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Weather extremes cause millions in January insured losses

Global temperature map

Severe winter weather caused $1 billion in economic losses and hundreds of millions in insured losses in the United States in January, while the hottest temperatures on record, severe drought and flooding combined to cause at least $57 million in insured losses in Australia, according to Aon PLC’s global catastrophe recap.

Multiple winter storms and extreme cold led to 45 fatalities and a billion-dollar economic loss in the United States, according to the report released on Tuesday.

A wind chill temperature of minus 65°F was recorded in the Midwest in late January following an extreme outbreak of Arctic air, the report noted. Total economic and insured losses from winter weather in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. is expected to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the report.

“It is going to take a longer-than-normal timeframe to generate a full insured loss estimate from the recent and ongoing U.S. winter storms,” Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist for Aon’s Impact Forecasting unit, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Due to a high volume of pipes bursting due to the cold, there is a backlog of repairs that means claims will take a while to be fully processed. As the country continues to deal with repeated winter storms, the final loss data will be delayed until the situation is less volatile.”

A Pacific storm system in early January brought heavy rainfall, mountain snow, high winds and mudslides to parts of Washington, Oregon and California, resulting in up to $125 million in economic losses and $75 million in insured losses, while a separate Pacific storm system in mid-January prompted periods of heavy rainfall, flooding, snow, gusty winds and landslides across parts of California and Oregon, causing total economic losses of more than $275 million, with public and private insurers covering roughly $175 million.

But Australia recorded its hottest month on record, with an average national temperature of 86°F in January, since data began being kept in 1910, according to the report.

“Less than normal precipitation only enhanced the ongoing severe drought,” Aon said in a statement. “At the same time, Northern Queensland was hit by severe flooding.”

The Insurance Council of Australia cited more than 6,525 claims with payouts nearing AU$80 million ($57 million), though this figure is expected to rise, with overall economic losses also expected to increase substantially, according to the report. Total economic damage may approach AU$1 billion.

“While there was much focus on multiple winter storms and extreme cold via the Polar Vortex in the United States, it allowed an opportunity to remind that weather is local,” Michal Lörinc, catastrophe analyst at Impact Forecasting, said in a statement. “Australia, for example, experienced the opposite in the form of record-breaking heat. In fact, January 2019 was proclaimed the hottest month on record for the country. Shifts in the behavior of the jet stream and other synoptic features can lead to more unusual and extreme weather phenomena.”

Meanwhile, severe weather caused 30 fatalities in Europe and hundreds of millions in economic losses in January, according to the report. For example, heavy rainfall in northwest Spain on Jan. 23 and 24 resulted in flooding and landslides, with total economic losses likely to exceed €50 million ($58 million). Consorcio de Compensación de Seguros, a public insurance entity, anticipated 3,100 claims filings with payouts reaching €25 million.


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