In the NY Times podcast transcript, meteorologist Judson Jones describes hurricane Otis as “the ultimate nightmare scenario” and “unheard of in meteorology terms.” This category 5 hurricane went from a relatively mild tropical storm to one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in less than 24 hours. The pace of intensification stunned meteorologists and gave residents of coastal Mexico almost no time to prepare.Read article
Unprecedented and Unforeseen Weather Events are Emerging
In the NY Times podcast transcript, meteorologist Judson Jones describes hurricane Otis as “the ultimate nightmare scenario” and “unheard of in meteorology terms.” This category 5 hurricane went from a relatively mild tropical storm to one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in less than 24 hours. The pace of intensification stunned meteorologists and gave residents of coastal Mexico almost no time to prepare.
Unfortunately, Otis is not an isolated incident according to climate scientists. A recent study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the chances of Atlantic hurricanes rapidly intensifying has doubled due to climate change. The faster pace of intensification is linked to warmer ocean temperatures. As Jones explains, hurricanes are “engines” that extract energy from warm ocean water. But climate change is warming not just the surface but the entire column of water that storms travel over. So instead of weakening as they churn up colder water from below, storms like Otis just keep gaining strength by tapping into reserves of heat energy deeper under the surface.
More frequent severe flooding, droughts, wildfires, and other extreme weather are also being observed worldwide. A 2022 study in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment assessed hundreds of peer-reviewed papers and concluded “some weather extremes are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity.” For example, extreme rainfall events are becoming more common, with a 2021 study finding a 30% increase in parts of the U.S. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects these trends will continue as temperatures rise, bringing historically unprecedented weather phenomena.
Businesses Face Growing Climate Uncertainty
For business leaders, increasing climate volatility means traditional planning is becoming less reliable. Weather extremes can disrupt operations, supply chains, and worker productivity in unexpected ways. But preparing for and reacting to black swan climate events is difficult with old strategies based on historic norms.
As an example, consider hurricane Sandy, which slammed into New York City in 2012. The storm surge flooded streets, crippled public transit, and knocked out power for days. Businesses relying on standard disaster preparedness plans were still caught off guard. Public transit that 5 million workers depend on was paralyzed. Millions of gallons of water flooded buildings unprepared for a 14-foot storm surge. Even Wall Street was forced to close for 2 days, the first weather-related multi-day closure since 1888.
The economic toll of Sandy was immense, estimated at $62 billion by NOAA. But it is dwarfed by some projections of financial risks ahead if climate planning is not updated. Swiss Re, one of the world's largest insurers, estimates over $90 trillion in assets are threatened by weather extremes and climate shifts in the next 20 years. An IMF report projects global economic losses from climate change rising to 13% of GDP per year by 2100 without adaptation measures.
New Climate Risk Planning Needed
To manage increasing climate uncertainty, experts recommend several steps business leaders can take:
Businesses that plan proactively for climate volatility with advanced strategies and tools will be better positioned to weather the storms ahead. But it will require factoring in the unprecedented risks of new climate realities, as Judson Jones explains, to avoid being caught off guard by the next Hurricane Otis. With climate change accelerating, the past is no longer a reliable guide to the future. Unless emissions are reduced substantially, adapting to increasing climate unpredictability will be imperative for businesses.