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Monday, 19 December 2016

Prepare for Disasters and Severe Weather

(Mazdak Moini, VP Commercial Lines & Reinsurance Aviva Canada Inc.)

Aviva Canada, one of the country’s leading property and casualty insurers, is honored to serve over three million customers across Canada and actively support the communities where we work and live.

As one of the leading insurers, we see the devastating impact of severe weather and natural disasters firsthand. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s 2015 Fact Book (page 16), for the past six consecutive years, insured losses caused by large natural catastrophes have been around or over $1 billion. By comparison, insured losses averaged $400 million a year over the 25-year period from 1983 to 2008.

We are committed to preventing damage before it occurs and helping Canadians prepare for unforeseen weather events and natural disasters. That’s why we launched Plan & Protect, a free emergency preparedness app, in partnership with the Institute forCatastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).

The app is available to all Canadians, and for every download, we’re donating $5 to the Canadian Red Cross to help communities affected by disasters*

Plan & Protect app features

  • Free to download from the App Store and Google Play.
  • Available in English and French.
  • Access vital information about what to do before, during and after floods, earthquakes, wildfires, winter storms and severe wind.
  • Receive a personalized risk report specific to your location, and customized list of items to include in your 72-hour emergency kit.
  • Get notifications tailored to your emergency needs.
  • Securely store your home and auto insurance information at your fingertips.
  • All content is preloaded and accessible without internet connection. 
You can help us continue to be there for Canadians from coast to coast when they need it most by sharing the app with your colleagues, family and friends!

* For the first 10,000 downloads.

This blog post has been written by Mazdak Moini, who is vice president of Commercial Lines & Reinsurance at Aviva Canada IncMazdak is responsible for leading Canadian and Group-wide strategic initiatives relating to underwriting, pricing, product and capital management, and providing risk management oversight to these activities. 

Mazdak Moini is a panelist/moderator at CatIQ’s Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) on the Terrorism Risk: International & Canadian Perspectives and the Disaster Assistance sessions during the conference.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Canada’s $127-Billion-Dollar Disaster

Written by Joanne Kennell, CatIQ

Let’s set the scene: It’s a typical Thursday morning. The city of Vancouver is buzzing with morning commuters. People are lined up at their favourite coffee shop to get their morning caffeine fix, parents are dropping their children off at school, and on-route employees are busily weaving up and down sidewalks on their way to the daily grind. Then it strikes – a magnitude 9.0 earthquake ruptures 75 km from the city. The violently shaking earth crumbles buildings as if they are made of sand. It also cracks and breaks roads making them impassable, and knocks out power across the entire city. People are injured, and homes have been destroyed.

The societal impacts of such an event would be devastating, and the economic impact would be cataclysmic.

(United States Air Force/Wikimedia (Public Domain))

Catastrophic insured losses due to natural disasters, such as flooding, hail, wildfire, etc., have continued to increase in Canada over the past few years.  However, according to a study conducted by The Conference Board of Canada (McIntyre and Desormeaux, 2016), a large earthquake is likely the only event that could bring the industry down. And although such a dramatic event seems impossible here in Canada, according to Natural Resources Canada, there is a 30% chance a major earthquake will strike BC’s West Coast in the next 50 years – a statistic not to be sneezed at!

In order to determine the impact of a major B.C. earthquake, the IBC funded-study stress-tested for an earthquake that could result in more than $30-billion in insured losses – above the amount that the property and causality insurance industry could currently handle. This size of loss equates to a seismic event of magnitude 9 that occurs close to Vancouver. Following an earthquake of this magnitude, insurer failures would likely happen, and because insurance companies are required to back each other’s claims, this practice will collapse if the industry is overwhelmed by claims (Nelson, 2016).

The costs of a major earthquake off the coast of B.C. would not only impact the West Coast but “put the national economy in jeopardy” explains the report. The report considered the cost of destroyed property, deaths, lost jobs, and the struggles involved with rebuilding. Over a 10-year period, the total economic costs would be a mind-boggling $127.5-billion! Compare that to Canada’s costliest insured-loss catastrophe, the Fort McMurray wildfire, which cost nearly $3.6-billion (CatIQ).

The cost breakdown of a major B.C. magnitude 9 earthquake over the 10-year period is as follows:

·         $42-billion – the amount of losses that would be covered by property and causality   insurers
·         $96-billion – if the insurance industry failed as a result of the earthquake, this    
  would be the total loss in gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation
·         $133-billion – consumer spending would decrease by this much as people struggle
  to rebuild their lives
·         43,700 – the number of jobs lost

It is important to note that an earthquake generating losses above the insurance industry’s capacity would be extremely rare. In fact, according to the federal Office of the Superintendent for Financial Institutions, by 2022 there will be sufficient claims-paying capacity for a 1-in-500-year earthquake. However, as realized with Japan in 2011 and New Zealand just a few weeks ago, there is always the possibility that a larger than predicted earthquake could strike. This is why a report focusing on a worse-case scenario is important – it highlights gaps and areas in need of improvement within the Canadian insurance system. It also acts as a reminder that governments need to invest more in earthquake preparedness.

