Wind gusts in excess of 100mph hit remote parts of Scotland earlier this month as a strong jet stream brought windstorms Elon and Felix to Europe. The storms are some of the strongest so far this winter; however, widespread severe damage is not expected because the winds struck mainly remote areas.
These storms are characteristic of what has largely been an unspectacular 2014/15 Europe windstorm season. In fact the most chaotic thing to cross the North Atlantic this winter and impact our shores has probably been the Black Friday sales.
This absence of a significantly damaging windstorm in Europe follows on from what was an active winter in 2013/14, but which contained no individual standout events. More detail of the characteristics of that season are outlined in RMS’ 2013-2014 Winter Storms in Europe report.
There’s a temptation to say there is nothing to learn from this year’s winter storm season. Look closer, however, and there are lessons that can help the industry prepare for more extreme seasons.
What have we learnt?
This season was unusual in that a series of wind, flood, and surge events accumulated to drive losses. This contrasts to previous seasons when losses have generally been dominated by a single peril—either a knockout windstorm or inland flood.
This combination of loss drivers poses a challenge for the (re)insurance industry, as it can be difficult to break out the source of claims and distinguish wind from flood losses, which can complicate claim payments, particularly if flood is excluded or sub-limited.
The clustering of heavy rainfall that led to persistent flooding put a focus on the terms and conditions of reinsurance contracts, in particular the hours clause: the time period over which losses can be counted as a single event.
The season also brought home the challenges of understanding loss correlation across perils, as well as the need to have high-resolution inland flood modeling tools. (Re)insurers need to understand flood risk consistently at a high resolution across Europe, while understanding loss correlation across river basins and the impact of flood specific financial terms, such as the hours clause.
Unremarkable as it was, the season has highlighted many challenges that the industry needs to be able to evaluate before the next “extreme” season comes our way.