Damage stemming from Hurricane Lee won’t be as major as last September’s Hurricane Fiona, insurance experts tell Canadian Underwriter.
“At more than $800 million in insured damage, Hurricane Fiona goes down as the costliest natural hazard-related insured loss event in Atlantic Canada history and, after Post-Tropical Cyclone Lee, it appears it will stay that way,” said Glenn McGillivray, managing director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.
“As large, windy and wet as Lee was, it wasn’t quite the monster that Fiona was, having made landfall in a more remote area and losing steam quickly.”
Hurricane Lee made landfall as a post-tropical storm with hurricane-level winds in the Maritimes on Saturday morning. The storm tracked from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia before continuing to New Brunswick, and weakening significantly on Sunday.
Officials reported more than 147,000 Nova Scotians were without power on Saturday, although the number dropped to 20,000 the next day. In New Brunswick, close to 36,000 started without power, but the number is at 13,000 as of Monday morning, with the bulk of the outages in the western parts of the provinces, the Canadian Press says.
Tropical storm Lee’s top sustained wind speed was 70 km/h west of Newfoundland.
“Both Fiona and Lee were quite large by the time they reached Atlantic Canada, with very broad wind fields, meaning their impacts were felt across most of the region,” said Caroline Floyd, director of Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ).
Both were post-tropical storms by the time they made landfall in Canada. But “Fiona still packed the punch of a Category 2 hurricane at landfall, while Lee had fallen to tropical storm strength,” Floyd said.
Adjusters can expect claims to come through, although not as many as Fiona.
“While Lee will generate some insurance claims, largely trees on structures and cars, etc., insured damage will be fairly light — at least when compared to Fiona,” said McGillivray. “Uninsured damage to public infrastructure will be fairly significant but, again will pale when compared to Fiona.”
N.S. and N.B. saw damaged roadways and coastlines, flooded boats in harbours, and downed power lines and trees. Transportation was significantly disrupted; ferries were out of service and Halifax Stanfield airport cancelled all flights.
“Since Lee made landfall in Nova Scotia on Saturday evening, we have received minor to moderately severe property claims,” said Michael Connolly, VP Atlantic Canada at ClaimsPro.
“With power outages, fallen trees and overland flooding we anticipate more property and ALE (additional living expense) related losses coming in over the next few days.”
But Hurricane Lee, so far, “has definitely not been as devastating or destructive as Fiona’s wrath last September,” Connolly said.
Comparatively, Fiona largely struck Halifax, N.S. causing 500,000 to lose power, and maximum gusts exceeding 100 km/h. The storm also tracked across other parts of the Maritimes and Quebec.
Damage included losses of life as well as torrential rainfall, large waves, storm surges, downed trees and widespread power outages. Insurers saw claims ranging from food spoilage and infrastructure claims to total losses.
Environmental damage will track differently between the two storms.
Fiona’s winds tracked easterly, making storm surge in the Gulf of St. Lawrence a “major issue,” said Floyd. The direction of the winds was prolonged northerly, facing P.E.I.’s north shores and the Northumberland Strait, where violent winds downed thousands of trees.
“Lee’s more westerly track made storm surge worse for the South Shore of Nova Scotia but shielded the Gulf, and the majority of weakened trees had already been culled by Fiona’s passage a year ago.”
But McGillivray warned that the 2023 hurricane season is only halfway over.
“[Waters] are so warm in the Gulf of Mexico and off the southeastern U.S. — we’re talking water as warm as a hot tub, around 100 degrees [Fahrenheit] — that we could very well see more landfalling storms in Atlantic Canada this year,” he said.
“The season may even extend past the typical Nov. 30 season end. As we saw with Fiona in 2022, it only takes one big storm.”
A downed tree is shown in a yard in Fredericton, N.B. during post-tropical storm Lee on Saturday, September 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray