So far this year, the U.S. has already been hit by six storms, excluding the recent Hurricane Florence, that were each severe enough to inflict at least $1 billion in damages. Together, these storms caused more than thirty deaths.
Hurricane Florence—which recently struck the Southeast U.S. leading to severe flooding in the Carolinas—caused an estimated $20 billion in damages, possibly higher given that estimates on the monetary cost are still being estimated, and led to more than forty deaths.
Yet the extreme weather this year is far from unique in its costs, both in financial impact and lives impacted and lost. Indeed, a United Nations study found that between 1995 and 2015, 6,457 weather-related disasters occurred globally, costing $1,891 billion and causing the deaths of 606,000 people. Many scientists believe that, in the future, these impacts could grow because climate change will increase the incidence of severe weather.
Historically, 70 percent of global businesses have seen unusual weather disrupt their operating or financial performance. Moreover, 90 percent of businesses listed in the S&P Global 100 identify extreme weather and climate change as a current or future risk.
Understanding your company’s risk for severe weather starts with an assessment that incorporates both the season and your location. It’s essential to map out the types of severe weather that are likely to affect your business along with when they might occur. To help, we’ve put together the following table showing U.S. severe weather seasons:
Think through all of the potential impacts of severe weather
Next, it’s time to consider the impacts on your business of the kinds of severe weather you identified in step one. When a storm hits or flood waters approach, what will happen to your employees? Your customers?
Different types of businesses will be impacted in different ways. For example, brick-and-mortar retailers that are likely to be affected by tornadoes need to determine the safest place in their stores for employees and customers to go if one hits during business hours. Restaurants located in flood-prone areas should think about what they’ll do to protect equipment when waters begin to rise.
As you assess risk, remember that severe weather can lead to secondary consequences. Earthquakes can cause buildings to collapse, for example. They can also result in gas lines rupturing, which can start fires. Sometimes, you might escape the initial event only to be affected by the aftermath.
Gathering the knowledge you need to plan your severe weather response
Once you understand the types of risks and impacts your business could face, the next question to ask is how ready you are for each of them. Do you have a plan for monitoring these risks and responding to them? If not, you’re not alone. This kind of planning isn’t easy, and it often requires specialized knowledge, starting with severe weather emergency terminology.
For example, do you know the difference between a warning and an advisory, as issued by the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)?
A warning is issued when a hazardous weather event is occurring, imminent, or likely. It means weather conditions pose a threat to life or property. Employees and customers will need to take action to protect themselves.
An advisory is also issued when a hazardous weather event is occurring, imminent, or likely, but it’s given to less serious conditions than warnings. Still, advisories shouldn’t be ignored. They can also lead to situations that threaten life or property.
Understanding terminology is just one of the elements of effective preparation for severe weather.
To help you understand and act on all important preparation factors, we’ve put together a comprehensive Guide to Developing a Severe Weather Emergency Plan for Your Business:
NOAA, Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Table of Events
CNN, 44 dead as Florence-weary Carolinas face more flooding and rising rivers
CNBC, Hurricane Florence damage estimated at $17 billion to $22 billion and could go higher — Moody's Analytics
United Nations: The human cost of weather-related disasters 1995-2015
Harvard Business Review, Severe Weather Threatens Businesses. It’s Time to Measure and Disclose the Risks
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: How Business Can Weather the Storm