Extreme weather, extreme effects

August 2, 2016

Climate risks and extreme weather events will continue to affect how we live and how we do business. In North America, Zurich strives to help our communities and customers attempt to mitigate risks from climate and extreme weather events and become more resilient to its effects.

Greg Lanshe

Assistant Vice President, Property Segment Director

Greg combines his technical knowledge and service delivery to help Zurich’s customers in North... About this expert

The phrase “extreme weather” evokes images of tornadoes flattening towns, wildfires raging and floods irreparably damaging homes and businesses. Extreme weather can come in the form of catastrophic hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, but it denotes any worsened version of typical weather patterns. Extreme weather poses a threat to everyone, regardless of the size of your company, your type of business or geographical location.

In fact, weather and climate-related disasters have caused USD 2.4 trillion in global economic losses since 1971. From construction sites that have to close because of high winds or a storm (thereby losing profit), to hospitals that have to figure out how to save their patients from impending floods, to a business that attempts to prepare their building for a hurricane that is expected to hit, to farmers whose very livelihood depends on the weather, everyone is affected by extreme weather.

Extreme weather events are a particularly pertinent topic as climate resilience is garnering more and more media attention and the 2016 Global Risks Report named climate change as one of the top risks in the world right now, and a possible increase in extreme weather is the topic of much current discussion. Summers may be hotter and rainier (leading to more flooding), and winters may be shorter but much colder. These changes could affect the ecosystems that have come to rely on typical temperatures and weather patterns, which may lead to a much different world from the one we live in today. According to many reputable studies and climate scientists, one of the biggest changes that will come with climate change is an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, specifically heat waves, droughts, heavy rain and snow storms.

With this in mind, there is a need to develop strategies for improving resilience of our homes and businesses. Building the homes we live in and businesses we operate with extreme weather in mind is not only smart, but is also becoming necessary.

Building codes typically represent minimum standards and may not protect against more extreme weather events. Your building may not withstand the stronger winds and intense flooding associated with more extreme weather.

For example, in 1992 Hurricane Andrew made landfall in south Florida as a Category 5 storm and produced catastrophic results. Homes and businesses were destroyed. Following Hurricane Andrew, building codes were strengthened to lessen the impact of future storms. Hurricanes continue to affect Florida, but improved building codes can lead to homes and businesses that are more prepared for, and more resilient to, these extreme weather events.

More recently, when Superstorm Sandy hit the North American East Coast in 2012, many houses and businesses incurred significant damage because they were not built to withstand the intense flooding. Many homes and businesses required extensive repairs or were torn down completely. There is nothing resilient about a building that ends up in a landfill.

The design, construction and maintenance of a building can help make a big difference in recovering from an extreme weather event. For new buildings, consider a forward-looking design that goes beyond minimum code and paying a little extra to make a building more climate resilient now so there is the potential for you to pay less for disaster-related losses later. For existing buildings, take into consideration ways that you can improve your resilience against extreme weather events, not just the most common ones.

As Zurich North American Commercial CEO Mike Foley has said, “part of our Zurich Commitment is to deliver insights that empower our customers and the communities we serve to understand and protect themselves from risk. So for climate change, that's helping to better understand ways to mitigate risk of catastrophes before they happen and become more resilient for the future, as well as in recovery.”

Learn ways you can become more climate resilient: