By: Andrew J Siffert - March 6th, 2014
With February 28 marking the close of meteorological winter (December – February), a mountain of interesting stats are about to be released – so be prepared for media fact overload!
For the most part, these facts should show that points east of the Mississippi have experienced one of the coldest, snowiest winters since the late 1970s – and in some cases, depending on the area, the coldest, snowiest ever or at least since 1917. But, as last spring proved, the weather doesn’t pay close attention to the calendar. As a reminder, the north-central U.S. was cold and snowy with North Dakota having a record cold April and Duluth, MN having its snowiest month ever – helping to contribute to the fifth-largest April U.S. snow cover extent on record. Given the long-range forecasts, the extreme cold and some significant snow will continue in March, which will add to the records and likely create new ones.
The average U.S. temperature anomaly from Dec 1 – Feb 26 (shown below) clearly demonstrates the U.S. as a whole has been colder than the 30-year average. In fact, it would appear the U.S. has experienced 6 – 7 Polar Vortex episodes of cold air, when the nation’s average temperature anomaly dropped below -4 C (25 F). Interestingly, the nation as a whole was colder for a longer period of time during the first Polar Vortex outbreak during the second weekend in December than it was during the main event on January 5 – 8 – which the media dubbed the “Polar Vortex.”
Image Source: Weatherbell.com – Ryan Maue
To-date, PCS has estimated $1.5B in loss due to the media-dubbed “Polar Vortex.” This freezing, ice, snow and wind event brought blizzard-like conditions to some areas of the country, with cold air producing wind chills as low as -60 F and gusts of up to 45 miles per hour with white-out conditions. The cold temperatures often forced schools and businesses to close and caused water damage from frozen and burst pipes. The frontal system impacted many states as it moved south and east across the United States – including Mississippi and Georgia, which saw extensive damage from the wrath of this extreme event.
So far this meteorological winter season, five PCS Winter Storm events have contributed to $2.1B in loss – and $2B of that has come in 2014. Given that PCS digital records only go back to the 1950s and the PCS definition of a Winter Storm can be multifaceted (potentially including severe weather aspects such as tornadoes and hail) it is difficult to estimate the true Winter Storm component of PCS losses.
So… Have we seen the end of the Winter Storm losses for 2014?
Looking at the PCS Winter Storm data in January and February that include Winter Storm event perils such as snow, wind, ice, flooding and freezing – but exclude Severe Convective Storm (SCS) event perils such as tornadoes and hail for states east of the Mississippi, the answer is essentially “yes” – with a projected 93% of the loss already incurred based on historical loss development. There are only five years on record when Winter Storm losses occurred in March, with the biggest impacts happening during the historic winter of 1976.
However, if you base the answer on the wider definition of Winter Storm perils, which include SCS events, we are not done yet. The U.S. could easily still experience a Winter Storm that creates severe weather such as tornadoes and hail across the southern states while producing Winter Storm-like perils across the north. A classic example of this type of PCS event is the March 12 – 14 1993 Storm of the Century, also known as the ’93 Superstorm (1993 PCS #46). The 1993 Superstorm still ranks as one of the costliest Winter Storm events of the 20th century, creating a PCS CPI adjusted loss of $2.8B. Based on the definition of Winter Storm that would include SCS perils, only 71% of losses have occurred thus far in 2014. With March roaring in like a lion and more cold, snow and severe weather forecasted for the eastern half of the nation over the next few weeks, we should anticipate adding yet more losses to the PCS Winter Storm total.