From floods, hurricanes and wind events to tornadoes, earthquakes and winter storms, there was no shortage of damage-causing weather events in 2016. While some categories saw less damage, others saw significant increases or even record-setting events.
Each year, information and analytics provider CoreLogic reviews and analyzes the natural hazards in several categories and highlights the events that were significant threats as part of its effort to help home and business owners manage their property risks to ensure they have adequate insurance protections in place. Their annual Natural Hazard Risk Summary and Analysis for 2016 found that most hazards were in the average or slightly below average range with the exception of the activity related to floods and wind.
With $17 billion in total flood losses according to the NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, Corelogic found that 2016 was not a good year since the overall losses were triple the number experienced in 2015. Five events had losses exceeding $1 billion:
Louisiana flood (August) – losses estimated at $10 billion
Hurricane Matthew (October) - $3 billion in estimated losses and as of Dec. 7th, the National Flood Insurance Program had received more than 10,000 claims and paid out over $70 million to policyholders
Sabine River Basin flood in East Texas and Louisiana (March) – estimated losses of $1.3 billion
Houston flood (April) – estimated losses of $1.2 billion
West Virginia flash flood (June) – losses estimated at $1 billion
A heavy rain storm last August in Ellicott City, Md., exceeded the 1,000-year flood level in three hours and led to a flash flood in the historic town. The hydraulic force from the rushing water eroded the foundations of several of the area's businesses. Since many of the small business owners did not have flood insurance, a significant portion of their losses will not be covered.
A look at other historic losses in the U.S. shows an interesting but potentially devastating trend. Approximately 12 years passed between the Great Mississippi and Missouri River Floods in 1993 and the losses in New Orleans in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina. CoreLogic finds the losses in 2016 similar to those experienced in 2004 and asks if “history can repeat itself as a symmetric 12-year cycle?”
CoreLogic found that hurricane activity increased slightly in 2016 and actually started earlier than the traditional June 1 date, continuing well into November. In January, Hurricane Alex formed off of the coast of Cuba. Fortunately, the Category 1 storm did not make landfall or cause any significant damage. Hurricane Otto formed in mid-November and grew to a Category 2 storm that crossed through Central America.
There were 15 named storms – eight tropical storms and seven hurricanes. Three of the hurricanes developed into major storms that were identified as Category 3 or higher.
Hurricane Matthew had the potential to wreak significant damage along the East Coast, especially since it grew to a Category 5 storm at one point. CoreLogic says it caused an estimated $4-6 billion damage along the southeastern seaboard, but those numbers could have been much higher if the storm had tracked further onshore. By the time it made landfall along Georgia, it had become a Category 1 storm, causing significant flooding in Georgia and South Carolina.
In 2016, wind activity across the U.S. was slightly higher than in previous years, and CoreLogic's wind verification technology found that 961,661 miles or 31 percent of the continental U.S. was affected by wind gusts of 60 mph or more.
Tallahassee, Fla., registered the highest wind speed at 92 mph on Sept. 1. However, CoreLogic found that Nashville, Tenn., ranks as the windiest city overall with 21 wind-related events and a maximum wind speed of 72 mph.
Other windy cities last year included Reno, Nev.; Jackson, Miss.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Columbia, S.C.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that Oklahoma led the country in earthquakes measuring a magnitude 3.0 or higher, since 60 percent of the 943 quakes occurred in that state during 2016. In less than 10 years, Oklahoma has gone from being a state with relatively little seismic activity to surpass California as the leader with the highest number of earthquakes in the U.S. This increase is attributed to the increase in drilling for oil and gas in the state and the injection of waste water into fluid injection wells (fracking).
The good news is that the number of earthquakes in California has remained relatively stable except when there was a major event that spawned aftershocks.
The largest earthquake in Oklahoma's history occurred on Sept. 3, 2016, when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook residents in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. A 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurred about 100 miles off of the coast of Ferndale, Calif., but little damage was reported.
Fortunately for much of the country, wildfire activity in 2016 was significantly less than in 2015, when a record was set for the total number of acres burned. There were 31 fires that engulfed more than 20,000 acres (considered large fires) compared to the 67 fires that affected more than 20,000 acres in 2015.
A fire near Gatlinburg, Tenn., was the result of arson and grew to encompass more than 16,000 acres. Over 1,700 structures were damaged or destroyed and 14 lives were loss, ranking it as the worse fire to occur last year.
According to the 2016 CoreLogic Wildfire Hazard Risk Report, there are 1.8 million homes in the western U.S. alone that are considered to be at high risk for wildfire damage, and while not all of them would be impacted in a single season, knowing where the risks fall allows owners and insurers to take steps to mitigate some of the threat.
In 2016, hail activity was average for much of the continental U.S., with CoreLogic identifying 243,647 square miles (7.8 percent) as being impacted by severe hail, which is one inch in diameter or larger according to the National Weather Service. In April, San Antonio, Texas, was pummeled by baseball-size hailstones and caused almost $1.4 billion in estimated losses.
In May, a storm in Fort Worth caused an estimated $1.1 billion in damage. There were also significant hail storms in the Dallas and Fort Worth metro areas where softball-size hail that measured up to 4.25 inches was reported.
When it comes to tornadoes, 2016 was a relatively quiet year with 1,059 reported. One of the strongest was an EF-4 that occurred on May 25th near three towns in Kansas: Solomon, Abilene and Chapman. At its largest, the storm was a half-mile wide and traveled 26 miles at an estimated 180 mph.
February was the busiest month with 102 confirmed tornadoes, making it the second most active February since 2008.
Depending on whether or not the La Niña conditions continue into 2017, there could be an increase in storm activity and tornadoes.
The winter of 2015-2016 was a study in contrasts. After several months of above average temperatures (the NOAA said from Dec. 2015 to Feb. 2016 was the warmest winter in 121 years), everything changed.
In late January, more than 100 million people along the East Coast were affected by a major storm that dropped record amounts of snow in major cities like Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York. At JFK Airport in New York City, a record 30.5 inches fell, breaking the previous record of 26 inches set in 2003.
All of these numbers help to paint a more complete picture of how weather events are impacting policyholders and insurers across the country. By observing trends and areas with greater risk, they can provide some advance warning as to what may lie ahead in the future.
Patricia L. Harman is the editor-in-chief of Claims magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.