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A recap of Willis Research Network’s Autumn seminar

Insights from our latest natural hazards research and business applications


November 30, 2018

The Willis Research Network (WRN) hosts a range of seminars and workshops throughout the year. We always look forward to these events as a chance to showcase some of the current work underway through collaborations between our academic partners and internal experts to better understand and manage extreme risks.

Previous events have covered topics such as flood, seismic events, hurricanes and corporate risks showing the wide gamut of risks covered by the WRN over the last 12 years.

This year was no exception with the seminar covering the latest science on risk related to European windstorms, volcanic risks and tropical cyclones in a changing climate. This event once again demonstrated the key to successful public-private partnerships: leading academics keen to communicate their research; client-facing colleagues embedding research outputs in their business propositions; and our WRN research managers , who act as brokers between academics and business.

European windstorms: seasonal prediction and the signal to noise paradox

Professor Adam Scaife leads a team of world-class scientists at the Met Office in the U.K., who are using the latest advances in climate modelling to develop seasonal forecasting techniques, that is to say, long range forecasts of the most likely climate conditions months to years ahead. Previous blogs go into greater depth about how these forecasts are constructed. It is an exciting area of research and promises to help us predict the changes in risks associated with extreme weather months ahead of oncoming storm seasons. A few years ago, the WRN partnered with the Met Office to fund some of the underpinning research conducted by Adam’s team. This session covered some of the recent advances since then, including results from live tests of seasonal forecasts from the last few winters, as well as some of the new challenges being discovered in utilising the outputs from climate models.

Willis Re continues to keep a close watch on this burgeoning area of science, and regularly reviews the opportunities to utilise the seasonal forecasting skill in the reinsurance process. Dr. Ioana Dima-West, Head of Model Research and Evaluation in Willis Re’s Catastrophe Analytics team explained how we use the latest scientific findings in the work we do for our clients.

Volcanic risk and the (re)insurance industry

In the past months we have seen an increase in the volume of volcanic related news in the media, including one about the potential for an imminent, catastrophic, super volcanic eruption in the south of Italy, wreaking havoc across the whole of Europe (article). Volcanic risk, as a non-modelled peril, is a topic that has not been discussed at length in the industry, and so we decided to dedicate a session of this seminar to talk about this complex peril, from both a scientific and an insurance point of view, to promote a better understanding of its potential threat.

First, Dr. Christopher Kilburn, one of the co-authors of the above-mentioned article and the Director of the UCL Hazard Centre (an established leader in the global effort to forecast eruptions), gave an overview of volcanic risk and the various aspects that need to be considered around this hazard. As a well-known volcano physicist, whose research is crucial to understand the underlying physical mechanisms of volcanic eruptions, Dr. Kilburn managed to engage the audience with a thought-provoking presentation followed by questions from the audience.

To end the session, our in-house expert on parametric insurance products, Julian Roberts (Alternative Risk Transfer Solutions, Willis Towers Watson), discussed the various ways and products that could be used to provide coverage and protection mechanisms for volcanic hazard, but also other events inducing business interruption (pandemic, terrorism…).

The Willis Towers Watson parametric team is privileged to associate with the WRN and participate in its world-class events that combine presentation of the best of scientific knowledge with the most innovative risk solutions such as those provided in parametric format. This active collaboration between leading research and commerce provides a unique intersection in which talk can turn into action

Julian Roberts

Tropical cyclones and weather extremes

The final session of the day focussed on tropical cyclones and climate change, and was presented by Dr. Greg Holland, Director Emeritus of the Capacity Center for Climate and Weather Extremes at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) - a cornerstone WRN partner. Greg presented some fascinating findings from the scientific community, and some of the advances being made from his own team at NCAR.

One of the main points Greg was able to convey is that the impacts of climate change on weather extremes are here already. International agreements have set targets to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, but it’s easy to forget that we have already seen around 1 degree of warming. By shifting the distribution of possible events one way or another, we may see what seems like a small change in the average conditions, while the extremes are significantly modified. Greg listed some sobering findings related to tropical cyclone impacts including increases in intensity of tropical cyclones, heavier rainfall, and a change in areas that can be affected by these severe storms linked to a poleward shift of the maximum lifetime intensity. These and many other findings from the latest scientific publications were discussed.

Dr. Sam Phibbs, Atmospheric Scientist with Willis Re, then described some of the uses of our collaborations with NCAR, relating to developing a scenario-based approach applying new techniques to model the full wind field around a tropical cyclone, to add an alternative, credible and sophisticated view of windstorm risk in the tropics.

This methodology, Sam explained, can be applied to historical events, simulated cyclones from climate models, stochastically generated storms from statistical processes, or the exploration of what-if scenarios to examine what might have happened if a storm like Hurricane Irma had brought its strongest winds across Miami.

With a networking reception after the event, there was a high level of engagement and interaction from the audience on the topics discussed. In 2019, the WRN will continue to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of risks, and add new topics to its research programme. Through close collaboration across our current and future partners, the WRN will continue to help develop independent and science-based understanding and quantification of extreme risk for corporate and (re)insurance clients.

To know more about our current research please visit our website and have a look at our most recent brochure.

A big thank you to Geoffrey Saville, Helene Galy, Rosa Sobradelo Pérez and Setareh Mayel Afshar for organising this event.

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