Tornadoes


A major severe weather outbreak continues across parts of the southern and eastern U.S. today, as insurers rush to multiple states hit Sunday and Monday by a total of more than 90 tornadoes, some of which caused fatalities.

Here are the NOAA Storm Prediction Center’s (SPC) storm reports for Sunday, April 27 and Monday, April 28:

A fact that often goes unreported is that tornadoes are among the largest causes of insured losses in any given year, accounting for 36 percent of all insured losses since 1983, according to the I.I.I.

Increasingly dense suburban development across the U.S. is putting more people and property in areas at risk of tornadoes than ever before.

Eighty percent of U.S. natural disaster related insurance claims payouts in 2013 were attributable to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms—$10.27 billion out of total estimate of $12.79 billion, according to remarks made in February 2014 by I.I.I. president Robert Hartwig, at the National Tornado Summit in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Today’s post by fellow blogger Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), comes to us live from the National Tornado Summit in Oklahoma:

Hurricanes get the headlines, but tornadoes are stealing their thunder. The economic toll of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms is adding up – to the tune of an average $9.6 billion per year payout in insurance claims. I.I.I.’s CEO/President Dr. Robert Hartwig made that point clear at the National Tornado Summit held this week in Oklahoma City.

Dr. Hartwig’s presentation on tornadoes and the insurance trends for severe convective events noted that tornadoes account for 36 percent of all insured losses since 1993; hurricanes losses over that time period were a just over 40 percent. He pointed out that areas in the heart of “Tornado Alley” may have 20-25 severe weather days each year. But, it’s not the number of storms that matters most. It’s all about where they hit.

Tornadoes are part of the landscape in many areas of the U.S., and the landscape has changed. If a tornado touches down on farmland, there may be little to no structural damage, and no witnesses to record the event. Today, what was once farmland is dense suburban development, putting more people and more property in a twister’s path — and bringing more devastation.

Average insured losses from thunderstorms are up seven fold since the 1980s. Historically, Oklahoma is second to Texas in terms of losses from tornadoes, thunderstorms and hail. The tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma in May 2013 was the costliest storm of the year. At the Tornado Summit, Moore’s Mayor said he expects 85 percent of Moore residents will rebuild. That’s insurance at work!

To help spearhead the rebuilding of schools in Moore, Dr. Hartwig presented the Moore Public Schools with a check for $10,000 following his presentation at the Summit. He reminded the audience that knowing the numbers associated with natural disasters is a small part of the story. It’s helping the people impacted that matters most to the insurance industry. The I.I.I.’s contribution on behalf of the insurance industry underscored the human factor of disaster recovery, and that reminder earned a standing ovation.

Reports of a “small tornado” in New Jersey hit very close to home Monday morning as I was driving to an appointment when torrential rain and thunderstorms bore down.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has confirmed that the EF-0 tornado touched down in Union County, New Jersey, amid a band of thunderstorms that brought heavy rain and flooding to parts of the state yesterday.

The tornado touched down in Berkeley Heights and for eight minutes cut a path nearly 50 yards wide and 4.8 miles long northeast through New Providence and Summit.

Winds reached an estimated 85 mph and extensive tree damage was observed along the tornado path, the NWS said.

The NJ Star Ledger reports that New Jersey has experienced at least one tornado in each of the last five years, according to records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. All of them were listed as EF-0, the lowest designation.

Here’s a visual of the tornado’s path, courtesy of NJ.com and the NWS:

An EF-1 tornado is also confirmed to have touched down in Connecticut yesterday, causing property damage.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on tornadoes and thunderstorms.

It’s a little ironic that in the weeks preceding the devastating May 20, 2013 Moore, Oklahoma tornado, there were numerous reports of how 2013 tornado activity was at a record low.

Unfortunately, these headlines may give the mistaken impression that the United States is in a period of lower risk for tornadoes, and/or that the costs from such events are declining.

Yet as we have seen repeatedly during hurricane, tornado and wildfire seasons, it only takes one storm, or event, to remind us of the dangers and ongoing risks.

