All posts tagged 'NOAA'

The New Bucket List: NOAA’s Top Sites for Increased Nuisance Flooding

July 29, 2014 11:26
by J. Wylie Donald
"Seawater on the streets.”  One immediately knows that, notwithstanding the alliterative allure, something is not right.  And when one is in Annapolis, Maryland, and the Alex Haley Scuplture Group is literally reading in the waves, it is plain disconcerting.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls this “nuisance flooding,” and has just issued a report, Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States, that takes sea level rise down to the day-to-day and documents the quotidian, long-term repetitive inundations that are regularly besetting portions of the American littoral.  Annapolis and its sometimes aquatic sculpture grace the cover of the report and also top the list of areas experiencing the most increase in nuisance flooding.   The report is based on the National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON), whose gauges have been monitoring tides for decades, even, in many cases, nearly a century.  NOAA scientists have applied their expertise and formulae and provided valuable results.  The report is quite technical.  For example, “[t]rends derived from linear regression on the annual number of nuisance flood days are statistically significant at the 90% level at 41 of the 45 gauges analyzed.”  Report at 9-10.  However, while the Report may be technical, the graphs are plain.  Even non-technical people can understand the scatter plots showing an accelerating trend of nuisance flooding or the bar charts that show the increase in annual days of flooding.  Where is this increase occurring, and when? The Report identifies the Mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake Bay, North and South Carolina and southern Texas as experiencing a higher value of “nuisance flood days” – greater than 20 annually. Report at 9. By way of comparison, in the 1950s the frequency of nuisance flooding across the United States (the return period) was of the order of 1-5 years. Today “the probabilities of a nuisance flood event have increased throughout much of the U.S., with return periods typically <0.25 year (3 months) at most NOAA gauges.” Report at 16.  Besides Annapolis, areas recently suffering over 20 nuisance flood days on average per year include Atlantic City and Sandy Hook, N.J., Charleston, S.C., and Washington, D.C. The significance of this is easy to visualize:  “overwhelmed stormwater drainage capacity, frequent road closures, and general deterioration and corrosion of infrastructure not designed to withstand frequent inundation or salt-water exposure.”  Report at vi.  But there are other more subtle impacts.  Nuisance flooding immerses a community in a rising sea level.  That may prompt a review of coastal property boundaries and, because the State owns the land below mean high water (or, in some cases, mean low water), a transfer of property to the State with the accompanying effect on tax base and property ownership may materialize with substantial impact on the community.  Even without a redrawing of property lines, properties subject to increased flooding are likely to lose value, reducing or eliminating nest eggs, retirement security and loan collateral.  In such circumstances, transaction professionals (lawyers, real estate agents) may wish to evaluate the disclosures their client sellers need to make and the warranties their client buyers should require. Rising sea levels are bringing the ocean into areas it used to avoid.  The new bucket list for some destinations may literally mean to bring a bucket.     

Climate Change Effects | Rising Sea Levels

Opening Day: CAT Bonds, Climate Change and the 2012 Hurricane Season

May 31, 2012 20:54
by J. Wylie Donald
Tomorrow is June 1,  the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, which is predicted by NOAA to be near normal. It comes almost as an afterthought this year because already we have had two named storms.  In mid-May Tropical Storm Alberto appeared and quickly disappeared.  It was followed shortly after by Tropical Storm Beryl, which made landfall at Jacksonville, Florida with record winds for a May storm.   Some undoubtedly have the view that the season's early arrival is further evidence of climate change.  That conclusion may be premature.  According to a report by the Miami Herald,  single named storms in the pre-season are not that unusual, but to have two, that has happened only thrice in the 150 years of official recordkeeping.  The science too does not support increased frequency of tropical storms as a result of climate change.  In a 2010 article, Tropical cyclones and climate change, Dr. Thomas Knutson with many others set forth what they perceived as the state of the science: Frequency. It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged owing to greenhouse warming. .... Current models project changes ranging from −6 to −34% globally, and up to ±50% or more in individual basins by the late twenty-first century.Intensity. Some increase in the mean maximum wind speed of tropical cyclones is likely (+2 to +11% globally) with projected twenty-first-century warming, although increases may not occur in all tropical regions. The frequency of the most intense (rare/high-impact) storms will more likely than not increase by a substantially larger percentage in some basins.Rainfall. Rainfall rates are likely to increase. The projected magnitude is on the order of +20% within 100 km of the tropical cyclone centre. This may not be nearly as dire as some have suggested, but we point out that ignoring a substantial increase in the frequency of storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew is done at some peril.  People in harm's way are paying attention and using this kind of analysis to make decisions on how to insure the billions of dollars of at-risk property in Florida.  We have written before of the "life on the edge" of Florida's insurer of last resort, Citizens' Property Insurance Corporation.  In trying to get off the edge and get closer to financial stability, Citizens this spring made the insurance record books when it became the ceding insurer on the largest reinsurance catastrophe bond1 ever placed:  $750 million.  So where does climate change fit in?  The CAT bond's offering document doesn't mention climate change at all.  But one should not be fooled.  The modeler for the bond is AIR Worldwide.  AIR is all over climate change risks.  In fact, just this March AIR published a literature review regarding extratropical cyclones (aka North Atlantic winter storms).   • The frequency of ETCs may diminish with increasing global temperatures• The intensity of the more extreme ETCs may rise• ETC tracks are expected to shift poleward in both hemispheres One can see parallels with the conclusions reached by Dr. Knutson et al. regarding tropical cyclones.  Accordingly, we think it would be naive to conclude that AIR did not model for climate change.  We also expect that the negotiators for Citizens wanted to insure that climate change risk was applied. As did the investors. So climate change matters to the people with real skin in the game - like three-quarters of a billion dollars.  As such, one can bet all involved are paying close attention to the official opening of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, and also to what occurs before and what occurs after. 1This is not the financial instruments blog but for those who want a quick explanation try this from BusinessWeek:  "An insurance company issues bonds to financial investors, such as hedge and pension funds, that are willing to place a bet on the probability of a disaster occurring at a particular location and during a specific time frame. During the life of the bond, the insurer pays investors a coupon interest rate. If nothing happens, the insurer returns the money when the bond matures. If the fates are cruel, cat bond investors kiss off all or part of the principal."  What investors especially like is that there is no correlation between cat bond risk and stock market or corporate bond risk.