In Canada, there are roughly 4,000 recorded earthquakes each year. However, earthquake damage is not covered by a standard home insurance policy – it can be added on to an existing policy (IBC, 2016). Earthquake insurance covers contents caused by the shaking of the earth. If the shaking of the earth results in a fire (caused by a broken gas main, for example), only the loss or damage from the fire would be covered under a regular insurance policy.

According to IBC, approximately two-thirds of B.C. homeowners have earthquake insurance. However, B.C. is not Canada’s only major fault zone. There is one that lies on the Quebec City – Montreal – Ottawa corridor, and there is a 5-15% chance of a major earthquake impacting this area in the next 50 years. However, only 2% of residents in this zone have earthquake insurance (CBC News, 2016).

David Edington, who studies the rebuilding processes after the major earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, explained to Metro News Vancouver (Li, 2016) that “[i]t’s a social problem for how you prepare for a low frequency but very high impact disaster.” Especially since B.C. does not experience earthquakes often, and even less occur in the Ontario/Quebec zone.

Pedro Antunes, deputy chief economist at The Conference Board of Canada hopes the results will serve as a wake-up call for policymakers. As the report explains, building codes need to be upgraded, and seismic regulations would save lives. People also need to be more aware of earthquake risks and should be encouraged to consider earthquake insurance coverage, especially in the Quebec City – Montreal – Ottawa corridor (CBC News, 2016).


CBC News. 2016. "Major quake could pose systemic risk to Canada’s financial sector, report says". CBC News Business. URL: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/earthquake-insurance-report-1.3705332

Insurance Bureau of Canada. 2016. "Earthquake Insurance". URL: http://www.ibc.ca/on/home/types-of-coverage/optional-coverage/earthquake-insurance/

Li, Wanyee. 2016. "Major B.C. earthquake could cost Canadian economy $127.5 billion: report". Metro News Vancouver. URL: http://www.metronews.ca/news/vancouver/2016/11/23/bc-earthquake-to-cost-canada-economy-says-conference-board.html

McIntyre, Jane and Marc Desormeaux. 2016. "Canada’s Earthquake Risk: Macroeconomic Impacts and Systemic Financial Risk". The Conference Board of Canada.

Nelson, Jacqueline. 2016. "Major B.C. earthquake could put ‘national economy in jeopardy’". The Globe and Mail. URL: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/major-bc-earthquake-could-put-national-economy-in-jeopardy/article32969556/

Friday, 2 December 2016

Disaster-Proofing Canada: Learning from Floods and Fires

(Lapo Calamai, Director, Catastrophe Risk and Economic Analysis, Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC))

Disaster-proofing Canada: Learning from floods and fires

Few Canadians will ever forget the images from May of this year of cars filled with families inching down Highway 63 away from Fort McMurray against a backdrop of flames.

At its peak, the Fort Mac wildfire covered 500,000 hectares – an area larger than Prince Edward Island. Firefighters dubbed it “The Beast.” In the two months before The Beast was brought under control, it destroyed 2,400 homes and buildings, and thousands of vehicles.

Within hours of the event, property and casualty (P&C) insurers activated emergency response plans, and the insurance industry is now responding to 44,000 claims totalling about $3.8 billion, making this the costliest insured disaster in Canadian history.

The wildfire that tore through northern Alberta stands as an important reminder that disaster can strike anywhere, with little warning. And Canada must be ready.

Canadians, governments and businesses can work together to prepare, so that when the worst hits, whether it’s a flood, a fire or an earthquake, those affected will get back on their feet quickly. Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) and its members are making it a priority to look ahead and anticipate ways to ensure Canadians are adequately protected. We call this “disaster-proofing Canada.”

Learning from past disasters – From Slave Lake to Fort McMurray

Every disaster holds lessons that can be applied to the next event. Before Fort Mac, Canada’s last large fire also happened in Alberta, in Slave Lake in 2011. Some 400 homes were destroyed – about one quarter of what was lost in Fort McMurray.

Back in Slave Lake, each insurer tackled the debris cleanup individually. But they quickly discovered that this “business-as-usual” approach simply couldn’t work given the scale of disaster: backhoes and bulldozers competing to access the same roads, properties and landfill sites. It wasn’t long before insurers realized that economies of scale and scope needed to be harnessed. The solution? Coordination and cooperation. Not an easy task for an industry made of over 200 highly competitive insurers – but essential nonetheless.

The scale of the task in Fort McMurray was even greater: not 400, but 2,400 homes – the largest number destroyed in any wildfire in Canada’s history. Building on their Slave Lake experience, however, insurers recognized that they needed a coordinated response. The municipality saw the value in coordination as well, but was very sensitive to the need to hire local, considering the tough economic times that the community was already facing before the fire.

