2009 U.S. Hurricane Season Was Calmest In 12 Years

Winter Storms, Strong Winds, Tornadoes, and Thunderstorms Tested Insurers Earlier in the Year

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NEW YORK, December 1, 2009 — With the official end of the hurricane season behind them, U.S. coastal residents are no doubt grateful for the relative calm of the 2009 season, although not every year can be expected to be as quiet as this one. Between June 1 and November 30, 2009, only nine named storms developed in the Atlantic basin, three of which became hurricanes. These are the lowest totals in each category since 1997, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
“The 2009 season is a welcome respite from 2008, when hurricanes Gustav and Ike disrupted hundreds of thousands of lives in Louisiana and Texas, and caused $14.65 billion in insured losses,” said Dr. Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the I.I.I. “Profits in an industry like insurance must be seen over the long term. A single hurricane, or a string of large losses, can wipe out insurer profits from previous years, or even decades. And insurers must be prepared to pay for these losses, irrespective of the current economic conditions.”
The nine named storms, according to a Colorado State University analysis of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, were, in chronological order:
  • Tropical Storm Ana (Aug. 15-16)
  • Hurricane Bill (Aug. 15-24)
  • Tropical Storm Claudette (Aug. 16-17)
  • Tropical Storm Danny (Aug. 26-29)
  • Tropical Storm Erika (Sept. 1-3)
  • Hurricane Fred (Sept. 8-12)
  • Tropical Storm Grace (Oct. 5-6)
  • Tropical Storm Henri (Oct. 6-7)
  • Hurricane Ida (Nov. 4-10)
Hurricanes Bill and Fred were categorized as major hurricanes because each reached sustained winds of at least 111 mph at some point during its trajectory. Storms with wind speeds of 111 mph, or higher, are considered a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Hurricane Ida, which peaked as a category 2 event, had slowed to a minimal tropical storm before making landfall near Dauphin Island, Alabama, in the early hours of Tuesday, November 10, 2009.
Despite their vulnerability to hurricanes, U.S. coastal counties have in recent years become more densely populated. Moreover, the insured value of properties in U.S. coastal counties grew at a compound annual rate of 7 percent between 2005 and 2007, a June 2008 AIR Worldwide white paper found. By year-end 2007, the total insured value of property in U.S. coastal counties with hurricane exposure was $8.89 trillion, according to the AIR paper.
“Hurricanes are just one of many natural disasters insurers must consider when assessing risk. Wildfires, tornadoes and severe winter storms are a continuous threat, too. Indeed, insurers run their business under the assumption that every day is a potential doomsday, because it is,” Dr. Hartwig stated.
Swiss Re issued a study yesterday citing three separate events where U.S. insurers realized claims totaling in excess of $1 billion: February 2009 winter storms which featured heavy rains; a series of April tornadoes; and June thunderstorms, which were accompanied by high winds.
In a sign, however, that the hurricane season is a year-round concern to academics, insurers and public policymakers, Colorado State University has already announced that its first forecast for the 2010 hurricane season will be issued on Wednesday, December 9, 2009. All of their forecasts are available online.

Eight of the 10 most costly hurricanes in U.S. history have occurred since 2004. This is the first year since 2006 in which no hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. For more on the history and insurance repercussions of hurricanes in the U.S., go to the I.I.I.’s Facts and Statistics page.

The I.I.I. is a nonprofit, communications organization supported by the insurance industry.


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