Climate Change | Insurance | Regulation | Weather

2011: Notwithstanding Extreme Weather, US Climate Policy Does Not Move Forward

December 30, 2011 22:01
by J. Wylie Donald
NOAA reported that 2011 was one for the record books:  12 weather and climate-related disasters each causing over $1 billion in damage.  One might expect (or hope) that a national climate change policy would be coming into place to prevent repeating or setting a new record.  One would be disappointed.  U.S. climate policy is "uncertain," to quote Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power, "dysfunctional" is the word applied by Resources for the Future, "hamstrung" is how the chief UN climate change negotiator and Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, calls it.   We don't disagree with these viewpoints; they are accurate.  But if a response to climate change is the goal, it is worse than these commenters are acknowledging because not only has Congress shown that it is incapable of getting anything done, other avenues are not delivering either.  As the year expires we thought it might be helpful to sift through the year's detritus and assess  the status of attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, distinct from overt attempts like passing laws and adopting regulations. 1. Tax emissions - Some will remember our blog on the federal lawsuit brought by Mirant Corp. against Montgomery County challenging the County's tax on carbon emissions which fell only on Mirant. The County challenged the federal court's jurisdiction and won before the federal district court. In June, however, the Fourth Circuit reversed.  With that Montgomery County folded its tent and abandoned its carbon tax. 2. Favor renewable energy - The inexorable scrutiny of the markets has proved the undoing of several former high-flying renewable energy ventures. Most well-known is the debacle with Solyndra LLC, whose well-publicized collapse generated scrutiny by the FBI and Congress. Others that have failed with less limelight in 2011 include numerous solar companies (Solar Millennium, Stirling Energy Systems, Evergreen Solar, Spectrawatt), as well as ventures in wind (Skycon), energy storage (Beacon Power), and biofulels (Range Fuels). 3. Impose liability for emissions of carbon dioxide - The results here are mixed.  Everyone points to American Electric Power v Connecticut for the principle that for greenhouse gas liability claims the federal common law of nuisance has been displaced by federal regulation. They could equally point to Connecticut v AEP before the Second Circuit for the principle that the political question doctrine does not bar these types of claims or to the Fifth Circuit panel in Comer v Murphy Oil USA that held similarly.  However, even if the cases are permitted to move forward, they face daunting problems in proof of causation. 4. Force state action to regulate carbon dioxide - We blogged last May and just this month about the tidal wave of litigation unleashed by Our Children's Trust, an Oregon environmental group that had orchestrated a dozen suits asserting the defendant States had an obligation under the public trust doctrine to restrain carbon dioxide emissions, as well as regulatory petitions in about 40 jurisdictions.  Time has not been good to OCT. First, its petitions have been denied by at least 23 agencies (Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia. Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming).  Where OCT filed lawsuits, three states (Arkansas, Minnesota and New Mexico) responded with motions to dismiss.  The lawsuit against Montana was dismissed. In the federal lawsuit, the plaintiffs lost a motion to transfer. 5. Reach regional agreements - With great fanfare the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was launched in 2005. Despite a recent study that claims significant economic benefit to the states in RGGI, its future success is unclear. New Jersey pulled out, New Hampshire tried to leave but the governor vetoed the bill. In New York, there is a court challenge.  6. Voluntarily trade carbon dioxide emissions credits - The only carbon exchange in North America came to an end in 2010 when the Chicago Climate Exchange closed its doors.  A shadow of its former self, the CCX now registers verified emission reductions based on a comprehensive set of established protocols. 7. Develop carbon capture and storage - The most prominent project in the US came to a halt in July when American Electric Power concluded not to build a full-scale CCS plant at its Mountaineer, West Virginia plant. As noted above, AEP explained its decision as based on the uncertainty of US climate policy.  The lack of direction in American climate change response hurts business. AEP walked away from a $300 million Department of Energy match.  It didn't help that the Virginia consumer advocate, in successfully arguing against including CCS costs in the rate base, asserted:  “Any potential benefit is speculative and outweighed by the enormous cost of the pilot project.” Some may think no policy is the best policy.  We think otherwise.  Climate change is happening.  There will be a response.  All will benefit if that response is choreographed over time, rather than rushed into when political consensus ultimately concludes that something must be done NOW.  Maybe in 2012?  Happy New Year. 

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Climate Change Litigation | Legislation | Regulation | Renewable Energy | Weather | Year in Review

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