RMS Examines Massive Blizzard That Swept Through East Coast

January 26, 2016

The massive blizzard that swept through the East Coast over the weekend may result in hundreds of millions of dollars in insured losses.

The blizzard, unofficially named “Winter Storm Jonas” by the Weather Channel, brought a combination of freezing rain, coastal flooding, and blizzard conditions to much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions over the weekend, the Newark, California-based catastrophe risk management firm RMS noted.

RMS’s meteorologist Jeff Waters said that while it’s still too early to estimate damage totals, the event could rank as one of the more significant events in recent history.

Economic and insured loss will likely be driven by a combination of factors, he said. These factors include roof collapse from high snow loads, coastal flooding, and business interruption claims as a result of travel delays, widespread power outages, and closed businesses.

RMS said comparable historical events include the Blizzard of 1996, which caused approximately $1.5 billion in economic losses, and $740 million insured losses in 1996 dollars. It ranks as the 13th costliest U.S. winter event by insured losses from 1980-2014, according to the Insurance Information Institute and Munich Re.

RMS’s Waters also provided the following sum-up of the blizzard:

• Snowfall totals ranging from 6-40+ inches (15-101 cm) blanketed much of the impacted area, including major cities like Washington D.C.; Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

• Multiple cities broke their all-time snowfall accumulations, such as in New York City (JFK Airport – 30 inches/75 cm); Baltimore (29 inches/73 cm) and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (30 inches/76 cm).

• Jonas is the first winter storm on record to bring more than 18 inches of snow to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

• Pipe freeze and burst, which is a common driver of insured losses during winter, is not expected to be material in this event, Waters said, because there is a lack of sufficient Arctic air to warrant such a deep freeze.

• Coastal flooding and erosion was particularly strong in Delaware and southern New Jersey, as several towns (Lewes, Delaware; and Cape May and Stone Harbor, New Jersey) exhibited all-time record storm surge levels. Multiple tidal gauges also exceeded the recorded surge levels during Superstorm Sandy in several areas.

• An estimated 85 million people were affected by the blizzard which at its peak resulted in 300,000 power outages, cancellation of almost 12,000 flights (mostly from Washington D.C. and New York City), widespread rail and road disruption, and at least 29 fatalities.


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