Last year, researchers at Stanford University released a study that examines the outlook for extreme weather affecting the United States. Their findings, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that both the frequency of "super storms" and the amount of property damage that results from them will increase in the coming decades.
The study relied primarily on computer-generated models that account for changing atmospheric conditions. One particularly worrisome trend is warming of the air in the lower atmosphere, which causes moisture to rise to higher altitudes and a rise in what meteorologists call "convective available potential energy." The interaction between this rising moisture and vertical wind currents is what will contribute to the increased formation of severe storms.
U.S. East Coast could see 70 percent more severe thunderstorms
The most concerning finding of the study is that the number of severe thunderstorms that hit the hit the densely populated U.S. East Coast each year could increase by as much as 70 percent by the year 2070. Other regions of the country will be affected these developments as well, with both the Midwestern states and communities in the Great Plains expected to see more of these severe thunderstorms. As these events can create the conditions that support tornado formation, the risk associated with them is extremely high.
In addition, the Stanford scientists concluded that it is increasingly likely that these storms, which have historically been at their strongest during the spring and summer, will gain strength and appear more often during the autumn and winter.
In an interview with the online publication Quartz, the study's lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford, said that although the risk of severe weather will become greater in the future, it will mount gradually over time, which means it is increasing right now. This means property owners, insurers, governments and other stakeholders need to be thinking proactively about how they will manage the growing risk.
Federal report supports conclusions regarding increased risk of severe weather
A recent assessment developed by the federal government affirmed the central findings of the Stanford study, concluding that the Northeast will be particularly hard-hit by changes in weather patterns. The risks will be particularly severe for residents of coastal communities, which will also have to contend with an increased risk of flooding from storm surges. Changes in overall sea level could also affect properties located close to the shoreline.
Like the Stanford team, the scientists who participated in the research underlying the federal report emphasized the need to begin preparing for a riskier climate now. For insurers, this means having a reliable solution in place for keeping property valuations up to date and managing the claims process.
Discussing the federal report in an interview with NBC, President Obama said "this is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now."
One key factor that is worth considering in this context is the increasing population density in many areas, particularly the U.S. East Coast. More than 64 million people currently live in the 12 states that comprise the Northeast, many of them in large coastal cities such as Boston and New York. With more residential and commercial structures, the risk of insured losses will necessarily increase.