Dr. Robert Hartwig, president and chief economist of the I.I.I., notes that the U.S. is actually in the midst of the most expensive period in recorded history for thunderstorm events, which include damage from tornadoes.

The I.I.I. reports that severe thunderstorms, including tornado events, cost $14.9 billion in insured losses in 2012, but that number stood at $25 billion a year earlier because of the two costliest tornado events in U.S. history:

– The $7.5 billion in insured damages (in 2012 dollars) arising out of the late April 2011 twisters that struck multiple states, most notably Alabama, which accounted for nearly $3 billion of the total damages, and;

– The $7 billion in insured damages (in 2012 dollars) that resulted from the May 2011 tornado outbreak, which also impacted numerous states. Joplin, Missouri, was the hardest hit community, incurring $2.2 billion of the $7 billion in damages, making that tornado the single largest insurance event in Missouri’s history.

Dr. Hartwig adds:

Over the past five years, insurers paid some $75 billion to victims of these events. As the events in Moore tragically demonstrate, this trend toward more violent and destructive weather patterns shows no signs of abating.”

A post on the Wall Street Journal Money Beat blog suggests that property/casualty insurers will face at least a few billion dollars of insured losses from the May 20, 2013 Moore, Oklahoma tornado, according to rough calculations by Wall Street analysts.

Check out the New York Times for panoramic images taken Tuesday comparing the same locations before and after the storm struck Moore.

Data on tornadoes can be both unreliable and inconsistent, making it impossible to identify long term trends, according to a new report from Lloyd’s.

Tornado records underreport tornado numbers and changes in classification of tornado strengths adds further uncertainty, making it even more difficult to determine trends in tornado frequency and severity, the report says. Even in the United States detailed records only exist back to 1950.

While the number of officially recorded tornadoes has risen, this can be attributed to better reporting, tracking and more people, homes and infrastructure in the path of a tornado, Lloyd’s says.

The report notes:

Despite the anomalous 2011 season there is no trend in the number of strong to violent tornadoes between 1950 and 2012, evidence that the number of high intensity events has not increased over that period.”

Note: 2011 was an unusually active and deadly year for tornadoes across the U.S., with over 1,600 tornadoes recorded, more than any other year on record except for 2004. Costs were high, with seven individual tornado and severe weather outbreaks recording damages that exceeded $1 billion. Total damage from the outbreaks is estimated at in excess of $28 billion.

But while the number of violent tornado losses may not be increasing, insured losses are.

The report identifies a clear trend of increasing annual aggregate losses to the insurance market and says that billion dollar losses are becoming more common:

As exposure continues to increase, tornadoes represent a more serious threat to the insurance industry. An active tornado season hitting populated areas could result in high damages and it is important that insurers consider modeling and managing potential exposure.”

Check out I.I.I. facts+statistics on tornadoes here. PC360 has more on this story.

Extreme weather event losses in the United States dominated natural catastrophe loss statistics in the first half of 2012, according to a review by Munich Re and the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

In the 2012 half-year natural catastrophe review, Munich Re noted that some 85 percent of worldwide insured losses and 61 percent of overall losses were incurred in America, predominantly in the U.S. – compared with an annual average of 65 percent and 40 percent respectively since 1980.

Severe thunderstorm, tornado events in the U.S. accounted for the five costliest natural catastrophes for the insurance industry in the first six months of the year.

The most severe single event was a squall line that crossed several states between 2 and 4 March. Some 170 tornadoes were counted in and around the Ohio and Tennessee River alone, and a small number of communities were almost completely destroyed. Insured losses totaled $2.3 billion.

In a press release Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit, noted:

Overall, most of the severe thunderstorm-related outbreaks with tornadoes affect a limited area, and may cause serious damage locally but are not comparable in scale to events like severe hurricanes. However, due to the number of events, the aggregate annual loss amounts can attain the level of a major hurricane landfall, as seen last year.”

The good news for insurers is that natural catastrophe losses in the first half of 2012 were relatively moderate. Overall global losses to the end of June were $26 billion, of which some $12 billion were insured.

