Weathering the storm

7 June 2021 | Physical Sciences/Engineering

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As climate change makes our weather more volatile, innovative weather modelling techniques are being used to help predict and respond to extreme weather. A UCLB spinout has been helping insurance companies model windstorm events and losses for over a decade. Now a new modelling tool promises hope for millions of homes and businesses at risk of flooding.

Climate change is making our weather more volatile. In the UK, an ever greater number of properties are at risk of flooding as the number and intensity of thunderstorms and winter rains increases. Across Europe, more frequent and higher intensity windstorms cause widespread damage to commercial and residential property.

Better systems are urgently needed to improve forecasting of windstorms and floods, allowing property owners and insurers to be better prepared and ready to respond. EuroTempest, a UCLB spinout company, are using innovative weather modelling techniques to provide solutions for flood and windstorm prediction and response that are being adopted across the insurance industry.

Earlier, more reliable windstorm warnings

Originally set up in 2007, EuroTempest arose from a partnership between UCL’s IP commercialisation company, UCLB and leading insurers Aon and RSA to translate research outcomes developed in UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) into a set of products that could help insurance companies to forecast and quantify the impact of weather events.

Despite accounting for a huge proportion of losses to the insurance industry, companies had no reliable way to predict when and how windstorms would hit.

“At the time, the prevailing view was that windstorms were too hard to forecast,” says Nick Wood, EuroTempest’s Commercial Director. “The big challenge was working out how to model them accurately and reliably.” The model that the MSSL researchers created supports earlier, more accurate alerts of where and when windstorms will hit.

Plotting the damage curve

Unlike standard forecasts, EuroTempest’s data provides early warning about how storms will translate into damage claims. Their algorithms were the first to quantify the relationship between a weather event and insurance losses – the ‘damage curve’. Combined with much more accurate forecasting of windstorm events, EuroTempest’s tools dramatically improve insurers’ ability to plan for and respond to weather events.

“A single windstorm can cause losses of a billion euros,” Nick explains. “Our data sets mean customers can put in place the operational resources needed to handle a big surge in claims.”

The footprint of each weather event, as recorded from over 2,500 weather stations across Europe is then made available in real time via a desktop tool. These data can be used to model future risk, as well as support claim handling teams. Simply by putting in a date and postcode, staff can validate in real time the weather conditions in a particular area, helping to settle claims more quickly and efficiently.

A conducive climate for growth

The innovative partnership with Aon and RSA put the company on firm ground from its beginnings. With two of the UK’s largest insurers as customers, EuroTempest benefited from a revenue stream from day one. From this the company has grown steadily, focusing both on refining the product portfolio to meet customers’ needs and supporting their customers to use EuroTempest’s tools in their day-to-day operations.

Strong support from UCLB has helped EuroTempest to hone their commercial focus, including matching the fledgling company with its commercial director. Nick is clear about the important role UCLB has played in their success.

“That early support is enormously valuable, both in terms of people, sector contacts and finding business problems that a spinout can solve and UCLB continue to play an active role as the company evolves.”

A new paradigm in flood forecasting

EuroTempest’s approach has seen them reach around 50% market share with existing products. But now the company is eyeing a new opportunity with the potential to make a big difference to the huge numbers of people, businesses and other organisations grappling with the impacts of flooding.

Winter floods have caused unprecedented damage in the UK in recent years. Extreme weather events are only predicted to increase, making forecasting an important part of the armoury in tackling the effects of long-term climate change. EuroTempest has spent around five years developing a highly innovative modelling approach which could prove a game-changer for the millions of homeowners and businesses at risk of flooding.

As Nick explains, “Our tool can provide a week in advance an accurate picture of the scale and location of damage. No-one can do that in the UK at the moment. Better advance warning of floods could make a big difference to a lot of people, and could actually help prevent a lot of the damage.”

Flood management is a costly business. According to Defra, £10.2 billion was spent on flood and coastal erosion risk management between 2005-6 and 2018-19. The Environment Agency said in 2019 that at least £1 billion a year was needed to tackle these threats going forward. The value of a forecasting tool which could help those most vulnerable to damage take preventive action is clear. For the millions of home and business owners in the UK who have experienced the stress and trauma of floods, it could feel like the storm clouds lifting.

Visit the EuroTempest website to find out more.