Winter has arrived, at least for the Eastern United States, NOAA’s National Weather Service declared yesterday:

Lake effect and mountain snow is impacting travel across the lower Great Lakes and center Appalachians. Further south, freeze warnings have been issued for all of Florida and along much of the Gulf coast. Temperatures will be at least 20 degrees below average, with brisk north winds making it feel even colder. The temperatures along much of the east coast are below average for this time of year.”

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) reports that winter storms are historically very expensive and are the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses, behind only hurricanes and tornadoes. From 1991 to 2010, winter storms resulted in about $26 billion in insured losses, according to ISO.

In the first six months of 2011, insured U.S. winter storm losses totaled $1.4 billion, according to Munich Re. That figure does not include losses arising in the second half of the year, for example from the October snowstorm which caused significant damage in the Northeast.

Full year figures should be available in today’s 2011 Natural Catastrophe Year In Review Webinar, jointly presented by Munich Re and the I.I.I.

Insured U.S. winter storm losses in 2010 totaled $2.6 billion, the highest losses from this peril since 2003, as reported by Munich Re.

In its most recent annual winter outlook NOAA gave those of us living in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic equal chances for above-, near-, or below- normal temperatures and precipitation.

Last year’s Groundhog Day blizzard (January 29-February 3, 2011) was among a record 12 weather disasters in 2011 that each caused $1 billion or more in damages, according to NOAA.

This large, sprawling winter storm impacted many central, eastern and northeastern states leaving at least 36 dead and causing insured losses greater than $1 billion.

The city of Chicago was brought to a virtual standstill as up to 2 feet of snow fell in the area.

As a result of that blizzard the city is now taking a more hi-tech approach in its snow-response. The New York Times reports that a new city web site ChicagoShovels.org includes among other things a snowplow tracker that maps Chicago’s approximately 300 snowplows making their way in real time through the city.