Sandy Had It All (Andrew Meadors Commentary)

It’s me again. And that’s not good — at least in this space. After my reviews of 9/11, the hardening insurance market of a decade ago and the tsunami in Japan, it’s time to write again. I hope I can expose some data that you have not seen or read about.

Sandy had it all. She was as big as Texas and was truly devastating. She brought severe thunderstorms, wind, tornadoes, lightning, storm surge, horrific flooding, saltwater corrosion of mechanical apparatuses below street level, fire, massive power outages and mold, fungus and bacteria. She even threw in E. coli.

She caused chemical spills and devastated rat colonies in the subways. She may have even bought some lottery tickets passing through — I don’t know. But I do know this: We were warned. Scientists and insurance actuaries have been writing about the risk of a hurricane hitting New England for several years now. Population times property values equals the big one. They droned away. And now, it has happened.

Of all my research, this is the most alarming data I came up with: It was the biggest flooding in New York since the 1960s. Water levels in the Atlantic are rising 1 to 2 inches per decade. It takes less of a storm surge now to overtake Manhattan and those Eastern towns than it would have in the past.

And the pace of the rising water level is expected to increase. Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery on Manhattan’s southern tip since 1900 have occurred in the last two-and-a-half years. That’s not good. Even worse, the number of named Atlantic storms is jumping. The annual average is 11, but Sandy’s first initial means she was the 19th storm of 2012. The past two years have been similar, bringing 18 and 19 named storms.

New York is looking at the possibility of spending billions of dollars on a series of complex “sea-gates” to protect the boroughs. City officials up there have their hands full.

I was glad to see that officials in states affected demanded that insurers not invoke higher deductibles sometimes imposed for wind or hail damage. Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm before landfall, so the insurance-buying public caught a break. Only about 13 percent of the public has federal flood insurance. That number will go up now. Consumers need regular property coverage and flood insurance. The last thing you want at a time of disaster is an argument as to whether it was wind or water that leveled the house.

The Good News

The insurance industry can easily handle Sandy. Most of the named storms have rolled off to the east, so storm-related losses have been minimal and carriers have had time to strengthen their balance sheets. Industry capital is strong. Property insurance rates are going up 8 to 10 percent, but that was happening before Sandy.

Sandy was a big, nasty, tough broad, but she was no Katrina. My educated guess on the total economic impact bill from Sandy is around $45 billion. This includes insured losses, uninsured losses, business-interruption losses and flood claims to the national flood insurance plan.

With the exception of the memories of loved ones who didn’t survive the storm and aftermath, it will all be cleaned up, rebuilt and forgotten.

Until it happens again.

Andrew “A.B.” Meadors is a certified risk manager and 25-year veteran of the insurance agency business in Arkansas. He is a partner in the firm Meadors Adams & Lee. He can be reached at AB@MeadorsAdams.com.