Uncommon levels of damage from storms this year is upending US towns and the insurance industry

Uncommon levels of damage from storms this year is upending US towns and the insurance industry – Extreme thunderstorms in the United States in the first six months of this year caused $34 billion of insured losses, an all-time high for insured losses in such a short period of time, Swiss Re Group said Wednesday, as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of violent weather events.

Convective storm damage in the United States, which can include hail, lightning strikes, heavy rain and strong winds, accounted for almost 70% of global catastrophic damages totaling $50 billion in the first half of the year, according to the reinsurer, which also included damage from earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

The storms in the U.S. were so severe, there were 10 that resulted in damages of $1 billion or more, almost double the average recorded over the past decade, according to Swiss Re, and Texas was the state most severely effected.

“The effects of climate change can already be seen in certain perils like heatwaves, droughts, floods and extreme precipitation,” Swiss Re Group Chief Economist Jérôme Jean Haegeli said in a prepared statement. “Besides the impact of climate change, land use planning in more exposed coastal and riverine areas, and urban sprawl into the wilderness, generate a hard-to-revert combination of high value exposure in higher risk environments.”

There have been a multitude of high profile meteorological events to start the second half of the year including heatwaves in the U.S., northwestern China and southern Europe, and wildfires on Greek islands, Italy and in Algeria.

Damages and insurance losses from those events are still being tallied, Swiss Re said.

The figures for the first half of the year are in line with a report last month from another reinsurer, Munich Re, which said the series of thunderstorms that raked Texas in June was the most expensive single event in the U.S. for the year so far. The overall loss from those storms alone is estimated at approximately $8.4 billion.

“Devastating storms, which now seem to be the norm rather than the exception, are expected to continue to grow in intensity and severity,” wrote Marcus Winter, CEO, North America at Munich Reinsurance America.

Winter said that it is “imperative” to act immediately in preparing communities for the “physical and financial risks of future climate-related weather events.”

Reinsurers are the insurance industry’s insurers, covering losses that could upend an individual company. Munich Re and Swiss Re have operations across the globe, including the U.S.

Kerry Symons is a businessman in Perryton, a town of about 8,500 in the Texas Panhandle, one of the communities struck by a tornado in June, and he is also its mayor. Three of his buildings were damaged and destroyed, including a furniture store. He also lost some vehicles.

Symons said he is like most residents in Perrytown in that he is still arguing with insurance companies. Some residents have sought his assistance as mayor.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do for them as a city,” he explained.

One of the biggest lessons Symons learned from the experience is how important it is to have an annual accounting of what’s in a building and how much it’d cost to rebuild it.

One of his buildings – a furniture store – was recently purchased, so the valuation process was relatively straightforward.

Another building – a 20-year-old that he’s owned – proved more challenging.

Extreme weather has caused disruption in the insurance industry, with some insurers pulling out of states hit hard – including Florida and California – as premiums continue to spiral out of control.

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Insurers are pulling out of the home insurance market in California after years of raising premiums, citing rising wildfire risk and rising construction costs as reasons.

Allstate and State Farm have announced that they will not be issuing new policies in California, the nation’s most populous state.

Last month Travelers said catastrophe losses doubled in its most recent quarter and the company, considered a bellwether for the insurance industry due to its size, said it lost money.

AAA has said that it will not renew “a very small percentage” of homeowners and auto insurance policies in hurricane-wracked Florida, joining other insurers in limiting their exposure in the Sunshine State despite efforts by lawmakers to calm the volatile insurance market.

AAA insists it’s not leaving Florida, but that last year’s devastating hurricane season had led to an unprecedented rise in reinsurance rates, making it more costly to operate there.

Florida has struggled to maintain stability in the state insurance market since 1992 when Hurricane Andrew flattened Homestead, wiped out some insurance carriers and left many remaining insurers anxious about writing or renewing policies in Florida. Risks for carriers have also been growing as climate change increases the strength of hurricanes and the intensity of rainstorms.


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