Canadian Underwriter

B.C. flooding is the costliest severe weather event in province’s history

December 10, 2021   by Jason Contant

Flood damage

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It’s official — the massive flooding in southern British Columbia is the costliest severe weather event in the province’s history.

In a press release issued late Thursday by Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ) said the flooding is estimated to have caused $450 million in insured damage, according to preliminary estimates.

Other severe weather events in B.C. were much less costly from an insured loss standpoint. Caroline Floyd, assistant director of catastrophic loss analysis with CatIQ, told Canadian Underwriter Friday that these events included a December 2018 southern B.C. windstorm that knocked out power through Christmas and New Years for many people, a 2017 wildfire in the Williams Lake area and this year’s fire in Lytton. “Interesting to note — none of these events breached the $100 million insured loss mark on their own,” Floyd said.

British Columbia has already seen a number of extreme weather events this year, including a severe wildfire season. Wildfires caused $155 million in insured damage across western Canada, while windstorms in January caused $134 million in insured loss across western Canada.

The severe flooding event began Nov. 13 with a series of ‘atmospheric rivers’ that brought unprecedented rain to southwest B.C. over a two-week period, IBC said in the press release.

A motorist drives on a service road along the closed Trans-Canada Highway as floodwaters fill the ditches beside the highway and farmland in Abbotsford, B.C., on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

This series of atmospheric rivers smashed rainfall records (for example, in November Abbotsford shattered previous monthly records by about 99 millimetres), the Canadian Press reported. This caused rivers and streams to overflow, washed away roads, bridges and railways and flooded farms in up to two metres of water. Serious flood damage was seen in Merritt, Spences Bridge, Princeton and Hope.

At the peak of the emergency, almost 15,000 people were forced from their homes, CP said.

IBC noted that the storms also caused devastating mudslides, flooding homes, farms and businesses. Public infrastructure, including major highways, was destroyed, choking supply chains and resulting in a state of emergency. “Given the scale of the disaster, it is expected that the overall economic losses will be much higher than the insured loss figure,” IBC said.

Claims adjusters report a mixture of commercial, farm and residential property claims.

Aaron Sutherland, vice president of IBC’s Pacific and Western region, said that while the insurance damage stemming from these flood events is significant, “the sad reality is that many residents impacted were located in high-risk flood areas and floodplains where flood insurance coverage is not available.”

Insured losses from natural catastrophes in Canada have been increasing in recent years. In 2020, insured losses totalled nearly $2.5 billion. Years with annual losses below $1 billion seem to be a thing of the past. The costliest disaster in Canadian history — the Fort McMurray, Alta. wildfire in 2016 that cost the industry nearly $4 billion — brought that year’s total losses to more than $5.2 billion.

Between 2009 and 2019, national severe weather losses across the country averaged about $1.9 billion annually. In the decades before that, between 1983 and 2008, the average yearly total for severe weather events was $422 million.

Floyd said that CatIQ won’t announce the total for 2021 until the New Year. But “as it stands, 2021 will make the Top 5 when it comes to highest loss years in our database,” which dates back to 2008.


Feature image: A damaged bridge is seen following flood damage in Merritt, B.C. Thursday, December 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward