Lloyd’s, UK’s Met Office Prepare for Repeat of 1987 Windstorm

October 16, 2007

Risk management Solutions commemorated the 20th anniversary of the destructive 1987 windstorm that struck Southern England and Northern France with a warning (See IJ web site Oct. 15).

Lloyd’s and the UK’s Met Office marked the event with separate bulletins, indicating that when and if such a violent storm again strikes Britain they are far better prepared for it.

Lloyd’s said its “underwriters say they’re prepared should a storm of this magnitude occur again.” The Met Office recounted the formation of the storm and the destruction it caused on its web site (www.metoffice.gov.uk). The weather service admitted that it had come in for harsh criticism, including an official inquiry, 20 years ago for its apparent inability to predict the storm’s potential destructive power.

Lloyd’s described the great storm of October 1987 as “the worst to affect the south-east of England since 1703. After the storm had passed, Britain’s landscape was changed dramatically – 15 million trees were felled and whole forests decimated. Buildings suffered severe damage and ships were driven on to shore. Sixteen people died as a direct result of the storm damage” [the Met office put the figure at 18].

Although the storm was seen at the time as a “one in 200 year event” Lloyd’s noted that it was “repeated just three years later in January 1990, costing the lives of 47 people across the UK, with higher wind speeds recorded than those in 1987. It also impacted heavily on continental Europe with Germany suffering the worst insured losses.”

The Met Office has greatly increased its capabilities in 20 years. These improvements include the following (in summary form):
— Supercomputers now have capacity to analyze the increasing amount of available observations, from satellites etc.
— Forecasting models have improved to give a more realistic simulation (better physics) of how the atmosphere works.
— A ‘re-run of the storm, using current technology,’ successfully produced a forecast the event.
— Satellite information – data not pictures – and the way it is used in computer models provides vastly more data for the forecasting process.
– With experience forecasters themselves have improved their understanding of what satellite pictures show in term of cloud heads and Sting Jets (hooked cloud heads associated with very strong winds), which help determine the characteristics of individual storms. [The 1987 storm was of the ‘sting jet’ type]
— As a result of the storm both the Met Office and our television presenters are better at telling the public about the risk posed by severe weather events.

Met Office Chief Meteorologist, Ewen McCallum told Lloyd’s that while it was highly likely that weathermen would be able to predict a repeat before the event, there was no certainty. However, Lloyd’s indicated that its underwriters “are confident should there be a repeat, it will be fully able to meet the needs of its policyholders when claims were made.”

Lloyd’s also noted that it has “invested heavily in Realistic Disaster Scenarios (RDS) across a series of 18 different major events that are deemed to be the most significant global threats both natural and man made. One is a specific RDS that involves a windstorm across Europe, with the UK being hardest hit, and costing insurers $30 billion (£15 billion).
“Every year syndicates are required to provide details to the Lloyd’s Franchise Directorate of their potential exposure to each of the RDS, which also includes a category five hurricane hitting densely populated parts of the southern United States and a major earthquake in California.”

Paul Nunn, Lloyd’s Head of Exposure Management, explained that the “aim of the RDS is to ensure that the individual syndicates are not too heavily exposed to any single event or to the potential claims should two catastrophic events occur in a short space of time.”

He also noted that one of the simulations “deals with a European windstorm significantly more costly than those of 1987 and 1990. It enables both the market and the individual companies to be confident that we can comfortably meet the needs of our policyholders should disaster strike. As with every RDS, our model European windstorm is reviewed each year and indexed as appropriate each year to ensure that they remain valid tests of our abilities.”

Source: Lloyd’s and UK Met Office – www.lloyds.com

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