In a recent post over at the Property/Casualty Insurance blog, Gary Kerney commented that for decades, hurricanes got the headlines and caused more insured losses than tornadoes and thunderstorms, but last year, all that changed.

More facts and statistics on tornadoes and thunderstorms from the I.I.I.

As well as strong winds and heavy rains, hail – ranging from pea to baseball size – was a feature of the massive tornadoes that touched down in the Dallas Fort Worth area yesterday.

Specifically, the Dallas-Fort Worth international airport reported that more than 100 aircraft were damaged by hail, according to CNN.

Hail causes about $1 billion in damage to crops and property each year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Pea size hail measures an estimated ¼ inch in diameter, while baseball size hail would measure about 2 ¾ inches.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reminds us that hail damage is covered under standard homeowners insurance. It is also covered under your auto policy provided you have comprehensive coverage.

Some insurers may have special deductibles in hail prone areas, to help keep insurance premiums at affordable levels.

Physical damage to aircraft as a result of hail would be covered under a hull insurance policy.

The I.I.I. reports there were over 9,000 major hail storms in 2010, according to statistics from NOAA’s Severe Storms database. Texas had the largest number of severe hail events in 2010, followed by Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Learn how to protect your home from hail in this I.I.I. video:

Damage assessments have begun in the wake of Friday’s powerful storm system that brought a massive outbreak of tornadoes across the Midwest and South and left 39 dead.

So far, the National Weather Service (NWS) has confirmed 42 tornadoes from Friday: Indiana – 3; Virginia – 1; North Carolina – 2; Ohio – 5; West Virginia – 2; Kentucky – 8; Tennessee – 8; Alabama – 7; Mississippi – 1; Georgia – 5.

However, this number will rise as NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) logged 107 preliminary tornado reports from Friday’s outbreak, according to Dr. Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog.

Dr. Masters notes that these preliminary reports are typically over counted by 15 percent and predicts the total number of tornadoes from Friday’s outbreak will probably finish in the 90 to 100 range.

The severe weather also brought damaging winds and hail.

Friday’s outbreak follows a separate storm system earlier in the week that spawned several tornadoes in the Midwest. The severe weather 28/29 February caused widespread property damage and left at least 12 dead.

NOAA issued 440 tornado warnings and 606 thunderstorm warnings last week alone. USA Today has an interesting article on how tornado forecasts saved countless lives.

The Insurance Information Institute’s facts and statistics are a useful resource on the insurance implications of tornadoes.

Latest information can also be found at Guy Carpenter’s online CAT-i bulletins and catastrophe modeling firm EQECAT’s CatWatch catastrophe reports.

See an animation of Friday’s developing severe weather system via NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite below:

Tornadoes were the costliest type of natural disaster in the United States in 2011, based on insured losses, according to Munich Re.

Insured losses from tornadoes/thunderstorms totaled more than $25 billion last year, more than double the previous record.

Only two months into 2012, and a series of tornadoes has struck the Midwest U.S. causing fatalities and significant damage in certain areas.

The tornado that hit Harrisburg, Illinois, rated an EF4—the second most powerful on the rating scale—according to the National Weather Service, resulted in six deaths, nearly 100 injuries and at least 200 homes destroyed or damaged.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reminds us that standard homeowners and business insurance policies cover wind damage to the structure of the building and its contents caused by tornadoes and thunderstorms.

Preliminary data from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center show there have been 128 tornadoes in 2012 so far, causing nine deaths.

For the whole of 2011 the preliminary count is 1,709 tornadoes, causing 550 deaths. Actual figures for 2010 show there were 1,282 tornadoes and 45 related deaths.

In May 2011 a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, and surrounding areas caused 159 fatalities, making it the deadliest tornado since modern record keeping began in 1950, according to NOAA.

Read more about how residents in Joplin, Missouri have begun updating the city’s tornado warning sirens over at the Disaster Safety Blog (official blog of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Here’s a visual of preliminary tornado reports from January 1, 2012 to February 29, 2012, courtesy of NOAA’s SPC: