The Atlantic Ocean could produce more "major" hurricanes this year than it did in 2012, according to a company that provides weather forecasts for corporate clients.
In an early hurricane forecast released Thursday, ImpactWeather Inc. predicted that 2013 will see two to four major hurricanes, which the company defines as category 3 or greater, meaning sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
The company's prediction for the Atlantic Ocean comes more than two months before the start of hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 through Nov. 30. The ImpactWeather report does not speculate on when the hurricanes might hit or where — or even if they would make landfall.
Typically, the two most watched forecasts are those issued by the Colorado State University's Hurricane Forecast Team, which usually releases its first forecast in April, and the National Hurricane Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which generally releases its forecast in late May.
ImpactWeather, based in Houston, Texas, forecasts weather for corporate clients in the energy and utility industries, among others. The company predicts there will be 16 to 20 named storms this year, compared with 19 actual named storms last year. It predicts seven to nine hurricanes overall, compared with 10 last year.
A named storm has sustained winds of at least 39 mph, and a hurricane has sustained winds of at least 74 mph.
"Since weather is the number one cause of business disruption, this prediction carries much weight for companies focused on protecting their people and their assets," said Mark Chambers, president of ImpactWeather. "Considerations such as when — or even if — operations must be shut down, damage to facilities, supply chain interruptions, and safety protocols are all top-of-mind when severe weather is imminent."
Hurricanes are expensive natural disasters for property-casualty insurers, and one storm can change the financial performance of a company in a given year. The cost of catastrophes, including hurricanes, were 50 percent lower for the first nine months of last year than they were for the same period in 2011, said Robert P. Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, which is a research entity funded by insurers. Then Hurricane Sandy hit in the fourth quarter and caused $16 billion to $25 billion in estimated losses to insurance companies and reinsurers.
"Insurers pay attention to every piece of information that comes out related to the likelihood of severe weather," Hartwig said. "But as we're looking ahead to the 2013 hurricane season, effectively insurers' exposure is pretty much already determined. The policies are written and they're in force."
The property-casualty insurance industry, regulated by states, is well capitalized to handle whatever hurricane season might come, Hartwig said.
"I don't think that this report changes insurers' perception of risk along coastal areas and I don't think it should have any influence in terms of stock valuations," Hartwig said.
In April of last year, ImpactWeather predicted 10 named storms, five hurricanes and two "intense" or major hurricanes. The season actually produced 19 named storms, 10 hurricanes and two major hurricanes.