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Take action to help reduce tropical weather damage

April 22, 2024

Tropical weather along the U.S. coastlines was relatively quiet in 2023 until the end of August when Hurricane Idalia rapidly intensified as it approached the Big Bend area of Florida. Its winds peaked at Category 4 strength while at sea and it made landfall as a major Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph.

It was the strongest hurricane to strike that region in 125 years.1 In total, it cost insurers approximately $3.5 billion in losses.2 Another strong storm – Tropical Storm Ophelia – struck North Carolina on Sept. 22 with sustained winds of 70 mph – just below hurricane threshold of 74 mph, causing more than $450 million in total losses.3

There is debate about the increasing intensity of tropical weather, but the last several years have been busy and costly:

  • There have now been eight consecutive years of above-average hurricane seasons. An average season is 14 storms, seven hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.
  • 2020 was the most active season on record with 30 named storms; 2021 is third with 21 storms; 2023 is fourth with 20.
  • 2021 was the fourth costliest hurricane season on record with $86.3 billion in damages and 194 deaths. Hurricane Ida caused more than $75 billion in damages.4
  • 2022, which saw Hurricane Ian, had more than $120 billion in damages. 5
  • The 2023 hurricane season was the fourth-most active hurricane season since 1950 with 20 named storms. Of that total, there were seven hurricanes – three of which reached major status.6

It’s predicted that 2024 could be a near-record season due to climate factors. The Colorado State University forecasting team is calling for 23 named storms, including 11 hurricanes, five major hurricanes, and seven tropical storms. The CSU team also is predicting higher-than-normal odds of a major hurricane striking the U.S., giving this scenario a 62% chance (long-term average is 43%). These forecasts and statistics point to the need for businesses to prepare for tropical weather.

Threat peaks and patterns

Tropical systems come in three main forms:

  • Tropical depression: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots) or less.
  • Tropical storm: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34 to 63 knots).
  • Hurricane: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher
    • Major hurricane: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph (96 knots) or higher, corresponding to a Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

The tropical storm and hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Tropical weather in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, typically peaks in late August to mid-September.

Global climate patterns can have an impact on the development of tropical storms. El Nino and La Nina, the cyclical warming and cooling respectively of the eastern Pacific Ocean near the Equator, are two prominent climate conditions that can influence development of tropical storms. It’s been observed that El Nino suppresses tropical activity in the Atlantic basin and La Nina conditions tend to enhance activity.7

El Nino conditions are currently occurring. However, the pattern could shift to La Nina as the year progresses. Forecasters are also wary of the persistent trend of warmer waters in the Atlantic and Caribbean counteracting any mitigating effect of El Nino. There has been record warmth in the Atlantic in February – on par for what is usually recorded in July in some regions of the ocean – and these warmer waters can fuel storm development.8

Reducing damage –  It can be a matter of “when” not “if” a hurricane or tropical storm will strike the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic coastlines. Preparing for these storms ahead of time and fortifying structures to mitigate damage is critical.

This can mean modifying existing structures to newer building standards and taking risk management steps to protect property and operations.

Building codes can make a difference – When Hurricane Ian struck the Big Bend area, homes that were retrofitted or built to newer building codes withstood the storm better than older structures left unmodified.

The Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), a research center dedicated to understanding and mitigating natural calamities like hail, wildfire and wind-driven rain, has been studying the impact of such disasters and their aftermath. They offer resources for homeowners and businesses including disaster guides and tools for commercial loss control.

Their most recent insight comes from a detailed assessment of Hurricane Ian’s impact. Highlights of the IBHS research found:

  • Nearly half of the asphalt shingles had detectable damage – similar to findings after Hurricane Charley struck Florida in 2004.
  • For low-slope light commercial membrane roof coverings and built-up roofs, the damage rate was over 50%. Low-slope roofs that were damaged also had more than 70% damage to flashing.
  • Steep-slope metal roofs performed very well, with a damage rate near 12%. Compared to asphalt shingles or tile, metal roofs withstood higher wind speeds with a damage rate of less than 5% in peak winds below 130 mph. However, when they were damaged, the severity was typically higher than that of asphalt shingle or tile roofs, and the underlayment material was typically damaged or removed.

A recent study by FEMA in the wake of Ian showed similar findings:

  • Of the 200 homes surveyed, 90 percent with roofs installed before 2015 had roof damage, as opposed to 28 percent for those installed after 2015, when Florida imposed new ordinances regarding how roofs are attached to houses and how waterproof they need to be.

Reducing the risk of damage – Taking proactive measures to prepare for severe weather can help mitigate damage and return to operations sooner. Life safety is a principal concern during the storm, but forward thinking can help create a more protected environment. Actions such as reinforcing large doors, installing storm shutters over windows, upgrading to more resilient roofing material, and pruning tree limbs away from buildings can make a difference if tropical weather strikes.

The Nationwide Loss Control Services team has expertise and resources that can help business owners address specific risks they face from tropical storms and hurricanes. Business continuity plans can be a good starting point, in addition to developing strategies to protect property. Nationwide has also partnered with IBHS to offer safety information.


By identifying risks, preparing physical spaces, training employees, maintaining effective communication and planning for recovery, businesses can safeguard their assets, maintain continuity and protect their reputation in the face of disaster.