February saw a spate of winter storms in the United States, including the period from Feb. 12-20, which will become the U.S. insurance industry’s costliest winter weather peril on record, according to insurance broker Aon plc in its monthly Global Catastrophe Recap report.
The total direct economic damage cost (and net-loss business interruption) was expected to well exceed US$10 billion, said Aon, noting that there will be a prolonged period of loss development.
This stretch of winter weather conditions affected nearly every section of the United States, extending as far south as the U.S.-Mexico border. Caused by the Polar Vortex, the storms brought millions of power outages, transportation disruptions, extensive property damage (particularly in the Southern Plains due to burst pipes) as well as agricultural sector losses.
“The unprecedented volume of winter weather impacts tied to the Polar Vortex across the United States in mid-February will result in a prolonged period of loss development, but will certainly end as the costliest insurance industry event for the peril on record,” commented Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist on the Impact Forecasting team at Aon.
“Despite being the coldest February for the contiguous U.S. in a generation, it marked only the 19th coldest February dating to the late 1800s,” he said. “As the climate changes, such prolonged bouts of cold temperatures are likely to be less frequent, but the intensity of extreme cold events will grow more volatile. The impacts in Texas highlight the importance of infrastructure modernization and improved building code practices to better prepare for more unusual weather behavior in the future.”
Other notable U.S. winter storms included an Arctic outbreak, which settled across portions of the central United States on Feb. 8-12, causing economic losses in the tens of millions of dollars. Some of the hardest-hit areas were Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas.
Meanwhile, another significant loss during the month included thunderstorms and large hail which hit portions of northern Texas on Feb. 25-26. Ping pong-ball sized hail was reported in the densely populated Dallas suburb of McKinney (Collin County). Total economic damage was expected to exceed US$100 million, most of which will be covered by insurance.
Other February natural catastrophes, cited in Aon’s report, include:
- A magnitude-7.1 (USGS) earthquake struck off the coast of Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture on Feb. 13, killing one person and injuring 187 others. As many as 4,700 residential structures were damaged or destroyed. Total economic losses were expected to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The General Insurance Association of Japan (GIAJ) noted that nearly 90,000 insurance claims had already been filed.
- Tropical Cyclone Niran caused notable wind- and flood-related impacts across the coastal areas of Queensland and New South Wales on the eastern coast of Australia from Feb. 25 through March 4. Thousands of homes, in addition to other private and public infrastructure, were damaged. Economic losses due to crop damage alone was listed at A$200 million (US$155 million).
- Heavy rains and severe flooding affected at least 130,000 people in the Brazilian state of Acre from Feb. 12-20. A state of disaster was declared across 10 municipalities. Total economic losses were anticipated to reach into the tens of millions of US dollars.
- Southwestern and northern France experienced major flooding in the first half of February as multiple rivers registered notable crests. Initial estimates from insurers did not suggest a significant industry event on a national scale, yet a state of natural disaster was declared for 19 municipalities, and a preliminary assessment of total economic loss was in the tens of millions of euros.
- A magnitude-5.4 earthquake struck near Sisakht in the Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province of Iran. At least two people died, and 60 others were injured. Local officials noted that 5,800 structures were damaged or destroyed.
- Morocco experienced periods of heavy rainfall during February. Urban flooding in Tangier on Feb. 28 resulted in the deaths of 28 people. Local media reported homes and vehicles inundated with water across the city.
- Below-average precipitation triggered severe drought conditions in southern sections of China, notably the provinces of Guangxi, Hunan, and Yunnan. Nearly 68,000 hectares (168,000 acres) of cropland was affected. Direct economic losses in February alone were estimated at CNY376 million (US$58 million).
- A major flash flooding event, likely a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF), occurred on Feb. 7-8 in India’s state of Uttarakhand. A total of 205 people were confirmed or presumed dead as of Feb. 24. Thousands of structures and four hydroelectric power plants were damaged. The economic loss was listed at INR15 billion (US$206 million).
Source: Aon/Impact Forecasting
Photograph: City of Richardson worker Kaleb Love works to clear ice from a water fountain Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Richardson, Texas. Temperatures dropped into the single digits as snow shut down air travel and grocery stores. Photo credit: AP Photo/LM Otero.
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