Oct 27, 2023 - Energy & Environment

The costly aftermath of Hurricane Otis

People walk on a street amid storm damage in Acapulco, Mexico after Hurricane Otis.

People walk near two damaged buildings after hurricane Otis hit Acapulco on Oct. 26. Photo: Oscar Guerrero Ramirez/Getty Images

The damage and death toll are becoming clearer in Acapulco, where Category 5 Hurricane Otis struck early Wednesday.

Why it matters: The hurricane is likely to be one of the most expensive extreme weather disasters in Mexico's history, and its unexpected and explosive intensification through landfall is causing some soul-searching in the risk management community, as it is in meteorology circles.

Zoom in: The storm killed at least 27 people, and Mexico has deployed 10,000 troops to help the region with storm recovery. However, their arrival has been slow.

  • Walls were ripped off buildings, turning them into twisted metal hulks. Virtually every power pole was knocked down, and survivors had harrowing stories.
  • According to Steve Bowen, chief science officer at reinsurer Gallagher Re, Otis' toll will be measured in the billions, given the high-end commercial and residential real estate damage.
  • CoreLogic, a property insights company, estimates the insurable damage from wind hazards alone to be between $10 to $15 billion.

Between the lines: Bowen is taking notice of the growing risk from stronger tropical cyclones, including storms that ramp up quickly.

  • "From a scientific perspective we are reaching the point where it is less and less surprising to see bouts of rapid intensification by tropical cyclones as the oceans continue to warm," he said.
  • "What remains most shocking and concerning is the rapid intensification occurring up to the point of landfall and subsequently affecting highly populated areas," he said.
  • One lesson of this nightmare storm, Bowen said, is to build with stronger storms in mind, as a way to prepare for more meteorological surprises like Otis.
  • "As climate change research continues to conclude that we should expect more high-end tropical cyclones — and this research is being regularly validated — we need to be making smart decisions" readying for this growing risk, he said.
  • "This includes a smarter approach to how and where we build, making strategic investments around infrastructure modernization, and ensuring more financial protection for citizens in the aftermath of events."

The intrigue: In the meteorology community, there is soul-searching going on about the forecast miss.

  • "Every one of these events takes a toll and you take a piece of it with you going forward," Michael Brennan, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told Axios in an interview.
  • "But that's what builds your experience, makes you a better forecaster, makes you a better communicator. And it certainly reinforces the importance of everything that we do here."

Go deeper:

How Hurricane Otis shocked forecasters in a "nightmare scenario"

In photos: Hurricane Otis devastates Acapulco, Mexico

Go deeper