IBC helped coordinate action, hiring a project manager to find a local contractor with the experience to handle the cleanup. The result? Today the vast majority of sites – some 98% – have been cleared, and the focus is now on getting ready for rebuilding and restoration come spring. An impressive result to achieve in just about three months given the unprecedented scale of the disaster.

Mitigating the cost of natural disasters through adaptation

While Fort Mac will forever mark the history of our country, it was hardly an isolated event. For several years now, insurers have been witnessing first-hand the growing impact of extreme weather events.

Evidence-based research clearly shows that climate change is contributing to an increase in wildfires, storms, flooding and severe weather activity – even in areas that were previously thought to be “risk-free”. And of all natural disasters, water is no doubt the long-term trend. Data unequivocally points to water-related damage having replaced fire as the number one cause of home insurance losses.

By taking preventive measures, Canadians and their governments can go a long way to protecting themselves, their communities and the national economy from the future impacts of disasters.

With flood being the country’s most frequent and costly disaster, IBC is currently in talks with federal and provincial governments to co-create a national flood strategy – in partnership with likeminded stakeholders in the academic and not-for-profit world.

Governments are well aware of the fiscal pressure generated by increased flooding. Average spending under the federal government’s Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) – the program that provides reimbursement for large catastrophes – jumped from an average of about $40 million a year in the 1970s to more than $600 million a year in this decade. The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) expects this to increase to over $900 million a year going forward. The vast majority of it – some 80% percent – is due to flood.

With the 2013 southern Alberta floods, DFAA costs reached a record $1.4 billion. This spending came directly out of the Canadian taxpayer’s pocket. In addition to that, the Alberta government incurred another $1.5 billion in disaster assistance costs, bringing the total cost to taxpayers for floods that year to about $3 billion. And this was of course on top of the $1.9 billion shouldered by the insurance industry, and the value of economic activity and production capacity that got wiped out in the process.

A key reason for the cost escalation experienced by governments across Canada is that there is currently no system in place to ensure that all victims of flooding events have adequate financial protection. And Canada is alone among G7 countries in this respect.

Insurance coverage for residential overland flooding has not historically been available in Canada, partially as a result of insufficient flood mapping data. With improvements in underwriting, modelling and risk assessment technology, however, this is now changing. Several insurers today offer residential flood insurance across the country.

Although flood coverage is still a relatively new product, we expect that ultimately it will be available for all but roughly 10% of Canadian homes. That 10% represents the properties at the highest risk of flooding. These homeowners have the greatest need for flood insurance but are unlikely to be able to obtain it without some form of public-private coordination. With risk-based premiums, which are critical for setting proper incentives and nudge consumers towards investment in risk-mitigation, high-risk properties would inevitably face an affordability problem.

As we witnessed this past Thanksgiving in Atlantic Canada, however, we are still a long way from ensuring that every Canadian has access to the financial protection they need to respond to floods. More needs to be done – and government has a critical role to play.

Along with this public-private coordination, IBC is advocating for new investments to make public assets more resilient to extreme weather, updated building codes, more stringent land use policies, individual and community-based home adaptation programs, and a host of flood mitigation initiatives based on both structural flood defences and natural infrastructure.

As Canadians will continue to face an ever increasing number of disasters, we must continue to focus on improving how we respond to help communities like Calgary, High-River or Fort McMurray get back on their feet. We must look forward to how we can adapt and reduce the impact of the next catastrophe. Disaster-proofing Canada demands we do both. 

Written November 30, 2016


This blog post has been written by Lapo Calamai, Director, Catastrophe Risk and Economic Analysis, Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). Having joined IBC in 2012, Lapo leads research, analytics and policy development to address some of the industry’s most pressing financial, regulatory and commercial challenges. He also leads IBC’s catastrophe risk management practice, working with governments and insurance executives across Canada to promote sound disaster risk management by leveraging risk transfer and catastrophe insurance and reinsurance solutions.

Lapo Calamai is a panelist at CatIQ’s Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) on the Perspectives in Flood Risk Assessment and Mitigation workshop during the conference.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Resilience is Everyone’s Responsibility

(Veronica Scotti, President & CEO, Swiss Re Canada)

The insurance industry is fully capable of meeting its obligations in the wake of the Fort McMurray fire, yet the assets lost are a sobering reminder of the ferocity of nature’s perils and our vulnerability. 

Replaying the scenes of the devastation in my mind, I’ve been thinking about how resilient we really are – both physically and financially. Are Canada and its citizens equal to the challenge of extreme events like Fort McMurray? What about other events such as earthquake and flood? I think there's work that can and should be done. 

My colleague, Christoph Oehy, former Head Treaty Underwriting, and I share a passion of wanting to raise the odds of Canada's preparedness for when the next flood strikes. Over the past year, we've discussed, at length, what we think is needed for that to happen, and how we can help. Those conversations are now compiled in a report Christoph co-authored with our flood peril specialist, Caspar Honneger. The road to flood resilience in Canada explores the consequences of a 200-year event and recommends steps to close the protection gap – the difference between economic and insured losses. 

