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Two weird things about the 2018 catastrophe season


February 7, 2019   by Jason Contant


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The Canadian insurance industry saw a bit of an unusual catastrophe season last year, with more cats in the second quarter than the third, and Ontario beating out Alberta for insured losses.

There were a total of 12 catastrophes last year (a catastrophe is an event that causes more than $25 million in insured losses), as well as nine notable events (insured losses of between $10-25 million).

Damage from a tornado is seen in Dunrobin, Ont. west of Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. The tornado that hit the area was on Friday, Sept, 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

“We saw the second quarter beating out the third quarter, which is the typical cat season,” said Laura Twidle, director of catastrophic loss reduction at Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ). “A little unusual. We usually see a lot of severe storms in the summer causing the most damage, although we had very strong windstorms [and] Ontario and Quebec [were] impacted severely by flooding events and wind events through that spring season.”

Twidle spoke Tuesday at the CatIQ Connect conference, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Feb. 4-6.

She said the 2018 season was also unusual because Alberta typically leads the way in insured losses. “But Ontario is well ahead of everybody this year with losses, with Quebec [next] behind and Alberta coming in third.”

By line of business, the proportion of insured cat losses in personal lines led the way as usual (at 64%), but commercial and auto lines were up as well (to 23% and 13%, respectively). The total insured loss mark reached $1.9 billion in 2018, but “with external expenses and notable events, this could be over $2 billion,” Twidle said.

Below is a summary of the 12 catastrophes of 2018:

  • The first event of the year, from Jan. 11 to 14, 2018, affected all of eastern Canada from Ontario to Newfoundland and Labrador. Record-breaking temperatures and heavy rain caused snow-melt and ice jams; heavy rain also lead to flooding. In New Brunswick, 128 mm of rain fell. Insured losses came to just under $52 million
  • From Feb. 19-22, 76 mm of rain fell, flooding basements and roadways in southern Ontario and Quebec. Ontario’s City of Brantford declared a state of emergency. Insured losses were just under $60 million
  • A micro-windstorm produced 104 km/h winds in southern Ontario and Quebec on April 4 and 5. Heavy rain and snow accompanied the storm, with trees falling onto cars and homes and damaging roofs. Insured losses were just shy of $100 million
  • Yet again, southern Ontario and Quebec took a hit from April 14-17, with snow, ice pellets, freezing rain and rain. Trees toppled over and fell onto homes; insured losses totaled more than $240 million
  • The costliest insured loss event of 2018 occurred on May 4-5, when winds up to 126 km/h caused widespread damage and a significant amount of claims. Nearly 600,000 hydro customers lost power. The event totaled more than $622 million in insured losses
  • Softball-sized hail fell in southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba on June 14. There was 76 mm of rain and wind gusts up to 151 km/h. The event produced just under $114 million of insured loss due to hail damage, flash flooding and wind damage
  • Billiard ball-sized hail fell in central Alberta and Saskatchewan on July 6-7. Wind was up to 87 km/h. Most of the damage was felt in Saskatchewan, although central Alberta did see some sewer backups and flooding. Insured losses came in at around $52 million
  • On July 13-14, softball-size hail and 105 km/h wind gusts hit central Alberta and Saskatchewan, this time mostly affecting Alberta. Insured losses were about $41 million.
  • A record-breaking tornado in Manitoba occurred between Aug. 1-4. “[The tornado was] likely the strongest in the world, definitely the strongest in North America for last year,” Twidle said. Wind gusts of up to 280 km/h were recorded on Aug. 3 in Alonsa, Man.
  • Toronto saw significant flooding from Aug. 7-8. Seventy-two millimetres of rain fell over the city during that period, including 51 mm in just one hour. Flooding was felt across the city, resulting in more than $113 million in insured losses
  • A total of six tornadoes struck the Ottawa and Gatineau regions. Wind speeds of up to 265 km/h damaged hundreds of buildings. Insured losses totaled more than $314 million
  • The last cat of the season occurred in B.C. on Dec. 20, with wind speeds up to 144 km/h. BC Hydro said the event was the most damaging storm in their history, with some customers losing power for over a week-and-a-half across the holidays. The event totaled $52 million in insured losses.