Exceptionally high losses from weather-related catastrophes in Europe and Super Typhoon Haiyan dominated the overall picture of natural catastrophes in 2013, according to the latest information from global reinsurer Munich Re. Floods and hailstorms caused double-digit billion-dollar losses in central Europe, and in the Philippines one of the strongest cyclones in history, Super Typhoon Haiyan, resulted in a human catastrophe with over 6,000 fatalities.
Globally, losses from natural catastrophes in 2013 were somewhat more moderate: the direct overall losses of around US$125 billion and insured losses of around $31 billion remained below the average figures of the past ten years ($184 billion and $56 billion). Regrettably, in a total of 880 natural catastrophes (average of the past ten years: 790), more than 20,000 people were killed. This meant that the death toll was higher than in 2012, but significantly below the average of the past 10 years (106,000).
“Several of the events of 2013 illustrated how well warnings and loss minimisation measures can restrict the impact of natural catastrophes. In the case of the most recent winter storms in Europe, for example, the losses remained comparatively low,” said Torsten Jeworrek, Munich Re Board member responsible for global reinsurance business. “At the same time, events like those in the Philippines show the urgent need for more to be done in developing and emerging countries to protect people better. This includes stabler buildings and protection facilities, and insurance programmes – also with state backing – to provide those affected with financial assistance after a disaster.”
The costliest natural catastrophe of the year in terms of overall economic losses was the flooding in southern and eastern Germany and the neighbouring states at the beginning of June. Overall losses totalled $15.2 billion (€11.7 billion), while insured losses came to $3 billion (€2.3 billion). “The 2013 floods showed that flood control can work. After all, the parameters such as duration and volume of rainfall would have led one to expect even more serious flooding than in 2002,” said Peter Höppe, head of geo risks research at Munich Re. “Nevertheless, it also demonstrated that flood control has to cover the whole course of a river and cannot just consist of dykes. Rivers need space to spread out when there are floods, so that those living downstream are not hit even harder when protective measures are taken in the upper reaches. This requires efforts comprising the whole catchment area of a river, which therefore often have to be internationally coordinated.”
The most expensive event for the insurance industry in 2013 was a squall line with hailstorms that hit some regions in northern and southwestern Germany between 27 and 28 July. At the same time, this squall line was also the insurance industryʼs most expensive hail event in German history. The hailstones damaged numerous cars, building facades, roofs and solar installations. The hail did particular damage to buildings with thermal insulation, ruining the exterior finish in some cases. Overall, the loss from heavy hailstorms in July and August in Germany totalled around $5.2 billion (€3.9 billion), of which $4.1 billion (€3.1 billion) was insured. The hailstorms in late July alone accounted for $4.8 billion (€3.6 billion) of the overall loss, and $3.7 billion (€2.8 billion) of the insured loss.
The most severe catastrophe in human terms was caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which tore across the southern Philippines on 7 November, with maximum wind speeds of well over 300 kilometres per hour (km/h). Shortly before that, the strongest gust was measured over the ocean at 379 km/h. The radius of the storm system amounted to around 600 km. And the eye of the tropical storm, just outside of which the wind speeds are highest, measured an exceptional 20 to 25 km in diameter. Haiyan was probably the strongest recorded cyclone ever to make landfall. As a result of the extreme wind force of over 300 km/h and the resultant flood wave of up to six metres in height, many settlements like the coastal city of Tacloban were razed to the ground.
The overall loss totalled some $10 billion, equivalent to around five per cent of the Philippinesʼ annual economic output. Owing to the very low insurance penetration, the insured loss will probably only be in the mid three-digit million range.
The most serious natural catastrophe in the US in the past year was brought about by a squall line with a series of very severe tornadoes in the state of Oklahoma. On 21 May, a tornado of the highest category (five), with wind speeds of over 300 km/h, devastated the suburb of Moore. Here alone, around 10,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. The loss resulting from the squall line as a whole amounted to US$ 3.1 billion, of which US$ 1.8 billion was insured.
Canada was also hit by severe natural catastrophe in 2013. Unusually heavy rainfall in the province of Alberta of up to 190 litres per square metre in one day coincided with late snowmelt. This led to record flooding on the rivers flowing through the provinceʼs capital of Calgary – the Bow River and Elbow River. The economic loss amounted to $5.7 billion, of which nearly $1.6 billion was insured, making it the costliest natural catastrophe in Canada ever.