Our research estimates that Canada’s property protection gap is CAD$2.9 billion – the 11th highest in the world. It’s a sad fact that few homeowners have flood insurance. One major event could result in damages that far outstrip the level of insurance available in the market. We only need to look back a couple of years for a vivid illustration of this problem. In 2013, insurance only covered about one-third of the economic losses from the southern Alberta floods and CAD$1 billion of the nearly CAD$1.5 billion in total losses from the Toronto flood.

So what’s causing this protection gap? There are many reasons, but let’s look at two very important factors. First, there’s a general misunderstanding (or assumption) that the government will step in and pay for extensive repairs and replacement, which leads to complacency about the need for insurance. Second, insurers have been hesitant to take on flood risk due in part to inadequate modelling skills and no clear actions to continuously mitigate exposures, which homeowners and municipalities are in charge of.

Ignorance and maintaining the status quo are no defense against the very real threat of a 200-year flood. Consider the following river flood projections based on a model developed by our catastrophe peril experts:

- A 200-year flood in Ontario is likely to be triggered by heavy precipitation and inadequate urban drainage, resulting in total losses approaching CAD$5.3 billion -- CAD$4 billion of that is uninsured at the moment.

- A 200-year flood in Alberta could destroy CAD$3.6 billion in property -- CAD$2.6 billion of that uninsured -- caused by excessive snowmelt on the Bow and Elbow Rivers which converge at Calgary.

- In British Columbia, development along the Fraser River would exacerbate already tenuous flood conditions in the event of a heavy snowmelt, triggering CAD$4.6 billion in losses of which CAD$2.8 billion isn't covered by insurance.

Those are just a few examples. As you can see, the culprit varies depending on geography, topography, climate, population, development and local infrastructure. 

Canada's the only G7 country today that leaves homeowners largely unprotected from the financial losses caused by floods, and still relies on post-event measures, which are sincere but ineffective and certainly unsustainable. So what will it take to change the multi-party conversation on the flood file and close the flood protection gap through planned actions? You’ll find our recommendations in the report, but here’s the general idea: It will take partnership between the public and private sectors to satisfactorily address the need for physical resilience, social resilience and economic resilience (all three are important). Insurance can lead the way to higher economic resilience through improved modelling, product innovation and application of behavioural economics toward better understanding consumer attitudes and motivations when it comes to the perceived value of insurance. A clear appreciation for the value of insurance is directly linked to 1) a well-informed choice when selecting coverage and 2) in assuming responsibility through very simple and inexpensive risk mitigation measures that can save thousands of dollars in losses as well as emotional distress. 

I encourage you to read this report – while it's scientifically sound it's also an easy read. And you can always reach out to us through this blog if you have questions or tips on how to make the dialogue richer and the actions more compelling. I'm convinced we can make a difference if we all take responsibility.

And if you’re having some of these same discussions with colleagues, please let us know. That's how it all started for Christoph and myself a year ago in our Toronto office.

This article was originally posted on Swiss Re's Open Minds Platform.

Swiss Re Canada is a proud sponsor of CatIQ's Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) that is taking place February 1-3 at the Allstream Centre located in Toronto. Balz Grollimud, Head Treaty of Underwriting at Swiss Re will be speaking during the Geomagnetic Storms - The Next Black Swan session at the conference.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Model Flood Risk Without Historical Data – An Innovative Solution!

(Carl Lambert, Vice-President of Business Intelligence at The Co-operators)

In June 2013, Canada suffered one of its most severe floods in recorded history. 32 towns in southern Alberta were flooded for total damages exceeding C$5 billion. At the time, the insurance industry did not offer flood insurance.  Sewer backup losses were covered and the total cost for the industry was C$1.7 billion. Yet, in early 2015, Canada remained the only G7 country where residential flood insurance coverage was not available.
At Co-operators, we were already working on launching a flood product.  Those events reinforced the demand for residential flood coverage and put more pressure on the industry to develop a solution.

The Co-operators was the first in Canada to launch such a new coverage. Significant effort was required across the organization to ensure we implemented the proper solution that would answer an unmet need, while focusing on making Canadian communities more resilient to flooding. This blog will focus on only one piece of the work, the development of the risk assessment and the pricing. The BI-Research team and Actuarial pricing team collaborated on a non-traditional pricing solution. 

The Approach - Research

Learn & Partner with Canadian Universities

We started by reaching out to our network of partners in Canadian universities. This helped us better understand important concepts around flood hazards, flood plains, and damage functions. Our Statisticians and Actuaries have learned to work with Hydrologists, Geologists, Hydraulic Engineers and Civil Engineers.

Seek out Third Party Vendors

We then started a long process of seeking out and assessing existing flood models and data sources. We learned to speak with modeling firms, and gradually built enough expertise internally to be able to assess the credibility and value of third party vendors.

Leverage Open data & Big Data

We then sought out external available data.  There is a lot of information available and the challenge was to identify the ones that are usable for that purpose.  By usability of information, we mean reliability, predictability and frequency of updates.  

