There are forces that operate in this life that move in certain, easily identified and oft-repeated patterns — and then there’s the weather. Claim professionals and executives know this all too well. Many are exhaling a sigh of relief as 2010 gets underway, having had a chance to catch their breath due largely in part to a catastrophe season that wrapped up last month with the fewest named storms and hurricanes since 1997.

It was an unexpected surprise, especially after insurers began the first six months of 2009 waging a losing war with Mother Nature. When claim estimates from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters were announced in July, the total was nearly double the average of the last 20 years. Beads of sweat began percolating on the brows of claim executives everywhere, as they wondered what would happen when August, September, and October rolled around.

But the tropical storms never made landfall, and the year ended with a whimper instead of windstorms. Thomas Hess, chief economist for Swiss Re, said it best in his company’s summary report of the season: “In 2009, we (thankfully) saw no such event like Hurricane Katrina, which caused $71 billion in losses back in 2005,” he said. “We were lucky, but that may not be the case next year. Though losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters have continuously trended upward in the past 20 years, we still see high volatility from year to year.”

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