August 28, 2012

At the time of this writing, Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to make landfall in the New Orleans area early Wednesday. And less than a week after a notable hurricane anniversary -- 1992's Andrew -- a region scarred by 2005's Hurricane Katrina prepares for a grim reminder of the dynamics of weather nearly seven years to the day of that event.

Thankfully, according to Tom Jeffrey, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based risk modeling and analytics firm, Isaac at its strongest is very unlikely to wreak the devastation of Katrina. However, the company says about 210,000 total residential properties in seven major metropolitan areas along the Gulf Coast, valued at more than $27.7 billion, could be at risk for storm-surge related flooding, assuming the storm hits as a Category 1 hurricane.

Jeffrey spoke with Insurance & Technology this morning on the very latest information his firm has modeled:

Insurance & Technology: With landfall coming in less than 24 hours, what should residents of the Gulf Coast expect?

Tom Jeffrey: From what I can gather this morning, it's going to be a maximum of category 1. It doesn't seem like it's going to jump up into that higher level. But this is really a wide, broad-based storm, that's probably going to drop a lot of rainfall. There's going to be a fair amount of potential water damage.

I&T: What areas are at the most risk?

TJ: There are areas where they've reconstructed [after Katrina], but unfortunately there's still some areas of the city that could be at risk. From all indications, it's not going to generate the kind of surge as a Katrina, but it could drop a lot more rainfall.

I&T: Here in New York, we encountered a Category 1 storm last year in the form of Hurricane Irene, but long-term damage was minimal in the city. What's unique about New Orleans that creates such a risk? Is that area more susceptible to the flood-related damage that we saw in upstate New York and Vermont?

TJ: New Orleans and other coastal areas in the Gulf region have a lower elevation geography. You have the opportunity for low intensity storms to cause a large amount of damage. We're evaluating the entire area. The storm isn't going to impact the entire area, at least not at the same level. Until the storm hits, we have no way of knowing.

I&T: Finally, we recognized the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew last week as a watershed moment in the insurance industry. What comes to mind for you as a key innovation that came out of that event?

TJ: The effort's been really monumental to improve home construction and building codes, because a lot of the damage could've been minimized. You weren't going to prevent all the damage, but now even if an event like that occurred in the future you'd see more damage mitigated. However, these properties have increased in value exponentially, which means you would still see higher total loss figures.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, ...