We have tested dozens of external sources and a significant number of them have been used.  For example, we used elevation data at every 5 meters Canada Wide.  (30 meters in rural areas).  We also used the Soil type across Canada to better model water dispersion and evaluate how long the flood will last.  We also used Historical River flows, with numerous lecture points of all rivers in Canada, available every minute, for at least 50 years.  We even used a database showing historical Tectonic Plates movements.

Assessment of the Risk

There were three sources of flood risk to model: Fluvial flood, pluvial flood and coastal flood. Each of them has their own specificities and therefore have different models.

It was important for us to provide adequate and flexible coverage for all Canadians, whether they are in a high risk zone or not, at a price that accurately reflects the true risk. For that reason, we needed a model that was accurate, precise, and consistent.
Our model is customized to use different sources of insight that complement each other. Vendor models will sometimes fail our quality standards and, most of them also ignore a significant amount of local flood defense structures such as dikes and reservoirs. On the other side, our internal models were not always based on enough data to be fully credible. 

With extensive R&D efforts, we were able to leverage the large amount of data available in Canada to bridge that gap and create a national flood risk model that meets our standards.

Assessing the risk means developing models for the following 3 phenomena:

Model Flood Water amounts

Hydrological models are used to determine the probability that a water body will flood. 

Model Water Dispersion

Hydraulic models are used to determine how those water volumes flood the landscape. 

Model the « submersion depth »

Submersion depth models use the results of water dispersions and combine them with other sources of information to determine models for submersion. Furthermore, the required use of rooftop geocoding of the exact location of the insured building complicated the availability of information since many possible sources did not have the geocode.

Convert the « submersion depth » into building & content damage

Many factors impact the amount of damages:  the submersion depth, the type of building, the expected duration of the flood, the temperature of the water and many more. In order to build both content and building predictive models, we have used text mining on notes coming from past sewer backups claims and integrated that with external probabilistic models. 

Pricing Policies

Flood models estimate the flood risk but they don’t calculate an insurance premium. For example, third party damage curves work well at estimating flood damage but cannot be directly applied to insurance claims, because the latter includes elements of client behavior as well as the effect of limits and deductibles. Furthermore, our comprehensive water insurance product offers our clients unprecedented flexibility regarding their water coverage, which also provided pricing challenges. In times when the “buzz word” in technology and science is Minimal Viable Product, in the case of flood insurance the bar for a viable product is very high.

In the end, a key to our success is to take a scientific approach to modeling the flood risk, for each and every house, farm, and building. It is what allows us to provide insurance at the right price, for everyone. It is that analytical mindset, combined with a lot of determination and innovation, that is and will continue to be the Co-operators’ advantage. 

This blog post has been written by Carl Lambert, who is vice-president of Business Intelligence at The Co-operators. Carl completed a Master's degree in Actuarial in 1994. He joined The Co-operators in 2009, where he launched a Research team that now consists of over 65 professionals in Mathematics, Statistics, IT and Actuarial. The team is responsible for the development of Analytics throughout the organization.

Carl Lambert is a panelist at CatIQ’s Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) on the How to Create an Inventory of Canadian Hazard Data session during the conference.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Canada’s Near Failing Grade in Flood Preparedness

By Joanne Kennell, Meteorologist at CatIQ

It may surprise you to learn that nearly all 10 Canadian provinces and Yukon have received a near failing grade when it comes to flood preparedness. According to a new report titled “Climate Change and the Preparedness of Canadian Provinces and Yukon to Limit Potential Flood Damage” by the University of Waterloo and sponsored by the Intact Centre of Climate Adaptation, these grades are a symptom of significant change being needed across the country. And these changes need to happen quickly in order for Canada to be prepared to address the climate-related risks of increasing severe weather events, including catastrophic floods.

In Canada, the majority of insured catastrophic losses are from water-related damage, and up until the Fort McMurray Fire (2016-05-Cat-0070) in Alberta this past May, the 2013 Southern Alberta Flood (2013-06-Cat-0049) was the costliest insured natural disaster with a CatIQ insured loss estimate of over $1.5 billion. According to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2016, the federal government has spent more on recovering from catastrophic natural disasters over the last 6 years than in the previous 39 years combined. Clearly, climate change risks could pose a significant threat to not only Canada, but to the global financial system as both storm intensity and frequency continue to rise.

