Winter storms, extreme cold drive billion-dollar costs in January 2019: Aon

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The onset of winter was finally felt across the United States in January, as repeated winter storm outbreaks and a cold spell driven by the polar vortex phenomena drove billion-dollar economic costs, according to Aon.

Weather image from DreamaticoThe insurance and reinsurance broker would not be drawn on the eventual cost to the industry from January’s cold and winter storms, but it is expected to result in losses for insurers, although any reinsurance contract impact is likely to be minimal.

The month saw 45 fatalities and a billion-dollar economic loss to the United States, with wind chill temperatures falling to as low as -54°C (-65°F) in the U.S. Midwest in late January after the extreme outbreak of Arctic air, dubbed the polar vortex.

Rainfall also caused significant impacts in January, with the agricultural sector suffering, as well as property and infrastructure across Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil. Aon said that The Confederation of Rural Associations of Argentina estimated agricultural damage alone at $2.3 billion.

Meanwhile Australia saw the opposite end of the spectrum, with extreme heat and low levels of precipitation, exacerbating drought conditions in some areas.

But in the same country Northern Queensland saw severe flooding, which The Insurance Council of Australia said would cost AUD80 million (USD57 million), a figure that is expected to rise.

Michal Lörinc, Catastrophe Analyst at Aon’s Impact Forecasting, commented on January saying, “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. 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.”

It’s also notable that the severe U.S. winter weather carried on into February as well, with Aon reporting that heavy snow, freezing rain, and ice across parts of the U.S. Midwest and Southern Canada from two winter storm systems – February 5-6 and February 7-8 – each are expected to drive total combined economic and insured losses in the millions of dollars (USD).

Other major catastrophe or severe weather events occurring in January 2019 include:

  • 80 fatalities resulting from seasonal flooding in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi
  • The first F4 tornado since 1940 touched down near Havana, Cuba
  • Unusually heavy snowfall hit Central Europe on January 1-14, causing substantial damage and deadly avalanches.
  • Heavy rainfall in northwest Spain on January 23-24 resulted in flooding and landslides.
  • Torrential rainfall in northern and western Saudi Arabia caused notable flooding.
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