Texas Pounded by Weather Extremes in May

By | June 2, 2015

Even though it means the commencement of hurricane season, weather-beleaguered Texans are likely pleased that May 2015 has come and gone.

Texas was pelted during the month of May with all kinds of violent and deadly weather, including hail storms, an unusually high number of tornadoes, high winds, torrential rains and massive flooding.

The Associated Press reported that at least 31 people were killed in storms that began in Texas and Oklahoma over Memorial Day weekend. Twenty-seven of the deaths have been in Texas, and at least 10 people were still missing as of June 1.

While the violent May weather — tornadoes and flooding in particular — caused significant property damage, the ratings agency A.M. Best suggests that insurers operating in Texas likely will not be subject to ratings actions as a result.

While property insurers will face claims from tornadoes, wind and hail, in a briefing titled, “Southern Plains Rain and Flooding to Have Minimal Impact on Regional Writers,” Best noted that property insurers have relatively little exposure to flood losses as flooding is not covered in a standard homeowners policy.

As of May 29, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which manages the National Flood Insurance Program, had not yet reported loss figures for Texas. Texas ranks number two, behind Florida, in the number of flood insurance policies in force.

Auto insurers may be the hardest hit from the massive flooding that has occurred in Texas. The Insurance Council of Texas estimated that auto losses from flooding may go as high as $350 million.

Still, A.M. Best said the “impact on most auto physical damage writers is anticipated to be mitigated given the generally large economies of scale of major writers in the market.”

The National Insurance Crime Bureau warned that many of these flood damaged autos could be put up for sale without any indication that they were impacted by flooding. The NICB said it is working with law enforcement agencies, insurance and car rental companies to identify and catalog water-damaged vehicles to keep them from being resold to unsuspecting consumers.

In Texas, the most weather-related deaths occurred in Memorial Day flooding in Wimberley when the normally tame Blanco River rose hard and fast. Others were killed in tornadoes in Van, Eastland and Milam County during May, the ICT reported.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared 70 Texas counties as disaster areas as a result of tornadoes and flooding, and on May 29, President Obama issued a disaster declaration for Harris, Hays and Van Zandt counties.

The number of tornado watches in Texas during the month was three times higher than the norm, according to the storm prediction center in Norman, Okla.

Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist for the center, said the state also had an explosion of super cell thunderstorms during May, which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage from the Red River to the Gulf of Mexico.

“There was no shortage of weather catastrophes this past month and insurance companies and adjusters have been working overtime in reaching all of those who have had property damage,” said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas. “Building contractors and auto body shops will have plenty of work in the coming months.”

The lead meteorologist for AnythingWeather, Joshua Jans, said 68 Texas counties had golf ball size hail or larger in May.

“Texas had 18 days in May where golf ball size hail was recorded and hail was reported in Texas for eight straight days from May 4 – 11,” said Jans.

Hurricane Season Begins

June 1 signified the official start to the Atlantic hurricane season and forecasts predict fewer than normal named storms for this year.

Colorado State University researchers Philip Klotzbach and William Gray said cooler ocean temperatures and favorable atmospheric conditions likely will continue through the summer months, resulting in fewer hurricanes.

The Gulf Coast and East Coast both have a 15 percent chance of getting hit by a hurricane this year, well below the average of 30 percent, the researchers say. Their forecast released in April called for seven named storms, three of which are predicted to become hurricanes with wind speeds of 74 mph or higher.

But just one storm can make a huge difference. For instance, in 1992 only one major hurricane was predicted. That was the year Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, including Miami, with Category 5 winds. Andrew caused $15.5 billion (1992 dollars) in Florida and Louisiana, making it at the time the costliest hurricane ever to hit the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Two of the nation’s costliest hurricanes caused damage in Texas: Hurricane Ike in 2008 ($12.5 billion total, $9.8 billion in Texas) and Hurricane Rita in 2005 ($5.6 billion total, $2 billion in Texas), according to the I.I.I.

Insurance Council of Texas and Associated Press reports contributed to this story. Graphic provided by AnythingWeather.

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