Figure 1: Catastrophic Insured Losses from Natural Disasters in Canada (1983 to 2016)

So what does the report mean by flood preparedness? Preparedness is defined as “the capacities and knowledge developed by governments, professional response organizations, communities and individuals to anticipate and respond effectively to the impact of likely, imminent or current hazard events or conditions”, the report quotes from The United Nations Secretariat of theInternational Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR), 2016. To survey the flood preparedness of Canada’s provinces and Yukon (Northwest Territories and Nunavut were not covered in the report), 103 government representatives across 91 provincial and territorial ministries, departments and agencies were polled on the preparedness to limit flood damage relative to current (2016) and future (2030) major rainfall events based on 12 categories (Feltmate, 2016):

1.       Floodplain Mapping
2.       Land-use Planning
3.       Drainage System Maintenance
4.       Sustainable Flooding Management
5.       Home Adaptation Audit
6.       Commercial Property Adaptation Audit
7.       Transportation Systems
8.       Electricity Supply
9.       Drinking Water Systems
10.   Waste Water Systems
11.   Public Health and Safety
12.   Emergency Preparedness and Response

Overall, the Canadian provinces and Yukon scored very well in maintaining Public Health and Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Response. However, many provinces fell short in the remaining 10 categories. For example, most survey participants agreed that current land-use planning practices do not “sufficiently restrict development in flood-prone areas” and that “municipal councils have significant power to override their own land-use restriction bylaws to approve new developments, even if the developments are in recognized flood-prone areas”. Additionally, four provinces are currently not involved in the development of a Home Adaptation Audit program, which is a program that helps homeowners assess their vulnerability and minimize their risk to flooding. Similarly, nine provinces indicated that they have not developed a Commercial Property Adaptation Audit program, which is comparable to the Home Adaptation Audit, but for businesses.

By now you must be itching to know how Canada, as well as individual provinces and territories, scored. Using a scale from A (strong flood preparedness) to E (weak flood preparedness); Canada received an overall grade of C-. This is not great, and “suggests that there is a considerable margin for Canada to better prepare for, and potentially mitigate, future flood risk” states the report. Ontario leads the pack with a score of B-, and the provinces with the lowest score include British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, which both received a D.

        Figure 2: The Canadian Average Flood Preparedness Score Across all Canadian Provinces and Yukon

However, the survey participants did recommend several measures that provinces and territories should take in order to limit future flooding risks:

1.       Create a position of Chief Adaptation Officer (CAO) whose duty is to identify    
  areas of both strength and weakness to flood preparedness and develop methods  
  to mitigate the risks
2.       CAOs would be in charge of ensuring that flood risk preparedness is deployed
3.       Provinces and territories should issue, on a multi-year cycle, audited public  
  reports on the state of flood preparedness and future challenges that may develop
4.       Provinces and territories should mandate that new development in flood-prone
  areas be restricted, and that municipalities should not be able to overturn bylaws
  set by provinces and territories
5.       Where practical, infrastructure should be re-built to better handle our changing

Although concerns related to flooding have been minimal in recent decades, the report concludes that “the risks of the past are not the risks of the present, and certainly not the risks of the future”, and failure to improve the preparedness of provinces and territories could result in unceasing economic losses, threatening Canada’s status as a safe country in which to invest and do business.


Feltmate, Blair. (2016). Climate Change and the Preparedness of Canadian Provinces and
         Yukon to Limit Potential Flood Damage. University of Waterloo. URL:

Office of the Auditor General Canada (2016). 2016. Spring Reports of the Commissioner of
         the Environment and Sustainable Development: Report 2 – Mitigating the Impacts of
         Severe Weather. URL: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN/OCHA), Policy and
         Development Branch and United Nations Secretariat of the International Strategy
         for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR). (2008). Disaster Preparedness for Effective
         Response: Guidance and Indicator Package for Implementing Priority Five of the
         Hyogo Framework. Geneva, Switzerland: UN/ISDR and UN/OCHA. URL:

Friday, 4 November 2016

Not enough rain is also a problem...

(Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meteorologist, Environment and Climate Change Canada)

Significant rainfall, and the flooding that can result, has been top-of-mind for many of the clients I have talked to that are involved in flood forecasting and emergency management and response. Canada’s insurers are now saying that water is the number one cause of insurance payouts over the last few years. Short duration, high intensity bursts of rainfall have been responsible for significant infrastructure damage in locations across the province over the last 10 or 15 years. Large storm systems, some fed by the remnants of tropical storms, have also caused widespread flooding. Lastly, seasonal spring flooding has also been a concern in parts of the province during periods of rapid warm-up and rain that can combine with snowmelt to cause rivers to overflow. These events have not played favourites with respect to where they have occurred...Windsor, London, Burlington, Toronto, Bracebridge, Peterborough, Ottawa, Timmins, Thunder Bay and Dryden have been but a few of the communities required to deal with the impacts of flooding for a variety of reasons. 

This past summer was no exception as significant rains fell on the Windsor area between September 28 and 30. The bulk of the rain fell during the first part of the event with some locations receiving in excess of 160 mm of rain with the first intense bands that moved over the area. Normal rainfall for the whole month of September in the Windsor area is around 94 mm. Thousands of residents felt the impacts from this event.

And yet, in the same summer that gave us another example of flood damage, other parts of southern and eastern Ontario were dealing with one of the driest spring and summers they had seen in years. Drier than normal conditions have been reported starting in April in some areas of southern and eastern Ontario as the favoured storm tracks, month after month, avoided these areas in favour of other parts of the Great Lakes basin. This extended dryness has led to a variety of impacts in these regions. Low reservoir levels and stream flows, wells drying up, reduced crop yields and the increased need for irrigation on the part of local farmers are but a few of the issues that have occurred. The map below provides the low water condition information gathered by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (OMNRF’s) Surface Water Monitoring Centre in Peterborough as of October 20, 2016. The map brings together information from a variety of Conservation Authorities and OMNRF’s district offices. 

