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U.S. Midwest tornado and severe weather outbreak continues to break records


The recent outbreak of tornadoes and severe weather in the U.S. Midwest has continued (as we wrote just over a week ago) and now looks set to continue with convective weather forecasts suggesting it could continue for a few days more. To add to the record breaking number of tornadoes touching down, some parts of the midwest are experiencing major flooding due to snow melt caused by spring rainstorms.

The re/insurance industry never gets a break from the weather, we all understand that, but 2011 is shaping up to be a year of records in many ways. Near record losses from natural disasters are a certainty after the events in Japan and now we have the prospects of a record tornado season, levee topping floods in parts of the midwest and still with hurricane season to come.

The graph below from the NOAA shows the number of tornadoes to be recorded in the month of April from 1950-2010. The NOAA have marked on the graph where they see April at right now. You can click the image for a larger version.

April tornado totals (1950-2011)

April tornado totals (1950-2011)

This second graph from the NOAA, shows that for the time of year this season is well on course to beat the record for the number of tornadoes to touchdown. For April, you can see that this year is currently well above average. Again, click the image to see a full size version.

U.S. Annual Tornado Trend

U.S. Annual Tornado Trend

Risk modelling firm EQECAT have issued another report looking at the damaging tornado season with particular reference to the recent severe weather outbreak. They say that between the 19th-26th April there were reports of 168 tornado touchdowns across the southeastern U.S. midwest with 1,200 reports of hail and 1,200 reports of strong winds. These weather conditions have led to numerous fatalities and significant property damage according to EQECAT.

Yesterday, there were reports of a large storm in Alabama, which the BBC reports has levelled parts of the city of Tuscaloosa. The BBC says that at least 60 people have died across the southern U.S. in the past day. Update: CNN reports that the death toll has jumped significantly, it’s likely that damage estimates will jump in line.

EQECAT’s report goes on to discuss the record flood levels on several stretches of the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, and James rivers and the Red River of the North, as well as several smaller rivers. They suggest that major flooding is likely to occur during the next week as levels are still rising. The USGS is reporting major flooding at 39 river gauge locations and moderate at an additional 75.

It’s too early for any estimates of the damage and insured losses that the recent spell of destructive weather will cause but it is safe to assume that the final bill to re/insurers will be multiple billions of dollars.

2011 is certainly setting itself up to be a testing weather and natural disaster year for the re/insurance industry.

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