Wilder weather’s on its way

The UK has certainly seen its fair share of wild weather through the winter of 2021-22. At the time of writing, the country was counting the cost of the unprecedented arrival of three named storms in a single week: Dudley, Eunice and Franklin. These followed hard on the heels of Arwen, Barra and Corrie in November, December and January respectively.

Arwen was the worst of this earlier trio. Its 90 mph winds felled countless trees and left more than 200,000 homes without power in Scotland and North East England - some of them for days. Insured losses from Arwen are estimated at more than £300m. One firm of loss adjusters has already suggested the combined losses from February’s storms will be at least three times the total from Arwen: in other words, quite possibly north of £1 billion.

Such extreme events appear to reflect longterm upward trends in temperature, rainfall and winter storms. It seems we will probably have to get used to an increased incidence of intense rain and flooding. Not to mention other hazards like unusually heavy snowfall (more about that later) and that old enemy subsidence.

All of these have obvious ominous implications for the real estate sector. There’s broad consensus in the scientific community that our changing global climate is making what would once have been considered extreme weather events significantly more likely in locations never previously thought of as being on the freak weather frontline.

One recent Met Office study looking at the anticipated impact of climate change over time found that heavier winter rainfall could increase the likelihood of flood risk seven-fold, if things continue on their current trajectory. Summers are expected to become dryer, but with heavy bursts of rainfall leading to flash flooding. These shifting weather patterns carry with them a slew of worrying uncertainties and potentially disastrous implications, not just for real estate, but for the environment and for human life.

In July of last year, flash flooding in South West London brought three inches of rain in just 90 minutes. The London Fire Brigade received over a thousand calls within minutes of the downpour striking. Buildings throughout the capital were inundated, forcing residents and business owners from their properties. Those with basements were particularly vulnerable. Parts of Portobello Road were submerged under 4ft of water.

The UK’s antiquated drainage infrastructure, particularly in urban areas, is simply not equipped to handle flash flooding. There’s an obvious contrast here with countries like Australia, the United States and Canada, which have long been accustomed to sudden rain events and have extensive subsurface drainage systems to match.

New technology is helping us understand how climate change will impact real estate. The concern is, however, that these freak weather events aren’t just going to be happening in 10 or 20 years’ time. They’re happening now, and we’re already seeing the harmful effects.

A vivid illustration of the sort of thing we could be seeing soon came when Storm Filomena hit mainland Spain in January 2021. Before moving on, Filomena deposited 50cm of snow across large swathes of the Iberian Peninsula, region’s highest recorded snowfall in 50 years. Snow lay dormant on roofs, causing huge concern for many large logistics warehouses. Then came the rain, which - in the short term at least - only increased the load. The roofs of many larger properties - not built to sustain such pressure - simply caved in.

Counting the cost of weather-related claims

The cost of restoring a property following a storm or flood is already increasing significantly. It’s no secret that the combination of Brexit and Covid-19 has driven up the cost of rebuilding in the United Kingdom. Plaster, wood, specialty paint and wallpaper, screed, UPVC products and glazing - all have been affected. Delays in obtaining materials inevitably result in increased claim costs as well as service issues. Such problems could see the cost of flood claims rise by up to 25% and storm claims by as much as 40%.

According to a recent report from loss adjusters Crawford & Co (opens a new window), more than half the cost of storm damage claims valued at between £25k and £50k results from damage to roofing, boundary walls and gates. That’s 35% more than for claims costing less than £25k. Flooring, decorating, and plastering account for 54% of flood damage reinstatement, while 45% of storm reinstatement comes from roofing, boundary walls and gate repairs. The cost of claims reflects more than just repairs, though. Alternative accommodation is often required and can be costly if restoration ends up being delayed.

Building resilience and resistance

Extreme weather incidents in an average year have increased in both frequency and severity. What we’ve learned is that - while we can’t forecast the precise claims impact such occurrences will have on any given property - we can take steps to mitigate harm by creating a resilience strategy to lower future claim costs.

Sensible steps to take include:

  • Moving plug sockets above the anticipated water line

  • Raising gas and electric meters

  • Installing flood gates in doors and houses

  • Dry proofing your property

  • Installing concrete rather than wooden floors

  • Informing building users and the public about evacuation options

  • Using waterproof plaster and/or horizontal plasterboard

  • Installing closed cell insulation

  • Ensuring all garden furniture is either tied down or stowed away.

Clearly, none of us can turn back the forces of nature. We will almost certainly have to get used to formerly freakish weather becoming rather more familiar. But all of us in and around the real estate sector can and should do what we can to protect ourselves from its worst effects. Appropriate insurance cover at an appropriate price is part of that preparation. But there’s plenty more that can be done to protect your properties for the wilder weather that’s on its way.

If you like to know more, please contact a member of our team or visit the Lockton Global Real Estate & Construction page (opens a new window).