111-129 mph
- Category 4: Wind speeds of 130-156 mph
- Category 5: Wind speeds exceeding 157 mph
Hurricane season typically runs from June 1st to November 30th, peaking in September. Regions vulnerable to hurricanes include the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. Coastal areas, particularly those with warm ocean waters, are at the greatest risk.
Impacts of our Changing Atmosphere on Hurricane Activity
Our changing atmosphere has brought about noticeable changes in hurricane patterns, resulting in more intense storms. One aspect of this change is warming sea surface temperatures. These increasing temperatures intensify tropical storm wind speeds, giving them the potential to deliver more damage if they make landfall.
Over the 39-year period from 1979-2017, the number of major hurricanes has increased while the number of smaller hurricanes has decreased. Based on modeling, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts an increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, alongside increased hurricane wind speeds. Warmer sea temperatures also cause wetter hurricanes, with 10-15 percent more precipitation from storms projected. (C2ES)
A new study from climate scientists at Princeton University finds that flooding and wind damage from hurricanes is getting more common in the United States, and that trend will accelerate and threaten millions of people as the changes in our atmosphere progress. (NPR)
The study used computer models to assess Atlantic storms going back to 1949, and to project what storms will look like in 2100. The authors not only found the unsettling increasing risk of flood and wind, but they also found that consecutive storms will occur. Today it is unlikely that two damaging storms will hit the same place in quick succession, although such disasters got slightly more likely over the second half of the twentieth century. However, by 2100, consecutive hurricanes will become relatively commonplace, according to the analysis. (NPR)
When sequential storms do happen, it’s deadly. It takes time to recover from disasters so if communities and business operations are being hit back-to-back with damaging wind and flooding, there’s less time to recover.
Unfortunately, increases in major hurricanes and consecutive shock storms aren’t the only concern. A study published in 2022 called “Trends in Global Tropical Cyclone Activity: 1990–2021” highlights a dangerous hurricane phenomena called rapid intensification. When a hurricane undergoes rapid intensification, its maximum sustained winds increase by at least 35 mph in 24 hours or less – driving up the danger the storm could pose to life and property. Most major hurricanes – Category 3 or higher – undergo rapid intensification at some point, the study shows. Of 104 such storms in the North Atlantic since 1990, 88% fit the bill, said Klotzbach, a study coauthor. (CNN)
The study found that more and more hurricanes over the 31-year period underwent extreme rapid intensification, with at least a 57-mph increase in maximum sustained winds over 24 hours. While the increase may be somewhat contributed to better weather observations, like wind speed forecasting, the authors of the study believe the increasing trend is real. (CNN)
Like the other dangerous hurricane phenomena, rapid intensification is also being fueled by warming ocean temperatures. Because heat helps fuel storms, higher sea surface temperatures and high ocean heat content play huge roles in rapid intensification. So as our changing atmosphere forces up ocean temperatures, rapid intensification becomes more likely, pushing storms to explode at a rapid pace into deadly hurricanes, scientists say. (CNN)
Implications for Businesses
The increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes pose significant challenges to businesses across various industries:
Supply Chain Disruptions
Businesses with supply chains dependent on coastal regions may experience delays or interruptions due to damaged infrastructure, disrupted transportation, and power outages.
Property Damage and Loss
Businesses operating in hurricane-prone areas are at risk of property damage, leading to potential disruptions in operations and financial losses.
As hurricanes become more frequent and severe, insurance premiums for properties and assets located in vulnerable areas may rise, increasing operational costs. In fact, several insurance companies have already pulled policies from state4s like Florida and California. (USA Today)
Business Continuity Planning
Organizations must invest in robust business continuity plans to ensure operations can continue in the face of disruptions caused by hurricanes.
How businesses respond to the aftermath of a hurricane can impact their reputation. A well-executed disaster response strategy can bolster public perception.
Ensuring the safety and well-being of employees during a hurricane is paramount. Businesses must have plans in place to assist employees in times of crisis.
Advancements in Hurricane Forecasting and Tracking Technology
In the face of escalating weather-related challenges, businesses must prioritize accurate and precise hurricane forecasts to protect assets, ensure employee safety, and maintain operational continuity. A combination of advanced technologies—better radar coverage, expanded observational datasets, cutting-edge numerical weather prediction models, and artificial intelligence (AI)—can significantly elevate the accuracy of hurricane forecasts and tracking, empowering business decision-makers to make well-informed choices.
Better Radar Coverage:
Radar systems play a pivotal role in tracking hurricanes as they come ashore and move inland by providing real-time information on their size, intensity, and movement. Enhancing radar coverage in vulnerable coastal areas allows for more comprehensive monitoring and data collection. With a clearer understanding of a hurricane’s evolving characteristics, businesses can enact timely evacuation plans, secure assets, and initiate contingency measures, minimizing potential disruptions.
Expanded Observational Datasets:
High-quality observational data from novel sources and supplemental radars are essential for understanding hurricane behavior. Expanding these observational networks provides a wealth of data points for input into forecasting models. This enables more accurate predictions of a hurricane’s path, intensity, and potential impacts, aiding businesses in devising location-specific response strategies and supply chain adjustments.
Cutting-edge Numerical Weather Prediction Models:
Advanced numerical models simulate complex interactions within the atmosphere and oceans, offering insights into hurricane behavior. High-resolution models with improved physics representations enhance prediction accuracy. Employing these models helps businesses anticipate the potential trajectory and intensity of a hurricane, enabling better resource allocation, risk assessment, and timely decision-making.
AI-powered Data Analysis:
AI, particularly machine learning, excels in analyzing vast datasets to identify patterns and trends. By processing historical hurricane data alongside real-time information, AI algorithms can improve the accuracy of hurricane forecasts. AI can identify subtle indicators that might go unnoticed by traditional methods, leading to more precise predictions for decision-makers to base their plans on.
Accurate Weather Data Is the Best Risk Mitigation Tool
As hurricanes become increasingly stronger and impactful, business leaders must be proactive in preparing for and mitigating the risks associated with these natural disasters. Decision makers must be armed with the most reliable weather data insights to stay informed about developing hurricane activity, be aware of changing weather patterns, and establish or adapt appropriate disaster preparedness plans. The fastest, most accurate weather insights have to be driven by the latest innovations in better radar coverage, expanded observational datasets, cutting-edge numerical weather prediction models, and the integration of Artificial Intelligence. Adapting to the new normal of increasingly damaging hurricanes is not only a responsibility to the bottom line but also to the communities and ecosystems in which businesses operate. If you want to learn more about how Climavision can help your organization leverage technological advancements to produce better weather insights, contact us.