As claims adjusters working across South Florida, few things impact our job responsibilities more than climate change. With rising sea levels, warmer oceans, and weather patterns contributing to stronger hurricanes and floods, the properties we insure face an unprecedented level of risk. Extreme weather events that were once rare are now commonplace. And as climate change accelerates in the years ahead, our role as claims experts has never been more crucial.
In this blog, I’ll overview key climate change impacts already manifesting across South Florida and break down what these environmental shifts mean for property insurance and claims adjustment going forward. Consider this your insider’s guide for staying ahead of intensifying climate risk and adjusting claims efficiently and accurately into the future. Let’s get started.
Sea Level Rise Leading to More Flooding
As climate change accelerates polar ice melt, South Florida is already experiencing alarming sea level rise. In just the past decade, ocean levels around Miami have risen 3-4 inches. And that’s expected to multiply over the coming years, with estimates of 1-2 feet of additional rise likely by 2060 based on current emissions levels.
For claims adjusters, these numbers are staggering. According to climate risk models, a 1-foot rise in sea level translates to double the property exposure to flooding. Many of the homes we currently insure will fall into higher chance annual flood zones. That risks major pricing changes and coverage shifts from standard insurers to the National Flood Insurance Program.
What’s our role here on the adjusting side? For one, we must sharpen our skills at differentiating flood claims covered by standard insurance versus those requiring NFIP policies. As the dividing line shifts inland, understanding the shifting dynamics between wind, rain, and tidal surge damage is more crucial than ever. Acting quickly on water claims also grows in importance to mitigate against mold and severe structural deterioration.
Bigger Hurricanes and Stronger Winds
Rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change don’t just elevate sea levels; they also fuel the intensity of incoming hurricanes. Just a 1-degree uptick in ocean surface heat can increase a hurricane’s wind speed by 15-20 mph. And when you combine more intense storms with higher sea levels, the storm surge effect on coastal properties grows devastating.
For claims adjusters in Hurricane Alley, this means even more volatile wind and water damage with each passing season. We have to prepare for Category 4 and 5 hits along the South Florida coast, where wind and rain pummel properties from all angles. That results in exponentially more claims activity within compressed time periods.
To adapt, we must brush up on roof and structural engineering guidelines for winds over 155 mph. We also need to sharpen skills at uncovering damage often overlooked: soffits, pool enclosures, landscaping, etc. When mega-hurricanes strike, no home component escapes harm’s way. Being able to accurately assess and document all facets of property damage is more vital than ever to help clients recoup repair costs.
Increasing Frequency of “Sunny Day” Flood Damage
While storm surge and intensifying hurricanes pose an obvious risk, higher sea levels also increase the regularity of “sunny day” flooding caused by high tides alone. And the costs associated with such flooding are equally as devastating. Across South Florida, we expect to see a rapid rise in flood claims stemming from high tide flooding events, even without direct storm impacts.
For claims adjusters accustomed to correlating flood loss to rain or surge occasion, adapting to negotiate “no storm” flood claims will become second nature. As the sea continues to swell around South Florida’s coasts, we must attune to the extreme loss potential facing properties built within elevation ranges destined for permanent inundation due to higher tide lines alone in coming years.
Guiding Homeowners Through Relocation Decisions
As repeating flooding and intensified storm damage bear down on South Florida due to climate change, more homeowners face relocation decisions. In some cases, either by choice or regulation, retreat from the most vulnerable coastal areas becomes unavoidable. Some carriers have already begun cancelling policies or applying blanket exclusion of coverage for flood, wind, and hurricane to high-risk zone homes.
Claims adjusters in consultative roles must prepare for more relocation questions from policyholders. Which damage claims warrant walking away? When does demolition become prudent over repairing? What proactive measures should be considered to protect properties from inevitabilities of climate change? Guiding clients through difficult financial decisions intertwined with emotional attachment will demand equal parts technical knowledge and compassion.
Adjusting Our Mindsets
As I hope this blog has made clear, climate change stands to fundamentally reshape the property insurance landscape across South Florida over the coming decades. For claims adjusters, adapting to intensified and unexpected extreme weather events becomes mandatory. From sharpening technical skills to psychologist-level counsel for rattled homeowners, our toolkits must expand and sensitivities must heighten.
But rather than approach climate risk with dread, I view this pivotal moment as a chance to evolve our collective skillsets to new heights. Embracing innovation in assessing loss and damaged structures can set new industry precedents. Leaning harder into homeowner education and guidance gives meaning to an oft-transactional claims process. And upholding rigorous ethics and understanding amidst shifting dynamics preserves the human element of our work.
The challenges wrought by climate change will undoubtedly push South Florida’s property insurance industry to its limits. But as claims experts entrusted with helping vulnerable communities, I believe we’re more than able to meet the moment. This is our time to step up – both professionally and morally.