May 24, 2023

ClimateCheck 101: Understanding Physical Climate Risk Reports for Property Owners

Data | by Sam Eckhouse, CTO | 6 Minutes

Property owners across the country are increasingly contending with the current and future challenges posed by climate change. Destructive weather events such as extreme heat, storms and flooding will increase in intensity and frequency in the coming years and carry both physical and financial risks to properties. Physical climate risk includes both acute and chronic risk caused by changes in weather and climate patterns.

Owners and investors can protect their assets and mitigate future vulnerabilities by understanding the physical climate risk to individual properties and the surrounding area. ClimateCheck offers climate risk reports that provide information on both high-level and granular risk.

ClimateCheck uses data from government, academic, and other public and institutional sources to rate a property’s risk to multiple hazards — drought, heat, fire, flood, and storms — on a 1 to 100 scale. Here’s how you can understand our risk reports.

ClimateCheck’s risk report deliverables

ClimateCheck’s physical climate risk reports provide a picture of current and future risk to a property or portfolio. Our 1 to 100 risk rating for each hazard reflects the projected risk of the hazard to a property or location relative to our coverage area, including the projected increase in hazard intensity through 2050 under different climate scenarios. (While ClimateCheck bases our 1-100 score on projected risk through 2050, we can analyze risk parameters for each hazard through 2060.)

ClimateCheck’s deliverables include portfolio risk reports, individual property risk reports, raw data, and more. Learn more about ClimateCheck’s deliverables.

Portfolio risk overview reports

Our one-page portfolio risk evaluations provide a visual representation of how risk is distributed across a portfolio and allow property owners and investors to identify hotspots of climate-related hazards. Understanding the distribution of risk across properties can inform a client’s investment thesis and help clients develop a high-level mitigation strategy.

For portfolio reports, we use graphics including heat maps that illustrate geographical distribution of risk, and charts representing the proportion of properties at higher or lower risk of the hazard in question.

Portfolio Analysis

Individual property risk reports

Our roughly 30-page individual property risk reports go into more granular detail about risks of hazards to a specific property. These reports include an overall picture of risk, a deeper dive into risk of each hazard, and risk mitigation tips.

Property Level Reports

Overall picture of risk

Risk assessments  start with a snapshot of the property or portfolio’s risk of flood, fire, extreme precipitation, extreme heat, and drought.  For individual property reports, we provide a 1 to 100 rating for each hazard, reflecting risk to the property relative to the contiguous United States through 2050.

Deeper dive for each hazard

Reports also explore each hazard individually. For each hazard, we explain the risk rating in greater detail using charts and narrative explanation, illustrative maps, and comparison to the larger local region. We also explain our methodology for calculating the risk of each hazard and provide information on how to mitigate risk for each hazard.

Risk mitigation tips

Risk mitigation tips may include information on how to prepare for future risk, including both less costly and more expensive upgrades that you can make to your property. To mitigate damage from flooding, for example, buying doorway flood barriers is a relatively cheap way to prepare for potential flood, while moving electrical outlets and HVAC systems to higher locations is an effective but more costly mitigation measure.

Interpreting ClimateCheck’s risk ratings

ClimateCheck’s 1-100 risk ratings account for current risk and change in risk over time. For each hazard, our methodology incorporates the modeled frequency and severity of extreme events, based on both historical data and projections through 2050.

For example, our heat risk ratings consider several factors: the historical average of the hottest day temperatures in a location, the predicted increase in these hot days over time, and humidity levels. These metrics allow two areas with distinct heat profiles to potentially share similar heat risk scores.

Take Scottsdale, Arizona, and Nashville, Tennessee, for example. Both cities have a heat risk score of 90, even though their heat experiences differ. Scottsdale tends to have higher extreme temperatures accompanied by drier conditions, while Nashville, though not as hot, suffers from higher humidity levels which can intensify the perceived heat. Incorporating humidity into our heat risk ratings provides a more nuanced understanding of heat risks in various locations.

Here are key factors we consider in each hazard type:

Extreme heat

Extreme heat can result in stress on buildings, electrical and other infrastructure, and can exacerbate the risk of other extreme weather such as drought and wildfire. People exposed to extreme heat can experience dehydration and heat illness. We calculate our score for extreme heat risk based on the projected increase in  extremely hot days in an area under different climate scenarios through 2050. What counts as “extremely hot” varies by location.

Our analysis factors in dry bulb temperature and wet bulb temperature. Dry bulb is ambient air temperature while wet bulb is a measure of air temperature that takes evaporation into consideration.

Drought

Extended drought can interfere with water access, causing severe problems for industries that depend heavily on water, such as agriculture and manufacturing — and not to mention, for people. To calculate our drought risk rating, we look at multiple factors: historical average baseline water stress or the percentage of available water that is being used, and the projected change in water stress over time.

Wildfire

Wildfire risk is growing, in part due to factors such as drought and extreme heat. Meanwhile, more homes are being built in fire-prone areas. In worst case scenarios, wildfires result in loss of life and property, yet even buildings that are not exposed to direct flames can face damage due to flying embers, smoke, or heat radiating from structures or trees burning nearby.

We consider several factors in our fire risk ratings: land cover and conditions; historical heat and humidity conditions; projected heat and humidity; wind; and simulations of burn probability and flame heights.

Extreme precipitation

Extreme precipitation is increasing in severity due to climate change. Large amounts of rain and snow during extreme weather events such as hurricanes, storms exacerbated by atmospheric rivers, and blizzards can damage property and contribute to severe flooding. ClimateCheck measures precipitation risk by looking at an area's historical precipitation conditions and projected changes in those conditions.

Flooding

Floods cause immediate and lasting damage to property. In worst case scenarios, structures can be completely lost to flooding, but even damage that appears minor can result in lingering structural problems and dangerous mold growth.

ClimateCheck considers the depth and probability of four types of flooding when calculating flood risk: coastal high-tide flooding, flooding from storm surges, fluvial flooding, and pluvial flooding. Pluvial flooding is caused by an accumulation of surface water, while fluvial flooding occurs when a river, lake or stream overflows.

Incorporate physical climate risk into due diligence

Physical climate risk reports illustrate existing and future vulnerabilities to properties so investors and property owners can be prepared. Understanding risk at both a high level and granular level makes it possible to identify and prioritize measures to mitigate climate-related risk.

Our reports can help inform investment strategy and provide a starting point for property owners to identify where there’s higher need for on-site analysis. In addition to physical risk reports for property, we offer raw, granular risk data available by API or other formats, and custom risk analyses that detail risk to a specified area or corridor.

Looking to incorporate climate into your risk assessments?