Hurricane Florence, which is barrelling toward the Carolinas on America’s East Coast, is now expected to wreak up to $15bn in insured losses, a lower top-end estimate than some were projecting earlier this week.
The storm was nearing Category 5 strength with winds of 140 mph at time of going to press but the wind speed is now expected to decay a little quicker than expected when it makes landfall that may reduce the impact of losses. One significant uncertainty, however, remains on surge and inland flooding losses.
It is expected to make landfall near the border between North and South Carolina late on Thursday evening local time in the US.
Modeling firm RMS said yesterday that based on historical comparisons, insured losses could be between $8bn and $15bn, likening the storm to Hurricane Fran, which inflicted $7.6bn of losses in 1996 and Hurricane Hazel, which cost the industry $15bn when it pounded the Carolinas in 1954.
The more recent Hugo, however, cost $20.5bn (also in today’s money). State Farm is the largest homeowners insurer in the Carolinas, controlling around a fifth of the market across the two states, according to data from AM Best.
In the larger North Carolina market, which is worth $2.56bn in homeowners premiums, State Farm collected 19.3 percent of that last year, with premiums of $469.1mn. For the $1.69bn South Carolina market, the insurer controlled 21.2 percent of premiums worth $358.8mn.
North Carolina FB Mutual and Allstate Indemnity also have a meaningful share of the region’s homeowner premium with 12.5 percent and 4.8 percent of market share respectively.
Erie Insurance has the highest share of in-force premiums for multi-peril commercial in North Carolina with 7.5 percent of the market.
North Carolina’s Cincinnati Insurance Company and Nationwide Mutual are also major players with 5.9 percent and 3.6 percent of market, respectively.
State Farm, Owners Insurance and Ohio Security are the dominant commercial insurance players south of the border.
Broker JLT Re said Florence is on a collision course with the Carolinas after intensifying to become a Cat 4.
“The verification of rapid intensification by weather models and forecasts all but ensures that Florence will be an extreme if not unprecedented landfall for North Carolina,” it said.
“The ultimate landfall is likely to be a category 4 but it would not be a surprise if it is anywhere from a high-end category 3 or potentially a category 5,” it continued.
The broker pegged the chances of the storm slamming into Florida as a Cat 5 at 40 percent.
But JLT Re said it was too early to provide a confident estimate of the insured loss potential from the expected 140 mph peak winds associated with Florence.
“Much of this will come down to where landfall will be relative to population centers,” it explained.
After making landfall, the hurricane is expected to slow significantly over the weekend, although it is forecast to bring as much as 30 inches of rain.
“While rainfall totals will be lower than Harvey from last year in Texas, the region forecasted to have the heaviest rainfall is also mountainous,” JLT Re said.
“This will lead to excessive runoff that has the potential to create landslides, mudslides, and historic peaks on rivers.”