Over the course of this winter, RMS has been publishing a series of blog posts charting the progress of the 2017/18 European windstorm season. In October last year, we outlined our forecast for a stormier-than-recent season, before checking in with an update at the end of November following three notable autumnal windstorm events. Following a relative lull in activity in December, we used the fiftieth anniversary of the “Glasgow Hurricane” as a reminder of the potential impacts when strong windstorms directly hit major urban areas.
However, at the start of 2018 this lull was broken with the arrival of storm Eleanor (U.K. Met Office/Met Éireann) / Burglind (Freie Universität Berlin), motivating us to once again check-in on the progress of the storm season. Here we outline the meteorology and impacts of this latest storm, and discuss how it fits into the seasonal forecast issued at the start of the season.
The Story of Eleanor/Burglind
Storm Eleanor/Burglind became prominent just into 2018 on January 2, as a wave along the cold front of a strong primary low situated to the southwest of Iceland. Under the influence of a strong westerly jet stream, this wave developed into a rapidly intensifying secondary low which attained a minimum pressure of 966 hPa as it moved east across Scotland. As the storm continued to track to the east across the North Sea to Denmark, it caused strong winds to the south covering a broad swathe of western Europe. Storm winds were experienced in Ireland, U.K., France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Switzerland; while high waves pounded the northern coast of Spain.
Figure 1: Weather chart for 00:00 UTC on January 3, 2018 (from Institut für Meteorologie, Freie Universität Berlin)
The RMS Event Response process aims to provide our clients with near real-time insights into ongoing catastrophes, and to provide strong modeling deliverables to assist during major events. Our first job following an event is to assess the likely magnitude of insured damage to ensure that we respond appropriately to meet the needs of our client base. This is often a difficult process, subject to significant uncertainties, as in the immediate aftermath of a storm we must work with partial information — before all weather station data is available for review, and long before the full suite of insurance claims has been counted. However, in the case of Eleanor/Burglind, it quickly became apparent that the observed wind gusts were not indicative of a major loss-causing event.
The footprint for this storm was large and noisy. Peak gusts were typically below 30 meters per second (m/s), though some parts of Switzerland, eastern France, and southwest Germany experienced gusts slightly above 30 m/s. For comparison, gusts well in excess of 40 m/s impacted areas of significant exposure during some of the most extreme historical windstorms. Gusts of up to 48 m/s were measured around Paris and neighboring areas during storm Lothar in 1999; 44 m/s was observed near London during storm 87J; and gusts of 46 to 47m/s were observed throughout central Scotland during the 1968 “Glasgow Hurricane”. Gusts across the full extent of the Eleanor/Burglind footprint were also generally lower than those observed during recent storms where losses exceeded €1 billion, such as Emma and Xynthia.
Based on the early weather station data, we concluded that Eleanor/Burglind would cause widespread minor damage, with some pockets of more significant damage, and would not lead to the kind of aggregation of claims needed to form a major European windstorm loss. Assessment of news reports after the event confirmed that this was indeed the nature of the damage being observed on the ground, and RMS clients can refer to the RMS Event Summary on January 4 for more details of observed damage.
Reflecting on this event almost two weeks later, we now have additional tools at our disposal when trying to understand the impacts of this storm. Insured loss estimates have been issued by national insurance associations, which are collectively in line with the RMS assessment of insured loss from this event. In Germany, the GDV expect insured losses to be significantly below €500 million, consistent with other estimates of €200-300 million for that market; in France, the FFA issued a combined loss estimate from the Carmen and Burglind storms of €200 million; in Switzerland, media reports suggest losses of €60-90 million; and in the Netherlands, the Dutch Association of Insurers figure is €10 million. As these figures include flood losses, as well as storm Carmen losses in France, we believe that a fair wind-only estimate arising from these reports is around €400 million.
Furthermore, the RMS windstorm modeling team, based in major markets in Europe, has had wide-ranging interactions with the market since this event, revealing a consensus view that is broadly in line with these insurance association loss estimates.
The latest available information thus supports the early RMS view that, like storms Xavier and Herwart earlier in the season, Eleanor/Burglind was a notable storm without being a major event from an insured loss perspective.
Half-time Analysis of the 2017/18 Europe Windstorm Season
In line with the RMS season forecast, the current season is so far proving to be stormier than the recent average. However, as was outlined in the blog, the relationship between storminess and loss is an imperfect one. Thus far, despite being a fairly stormy season, estimated aggregate industry losses in Europe to date remain low compared to what might be expected given the long-term average annual loss (AAL) — although in Germany they may have aggregated to around half the long-term AAL at this point.
We are currently halfway through the peak December-January-February period of the 2017/18 season, and it only takes one major event to change the whole nature of the season from an insurance perspective. Over the last few days we have been monitoring another depression (named Friederike by Frei Universität Berlin) due to cross Europe in the next 24 hours. This is now forecast to be a relatively shallow depression moving quickly over Europe, reminiscent of storm Xavier (October 5, 2017).
Whether this storm produces slightly higher or lower losses than Xavier will be sensitive to the gust speeds experienced in urban areas within the forecast footprint, such as Rotterdam and Dortmund. It is interesting to note however that predictions of the severity of this storm have abated over the past couple of days, reflecting the high levels of forecast model uncertainty affecting the very mobile, developing systems responsible for most major loss events.
As the number of minor windstorms impacting Europe this season grows, we are left to wonder how many more “near misses” can we experience before our luck runs out?