1H2017 Nat Cat review: powerful thunderstorms in the USA causes large losses; Europe saw a relatively calm first half year

19 July 2017 — Daniela GHETU
A series of hailstorms and tornadoes in the USA dominated the natural catastrophe statistics in 1H 2017, each causing billions of dollars of losses. Worldwide nat cat losses however, were below the period's average.
  • Overall losses came to USD 41 billion. The corresponding figure for the first six months of 2016 was USD 111 billion; the average for the last ten years USD 102 billion. Insured losses totaled USD 19.5 billion (previous year: USD 32 billion; ten-year average USD 29 billion).
  • With less than half of the losses uninsured, the share of insured losses was higher than usual. This is due to the major thunderstorm losses in the USA, where insurance density is high. The previous year, and the ten-year average, saw more than two thirds of losses uninsured.
  • The highest overall losses in the first half-year were caused by the floods in Peru in February and March with a figure of USD 3.1 billion, USD 380 million of which was insured. The costliest event for insurers was a powerful thunderstorm in the USA in early May, with insured losses of USD 1.8 billion and overall losses of USD 2.2 billion.
  • In Europe, the overall losses of USD 5 billion (EUR 4.4 billion) and insured losses of USD 1.9 billion (EUR 1.7 billion) were also below the average (USD 13.4 billion and 4.7 billion). Just one year earlier, the headlines had been dominated by a series of flash floods and river floods in Germany and France. Nat cat losses in Asia/Pacific and Australia in H1 2017 totaled USD 9.2 billion, with USD 2.1 billion of these insured.
  • By the end of June 2017, MUNICH Re's NatCatSERVICE database had recorded 350 loss-relevant natural catastrophes, less than the previous year's figures (390) but more than the ten-year average (310).
The high number of severe thunderstorms in the USA is presumed to have been at least partially influenced by a natural climate phenomenon, especially in the first quarter of 2017: the tropical eastern Pacific off the northwest coast of South America was exceptionally warm, a phenomenon that the Peruvian authorities have dubbed "coastal El Niño", despite the fact that it is not a full-blown El Niño event. At the same time, it was significantly cooler than usual further west. This difference in temperature can cause teleconnection events that alter the atmospheric circulation over the USA, increasing the likelihood of a large number of severe thunderstorms with tornadoes and hail.

MUNICH Re Board member Torsten JEWORREK: "The exceptional accumulation of severe thunderstorms in the USA highlights just how important it is for insurers to have in-depth knowledge of natural catastrophes and how these are affected by climatic changes. This is true of both natural climatic changes and those that are man-made. Insurers not only help to overcome losses, they also improve our understanding of what triggers them. This is a fundamental basis for preventing future losses."

Peter HOEPPE, Head of MUNICH Re's Geo Risks Research: "The unusual atmospheric conditions in the USA in the first half of 2017 provided the perfect conditions for powerful supercell thunderstorms, which frequently bring major hailstorms and tornadoes. The number of tornadoes observed in the first quarter of 2017 was twice as high as the average for the last ten years."

Thunderstorms in the USA were responsible for three of the world's five costliest loss events in the first half of the year, each causing economic losses of over USD 2 billion. The total economic loss from these storms amounted to USD 18.5 billion, of which USD 13.5 billion was insured.

Tony KUCZINSKI, President and CEO of MUNICH Reinsurance America, Inc: "During the first half of 2017, we continued to clearly see the impacts of tornado and hail events in the United States in terms of damage to homes and business, which ultimately result in direct and indirect losses to the economy. MUNICH Re continues to participate in important research being conducted to improve the way we build our homes and businesses, with the ultimate goal to make them more resistant to the impacts of weather related events. Preventative measures can reduce vulnerability, and preparing for loss or damage can increase resilience. These measures protect assets and save lives."

The coastal El Nino phenomenon was also responsible for the costliest economic loss in the first half-year, the February and March floods in Peru. High sea temperatures and the subsequent increase in evaporation rates brought torrential rainfall to Peru, triggering numerous landslides and river floods close to the capital city of Lima and in rural areas in the north of the country. Overall losses came to USD 3.1 billion. Due to the low insurance density in Peru, the insured loss was only a tenth of this figure, at just USD 380 million. "Emerging countries in particular would benefit from higher insurance density as it would allow them to recover more quickly from the financial impact of natural disasters", explained JEWORREK.

Cyclone Debbie, which hit the Queensland coast of Australia in late March, was the second-most expensive nat cat event of H1 2017, with overall losses of USD 2.7 billion and insured losses of USD 1.4 billion. Debbie made landfall on 28 March in the sparsely populated area around Airlie Beach. It was a category four cyclone (second-highest category) with wind speeds of up to 190 km/h (gusts up to 260 km/h). High winds and torrential rain damaged countless buildings.

Hermann POHLCHRISTOPH, MUNICH Re Board member responsible for Asia-Pacific: "In terms of actual loss amounts, Asia and Australia were not as badly hit by natural disasters as they often are. The loss pattern of Cyclone Debbie in Australia clearly shows that exposure in certain areas continues to be high and that industry needs to address this issue through improved structural measures and professional insurance cover."

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