Low water condition level III is the most severe and is denoted by the red areas on the map. Low water condition level III implies that the water supply is failing to meet the demand and must be managed through the use of water conservation and restrictions and regulation of water use.

Unfortunately, a few rainfalls here and there in the coming weeks are not going to make any notable changes in the overall situation. In fact, the latest precipitation forecasts for November hint that conditions could remain somewhat drier than normal. The situation will also not be improved by the fact that as the weather gets colder, the ground will get harder and precipitation will be more in the form of snow. This will keep needed moisture from getting into the watersheds in the most affected areas and will likely mean the situation will continue into the spring of next year.

So while it is important to acknowledge the significant infrastructure and financial impacts that flooding can cause, this summer has also provided a reminder of the impacts that extreme dryness can create. Climate experts have expressed concerns about both extreme rainfalls and drought in the coming decades. This past summer has provided us some insights into what we could be dealing with in the years to come as some areas deal with flooding rains while others look for rain of any amount.

This blog post has been written by Geoff Coulson, who has been a Meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada for 33 years. For the past 12 years, Geoff has been a Warning Preparedness Meteorologist providing weather information to clients at all levels of government, the media, and the private sector. He also sits on the Provincial Flood Forecasting and Warning Committee and manages the CANWARN volunteer storm spotter program in Ontario.

Geoff Coulson is a panelist at CatIQ’s Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017) on the Lessons Learned from Ice, Flood & Hail session during the conference.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Is it Time to Pay our Winter Weather Dues?

Joanne Kennell, Meteorologist, CatIQ

As we near half way through the fall season, most of Canada, with the exception of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (sorry!), has been pretty fortunate in terms of not receiving a major snow storm or snowfall. And luckily, what is left of autumn will continue to be fairly good to Canadians. Temperatures will remain at or above normal in all of the provinces and territories except Newfoundland and Labrador. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t see cold and/or snow episodes before winter hits, because as all Canadians are aware, winter loves to give us a taste of what’s to come.

Ontario knows this first hand thanks to a Wednesday overnight and Thursday morning snowfall. It is a not-so-subtle reminder that winter is not far away. However, this bout of Ontario snow will be short-lived (thank goodness… I am not quite ready for snow), as temperatures this weekend are set to hit nearly 20oC in some regions!

Overall, Canada has been quite spoiled in terms of temperatures. We had a fairly mild 2015-2016 winter and a balmy spring, followed by an extremely warm summer and our current warm-ish fall.

So, is it time to pay our weather dues?

Both the Farmer’s Almanac and weather models agree that yes, this weather honeymoon is over. Canada’s upcoming winter will be reminiscent of the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 winters past. If you don’t remember those winters, let me remind you in two words: ICE COLD. This is bad news if you hate the snow and cold, but this is great news if you are an avid skier, skater, ice fisher, snowmobiler, you name it.

Let’s break down how winter will unfold across the county.

Looking to the west, British Columbia and parts of western Alberta will remain relatively mild and wet. The Prairie Provinces will likely experience some pretty frigid temperatures (likely the coldest in the entire country). However, they will experience below average snowfall. Don’t get me wrong, they will still get snow, and probably a lot of it, just not as much as previous years.

Most of Ontario and Southern Quebec will experience below average temperatures and lots of snow. And since the Great Lakes will remain warm for some time into the winter season, a lot of Ontario’s snow will be driven by lake effects.

Now, Atlantic Canada is expected to receive a “Classic Winter”. What this means is that provinces will receive a normal amount of snow and normal temperatures. And thanks to the warm Atlantic Ocean, some storms that develop could result in significant ice accumulation.

Why do we think this? Let’s look back to the winter of 2013. On December 20th, a moisture-laden mass of air resulted in significant icy precipitation across Ontario, Quebec, and all the Atlantic Provinces. In Toronto, 43 hours of freezing rain occurred, while Trenton received over 55 hours of freezing precipitation. In Quebec and the Maritimes, surfaces were covered with ice 10 to 30 mm thick, and since temperatures remained below freezing, a lot of this ice remained for almost a week.

So, will there be a repeat ice storm this season? It is too early to say, but the right ingredients are definitely going to be there - it is just a matter of them mixing together properly. Let’s just say Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario will remain an area of interest for CATs this winter.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Hurricane Matthew: The Record Breaker

Joanne Kennell, Meteorologist, CatIQ

The destruction ensued by Hurricane Matthew and its remnants, not only in Canada, but in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, is heartbreaking. Lives were lost and people’s homes and possessions have been damaged or are in complete ruins. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who is suffering because of this record-breaking storm.

