This Data-Centric Startup Wants to Reimburse You for Travel Plans Ruined by Climate Change

This Data-Centric Startup Wants to Reimburse You for Travel Plans Ruined by Climate Change

A new kind of travel insurance for climate change announced a $4 million raise.

When climate scientist Nick Cavanaugh lived in Seattle, he was blessed with a geography that gave way to beautiful running trails, arduous hikes, and snow-powdered hills that lended itself to snowboarding and skiing. Weekend outdoor activities were only a stone’s throw away, but were also so heavily dependent on the weather.

After getting his PhD at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography and getting a postdoc on climate science research and variability, Cavanaugh would go on to research how changes in weather could make sizable impacts in everything from agriculture to housing before founding Sensible Weather in 2019.

The heart of the company is a platform that collects and analyzes climate data, gathering information from satellites, ships and others who are tracking global weather patterns.

Cavanaugh foresees multiple uses for this kind of data, but for now, Sensible Weather is focusing on travel. The company is working with a handful of travel partners to offer a service that will refund travelers who have booked experiences like hand gliding or skiing, but can’t go because of a storm or some other weather event. Sensible Weather expects to unveil their partnerships next month.

As more people emerge from their COVID cocoon to travel during the spring and summer, Sensible Weather is looking to grow. It announced on Monday it raised $4 million led by Los Angeles-focused Wonder Ventures and Walkabout Ventures, with additional funding from the likes of 75 & Sunny Ventures (co-founded by dot.LA co-founder Spencer Rascoff) and Group 1001, arming the company with $10 million.

Leveraging hourly data from around the world going back several decades, the platform is able to predict on an hour-to-hour basis the weather conditions at a certain place and automatically reimburse travelers whose plans have been impacted by the change.

“We believe that in going to market with this consumer product, you would need to effectively be offering consumers a payout in real time beforehand in order for that product to be seen as really valuable,” Cavanaugh said. “We're giving consumers money when they're experiencing this moment of pain and allowing them to change their plans or to change what they were going to do, or at the very least, they'll change their attitude about what it is they were doing.”

Climate change is already having a drastic and immediate impact on the way we live, from devastating bushfires in Australia to the arctic cold wave in Texas. The tangible scenes of climate change have upped peoples’ usage of travel insurance.

“This is just the new normal in which we're facing and there are things that we can do to combat those things, other than just sort of kicking the can down the road,” Cavanaugh said.

But there are further uses for the technology. As the company continues to amass weather data from around the world, climate data can help communities develop weather-resistant housing, or build new developments on land that is less impacted by climate change. This kind of data can help farmers find arable land to grow crops on or better predict the success of certain plants. Traditional homeowners insurance may come with wildfire or flood coverage.

For now, Sensible Weather is focusing on travel. The company is working with a handful of travel partners as more people emerge from the pandemic to travel during the spring and summer.

“I think in 10 years, the insurance landscape and insurance products is going to look very different than it does today,” Cavanaugh said.

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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.
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