Tornado Devastation Will Cost Insurers Hundreds of Millions

A real estate office without roof or walls after tornado damage in West Liberty, Ky., March 5. (AP Photo/John Flavell) A real estate office without roof or walls after tornado damage in West Liberty, Ky., March 5. (AP Photo/John Flavell)

NU Online News Service, March 5, 12:00 p.m. EST

Insurers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in insured losses from the past week’s tornado devastation, but knowing the exact figures will take some time according to catastrophe modelers.

“At this time, there have yet to be any broad estimates on the overall scope of losses,” says Steve Bowen, senior meteorologist at Impact Forecasting for Aon Benfield’s catastrophe model-development team in an e-mail. “It will likely be some time to get a true estimate from insurance companies given the widespread nature of the event and that the National Weather Service continues to assess the damage to confirm and determine tornado ratings.”

However, he adds, “It’s probably not a stretch to say the insured losses will reach well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

A State Farm spokeswoman says the carrier received 6,300 claims as of Saturday, including 3,600 homeowners claims and 2,700 auto claims. Due to technical issues, the company will probably not have any additional updates until later in the week.

Between Friday and Saturday, severe weather in the Midwest caused tornados that obliterated two towns in Indiana, Henryville and Marysville. Preliminary surveys suggest the tornados were EF-4 with winds rated at 166 mph to 200 mph.

RMS says there were 129 possible tornadoes across 13 states appearing as far south as Northern Florida.

The National Weather Service, as of around 11 a.m. EST, put the total number of tornados so far this year at 274 preliminary. That count could decrease as tornado counts are confirmed and duplicates eliminated. There were 154 for the first three months of last year.

The mixture of spring-like pressure systems and strong cold fronts has proven to be a combustible combination for such an early part of the year.

On average, for the past three years, March has produced 74 tornadoes and the tornado figures are well past that number for the first week of March.

“The mixture of necessary ingredients was more than sufficient to spark a significant outbreak of tornadoes, hail and severe straight-line winds,” says Tim Doggett, principal scientist at AIR Worldwide.

“While this year’s activity is already high, the peak months of tornado activity across the U.S. have yet to come,” notes Neena Saith, director of catastrophe response at Risk Management Solutions. “Last year, the months of April through July saw the highest number of tornadoes for 2011, with 758 tornadoes spawning in April.”

According to the NWS, the average number of tornadoes for April is 371 over the past three years.

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