Large-scale weather events in the U.S. dominated insurance losses in 2012, pushing global insured claims for the year to $77 billion, says a report from Swiss Re.
The year was the third most expensive on record with respect to insured losses, but was significantly lower than the highest ever recorded—which was 2011—when record earthquakes and flooding in the Asia Pacific region caused insured losses of $126 billion.
Swiss Re says 9 of the 10 most expensive insured-loss events in 2012 were in the U.S., where insurers picked up $65 billion of the $119 billion in economic losses for the year.
The most expensive event last year was Superstorm Sandy, with Swiss Re estimating insured losses of $35 billion. Swiss Re says the private market covered $20 to $25 billion of the loss, while the National Flood Insurance Program incurred the remainder of the loss.
In terms of economic loss, Swiss Re says Sandy is the second most expensive wind event on record at $70 billion. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 still tops the list at more than $100 billion.
Agricultural losses due to record heat and extremely dry weather conditions in the U.S. led to one of the worst droughts in history. Crop failures in the U.S. Corn Belt translated into insured agricultural losses of $11 billion. The 2012 drought was the highest ever crop-insurance loss ever recorded.
The remaining seven U.S. insured loss events were primarily severe storms and tornadoes. Hurricane Isaac, which formed in late August striking Southern Florida before moving into Louisiana and Mississippi, accounted for $1.6 billion in insured losses.
Among the top 10 global insurance-loss events for 2012 was a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck Italy in May, costing carriers $1.6 billion, the highest ever recorded in that nation. Total economic loss from the earthquake was $16 billion.
Striking a note of caution about future loss events caused by climate change, Swiss Re’s Group Underwriting Officer Matthias Weber says Sandy’s immense size was a challenge for the industry.
“The possibility that such events could increase in frequency and strike densely populated regions such as the northeast U.S. means that extreme storm-surges need to be more thoroughly understood,” he says.
A simulation exercise presented in the Swiss Re sigma study shows that a 10-inch increase in sea levels by 2050 would double the probability of extreme flood losses. For insurers, this would mean a $20 billion insured-loss event, now expected once in 250 years, could occur once in 140 years.
Swiss Re says on the whole, economic loss from man-made and natural catastrophes throughout the world amount to $186 billion with approximately 14,000 lives lost.