March 22, 2016 by Canadian Underwriter
Although 2015 marked one of the strongest El Niño periods on record, it was a quiet year in terms of global insured losses, according to Guy Carpenter’s Global Catastrophe Review – 2015.
The review, released on Tuesday, noted that there was a positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) evident both at the beginning and close of the year. Although these prominent climate drivers were associated with an exceptional tropical season in the Pacific and severe windstorms and flooding in Europe, global insured losses totalled approximately US$30.5 billion in 2015, said a press release from Guy Carpenter & Company, LLC, a global risk and reinsurance specialist and a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies. [click image below to enlarge]
The report noted that insured losses were below the 10-year and 5-year moving averages of about US$49.7 billion and US$62.6 billion, respectively. Last year also marked the lowest total insured catastrophe losses since 2009, well below the US$126 billion seen in 2011.
Natural catastrophes in 2015 were relatively light for Canada, following prior years of flooding and severe thunderstorm events, Guy Carpenter said in the report. Nonetheless, the 2015 season saw an impactful drought affecting Canadian agriculture, along with several notable wildfires. Key events also included two severe thunderstorm events in the third quarter, resulting in estimated insured losses of about $340 million (US$235 million).
Guy Carpenter reported that the “most impactful event” of 2015 was the Port of Tianjin, China explosions in August, with estimated insured losses between US$1.6 billion and US$3.3 billion.
The “most destructive and deadliest catastrophic event of 2015” came in the form of the powerful magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal in April. This event resulted in about 9,000 deaths, with millions more affected, including 500,000 people rendered homeless, Guy Carpenter said in the press release. The following September, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake struck near Illapel, Chile, causing estimated insured losses ranging from US$600 million to US$900 million. [click image below to enlarge]
The strong El Niño seen in 2015, characterized by warm waters in the tropical east Pacific, was associated with record-setting tropical cyclone activity in the North Pacific basin, but relatively quiet activity in the North Atlantic, Guy Carpenter said in the report. Heavy Pacific typhoon activity affected Mainland China, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan, while Mexico saw landfall of Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane observed in the Western Hemisphere. In total, the 2015 tropical season produced 27 major hurricanes, surpassing the previous record of 21 major hurricanes seen in 1992, Guy Carpenter reported.
“The onset of such a strong El Niño significantly influenced the record-setting activity seen in the 2015 tropical season,” said James Waller, research meteorologist for GC Analytics, in the press release. “As with typical El Niño years, wind shear was elevated in the Atlantic basin and even reached record levels in 2015. The Tropical Atlantic basin saw 11 named storms in 2015, while the Tropical North Pacific basin saw the most active season in the historical record, surpassing the exceptional 1992 season.”
As well, the positive NAO phase, such as observed in the 2014/2015 winter season, is often associated with increased storm transits and greater storm severity. This year proved to be no exception, with windstorms Elon and Felix affecting Northern Europe in early January, while significant flood events affected central Italy in early March.
The most significant events were storms Mike and Niklas at the end of March, which followed each other in close succession. Storm Mike caused downed trees and transportation disruption, with a reported gust of 151 kilometers per hour. Storm Niklas brought high winds and heavy rains to much of northern Europe, with a wind speed of 190 kilometers per hour observed at Germany’s highest mountain. The storm also brought significant transportation disruption for air, rail and land. Guy Carpenter reports that winter storm Niklas produced estimated insured losses of US$1 billion.
Lastly, significant events also affected the oil and aviation sectors, including the loss of the TransAsia flight over Taiwan and the downing of a Russian MetroJet over Egypt with 224 dead. The year of 2015 also saw the coordinated terror attacks in France which resulted in at least 130 fatalities.