Hurricane Matthew (2016-10-Cat-0081) began as a tropical wave the originated off the west coast of Africa and passed south of Cape Verde – a section of islands located 570 kilometers off the coast of Africa and is a region known for spawning long-lived tropical cyclones. What made Matthew such a record breaker was its intensity and endurance (Erdman, 2016). Not only was Matthew the longest lived Category 4-5 Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in October in the Atlantic Basin, it was also the southernmost Category 5 Hurricane in the Atlantic Basin.

Tropical cyclones and hurricanes require a set of specific ingredients to form, but generally they need:
1)      A pre-existing disturbance such as a tropical wave
2)      Warm sea-surface temperatures of at least 26oC
3)      At least 5 degrees south or 5 degrees south of the equator for the Coriolis Force       to take effect
4)      Lots of moisture in the lower and mid-levels of the atmosphere
5)      Weak vertical wind shear – a change in wind speed and/or direction with height
6)      Atmospheric instability

According to Dr. Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at CSU who specializes in Atlantic Basin seasonal hurricane forecasts, Matthew’s perseverance in the Atlantic Basin was due to a relative lack of wind shear and minimal dry air – exactly two of the key ingredients needed for tropical storm formation. But Matthew did not only break a nine-year streak without an Atlantic Basin Category 5 hurricane, it was also categorized as a Category 5 very far south and close to the equator. On September 30th, just before midnight EDT, Matthew transitioned into a Category 5 hurricane with its centre at 13.3 degrees north.

However, what made Matthew such a record breaker, also made it extremely destructive and devastating. Although Matthew was no longer a hurricane as it impacted Canada’s Maritime Provinces, its leftover moisture, which was absorbed into a frontal zone, intensified a low-pressure system that inundated Nova Scotia and Newfoundland with heavy rains and gusty winds. According to Environment Canada, the town of Sydney, Nova Scotia, received 224.8 mm of rainfall and Gander, NL, received up to 124 mm of rain – both of which were one day record-breaking rainfall totals in each city.

Washed out Road in Buchans, Newfoundland 
Photo credit: Tammy @tammyharris96/Twitter

Unfortunately, all of this rain led to significant flooding in Sydney, including flooded homes and businesses, and many roads and bridges were washed out in Newfoundland. States of emergencies were declared in some Nova Scotia and Newfoundland communities, including Sydney, as well as Lewisporte, Little Burnt Bay, and St. Alban, Newfoundland.

Although the cost of this catastrophic event is unknown, it is expected to exceed CatIQ’s Catastrophe (CAT) threshold of $25M (insured industry loss). But how does this event compare to previous, similar incidents in the past?

Looking back to Hurricane Earl (2010), which did not meet the $25M threshold, but rather industry losses were estimated between $10M and $25M, it also originated from the Cape Verde region. In fact, Earl (2010-09-NE-0090) reached a peak intensity of a Category 4 hurricane and even made landfall near Liverpool, Nova Scotia as a Category 1 hurricane (Cangiolosi, 2011).  So why was Earl’s damage not as extensive like with Hurricane Matthew? Earl was a weakening hurricane at the time, and it was relatively fast moving, so there was not enough time to severely flood cities with massive amounts of rain. However, Matthew’s moisture acted as fuel to intensify a very slow-moving often stalled, low-pressure system. This resulted in unprecedented amounts of rain to fall in both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Track of Hurricane Earl (2010)
Photo credit: Anhamirak and Cyclonebiskit/Wikipedia

Finally, let’s take a look at Hurricane Arthur (2014). Arthur (2014-07-Cat-0058) became an extratropical cyclone on July 5th while over the Bay of Fundy (Berg, 2015), which is located just west of Nova Scotia. Arthur continued to travel northeast toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence while producing strong winds and intense rains over Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. The system then reached eastern Labrador and Newfoundland. Arthur did in fact reach CatIQ’s Catastrophe (CAT) threshold of $25M by causing localized flooding, damaging properties and structures, downing trees, and causing massive power outages. What Arthur and Matthew had in common is the fact that their remnants of moisture were enhanced along a frontal boundary, which allowed for prolonged periods of rain and strong winds.

Downed Tree of Power Lines in Nova Scotia
Photo credit: Ken Stronach @kstronach24/Twitter

Although every catastrophic and notable event is unique, we can sometimes look for patterns in past events to try to determine potential damages of future, similar systems. Will Hurricane Nicole - who is now the longest-lived Atlantic named storm forming this late in the year - impact Canada as intensely as Matthew? No, it won’t. Parts of Atlantic Canada, predominately eastern Newfoundland including the southern Grand Banks, will only see some ocean swells and gale force winds this weekend. Thank goodness.


Berg, Robbie. 2015. Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Arthur. National Hurricane Center. URL: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL012014_Arthur.pdf

Cangialosi, John P. 2011. Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Earl. National Hurricane Center. URL: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL072010_Earl.pdf

Erdman, Jon. 2016. Hurricane Matthew Shatters Record. Weather.com. URL: https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/hurricane-matthew-records-notables-2016