In its annual review of loss events in the past year, Munich Re emphasized the “exceptionally high losses from weather-related catastrophes in Europe and Supertyphoon Haiyan,” which, the report said, “dominated the overall picture of natural catastrophes in 2013.

“Floods and hailstorms caused double-digit billion-dollar losses in central Europe, and in the Philippines one of the strongest cyclones in history, Supertyphoon Haiyan, resulted in a human catastrophe with over 6,000 fatalities.”

Despite the fierce weather, however, Munich Re indicated that loss figures from natural catastrophes in 2013 were “somewhat more moderate.” Direct overall losses were around $125 billion and insured losses were around $31 billion, which, “remained below the average figures of the past ten years ($184 billion and $56 billion).

“Regrettably, in a total of 880 natural catastrophes (average of the past ten years: 790), more than 20,000 people were killed. This meant that the death toll was higher than in 2012, but significantly below the average of the past ten years (106,000).”

Torsten Jeworrek, Munich Re Board member responsible for global reinsurance business said: “Several of the events of 2013 illustrated how well warnings and loss minimization measures can restrict the impact of natural catastrophes. In the case of the most recent winter storms in Europe, for example, the losses remained comparatively low.

“At the same time, events like those in the Philippines show the urgent need for more to be done in developing and emerging countries to protect people better. This includes more stable buildings and protection facilities, and insurance programs – also with state backing – to provide those affected with financial assistance after a disaster.”

Loss figures for Europe were mainly from floods, which were the “year’s most expensive catastrophe. The costliest natural catastrophe of the year in terms of overall economic losses was the flooding in southern and eastern Germany and the neighboring states at the beginning of June. Overall losses totaled $15.2 billion (€11.7 billion), while insured losses came to $3 billion (€2.3 billion).”

Peter Höppe, Head of Geo Risks Research at Munich Re, observed: “The 2013 floods showed that flood control can work. After all, the parameters such as duration and volume of rainfall would have led one to expect even more serious flooding than in 2002. Nevertheless, it also demonstrated that flood control has to cover the whole course of a river and cannot just consist of dykes. Rivers need space to spread out when there are floods, so that those living downstream are not hit even harder when protective measures are taken in the upper reaches. This requires efforts comprising the whole catchment area of a river, which therefore often have to be internationally coordinated.”

Munich Re also cited the “precautionary measures” as having “proved their worth in several other weather-related natural catastrophes in Europe. Losses from Windstorm Christian in autumn and Winter Storm Xaver were comparatively low, even though both swept over the UK, the Benelux states, northern Germany and Denmark with wind speeds sometimes exceeding 150 km/h [93 mph]. Xaver and Christian each led to overall losses throughout Europe in the low single-digit billion range.

Hailstorms in Germany, however, caused the highest insured losses according to the report. They resulted from a “squall line with hailstorms that hit some regions in northern and southwestern Germany between 27 and 28 July. At the same time, this squall line was also the insurance industry?s most expensive hail event in German history. One of the hailstones found was 14 centimeters [app.51/2 inches] in diameter – a record for Germany.

“The hailstones damaged numerous cars, building façades, roofs and solar installations. The hail did particular damage to buildings with thermal insulation, ruining the exterior finish in some cases. Overall, the loss from heavy hailstorms in July and August in Germany totaled around $5.2 billion (€3.9 billion), of which $4.1 billion (€3.1 billion) was insured. The hailstorms in late July alone accounted for $4.8 billion (€3.6 billion) of the overall loss, and $3.7 billion (€2.8 billion) of the insured loss.”

The most severe catastrophe in human terms was caused by Supertyphoon Haiyan, probably the strongest tropical storm ever to make landfall. It ravaged the southern Philippines on November 7 with maximum wind speeds of well over 300 km/h [186 mph]. As a result of the extreme wind the flood wave it created of up to 6meters [over 18 feet] in height, “many settlements like the coastal city of Tacloban were razed almost to the ground.

“Over 6,000 people were killed in the storm, and millions were left homeless. The harvest in this significant agricultural region, with extensive sugar cane cultivation, was largely destroyed. The overall loss totaled some $10 billion, equivalent to around 5 percent of the Philippines annual economic output.” The Philippines, however, has “very low insurance penetration,” as a result Munich Re said the “insured loss will probably only be in the mid three-digit million range.” The report described the 2013 typhoon season in the Pacific as “above average in terms of activity, with 31 named storms.”

That’s in stark contrast to the North Atlantic hurricane season, which Munich Re described as “very quiet. Not a single storm of hurricane strength reached the US mainland.”

The U.S. did, however, suffer some serious weather events. The most serious natural catastrophe “was brought about by a squall line with a series of very severe tornadoes in the state of Oklahoma. On 21 May, a tornado of the highest category (five), with wind speeds of over 300 km/h [186 mph], devastated the suburb of Moore. Here alone, around 10,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. The loss resulting from the squall line as a whole amounted to $3.1 billion, of which $1.8 billion was insured.

“Canada was also hit by severe natural catastrophes in 2013. Unusually heavy rainfall in the province of Alberta of up to 190 liters [50 gallons] per square meter [10.76 square feet] in one day coincided with late snowmelt. This led to record flooding on the rivers flowing through the province?s capital of Calgary – the Bow River and Elbow River. The economic loss amounted to US$5.7 billion, of which nearly US$1.6 billion was insured, making it the costliest natural catastrophe in Canada ever.”

Source: Munich Re