An interactive hurricane damage model for Texas

For most people, hurricane modeling is kind of a black box. Various experts set forth figures on the distribution of losses or statistics derived from those distributions. You pretty much have to take their word on it. I think policy discussions are better when the data is more transparent. So, a few weeks ago I sent a public information request to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association asking for the raw data that they used to model hurricane losses. TWIA cooperated and send back about 30 megabytes worth of data.

So, I’m now able to create an interactive tool that lets you model the losses suffered by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association from tropical storms. To run the tool, you will need to get the free CDF plug in from Wolfram Research. Once you have the plugin, you can run any CDF file. CDF is basically like PDF except that it permits interaction.

[WolframCDF source=”http://catrisk.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/analyzing-air-2011-data-for-catrisk.cdf” CDFwidth=”630″ CDFheight=”790″ altimage=”http://catrisk.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/air-data-static.png”]

Once you have the tool, you can do many things.

You can use the landfall county control to choose a county in which the storm first makes landfall. Notice that some of the counties are outside Texas because storms may first make landfall in, say, Louisiana but then go on to go over Texas and do damage here.

You can restrict the storms under consideration to various strength levels. I’m not sure, honestly, how AIR classifies tropical storms that don’t make hurricane strength. Perhaps they list them as Category 1. Or perhaps — and this would result in an underestimate of damage — they don’t list them at all.
You can also limit yourself to major hurricanes (category 3 or higher) or non-major hurricanes (categories 1 and 2).

You then get some fine control over the method of binning used by the histogram. If you’re not an expert in this area, I’d leave these two controls alone. In the alternative, play with them and I think you will get a feel for what they do. Or you can check out documentation on the Mathematica Histogram command here.

You then decide whether you want the vertical scale to be logarithmic or not. If some of the bin heights are very small, this control helps you see them. If you don’t remember what a logarithm is, you might leave this control alone.

Finally, you choose what kind of a histogram you want to see. Common choices might be a Count or an Exceedance Curve (Survival Function).

The tool then produces the histogram you have requested and generates a number of useful statistics. Here’s a guide to the six rows of data.

Row 1: This is the mean loss from storms meeting your selection criteria.
Row 2: This is the mean annual losses from the types of storms you have selected. This number will be lower than the mean storm loss because Texas (and all of its subdivisions) average less than one storm per year. Many years there are no storms.
Row 3: This is the worst loss from 100 storms. Note again, this is NOT the mean loss in 100 years. Some years have no storms; occasionally some years feature multiple storms.
Row 4: The AIR method for generating storms can be well approximated by a Poisson distribution. Here, we find the member of the Poisson family that best fits the annual frequency data for the selected storms.
Row 5: The AIR method for generating storms can be decently approximated most of the time by a LogNormal distribution. Here, we find the member of the LogNormal family that best fits the loss data for the selected storms.
Row 6: I can create a new distribution that is the product of a draw from the Poisson distribution and the LogNormal distribution. I can then take 10,000 draws from this distribution and find the size of the annual loss that is higher than 99% of all the annual losses. This lets me approximate the 1 in 100 year loss. Notice that this number will move around a bit every time you tinker with the controls. That’s because it is using an approximation method based on random draws. Every time you change a control, new random draws occur. Still, it gives you a feel for that dreaded 1 in 100 year annual loss.

If people have additional features they want added to this tool, please let me know. I may be able to modify it or build a new tool with related capabilities.