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Peak of Thunderstorm Season Approaching

Although we are approaching the start of May, which is the peak month for thunderstorm development, the 2014 thunderstorm season has been off to a historically slow start. One advantage to this inactivity is that the insurance industry benefits from low thunderstorm losses not seen since 2004. In fact, the insurance industry has reported only $780 million of wind and thunderstorm event losses over three events (with two events yet to be estimated), according to Property Claims Service (PCS). This is far below the $4.6 billion in wind and thunderstorm event losses that have occurred on average over the last 10 years.

Not including the tornadoes that have occurred over the last few days as designated in PCS Event #40, the Storm Prediction Center has recorded 109 tornadoes as of April 24 for the 2014 calendar year which, according to BMS’ in-house tornado database from the Storm Prediction Center, indicates that this year is the slowest start to a tornado season in the 62 years of recorded data. Although the recent outbreak of tornadoes will add to the tornado count, the official count will still be in record-low territory. Harold Brooks at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, who has examined nearly 100 years of past tornado records, states that he is “challenged” to find a year that started with less tornado activity than 2014. Of the nearly 100 tornadoes reported this year, only 20 of them had been rated EF1 or higher, with the first EF3 or higher rated tornadoes only recently being recorded with this latest outbreak. This breaks a streak of 159 days, which currently stands as the fourth-longest streak on record between major tornadoes.

Despite the massive tornado that carved a swath of damage across Moore, OK during the 2013 tornado season, overall tornado statistics show that the U.S. has been in a tornado drought since the second half of 2012, with a record low number of tornadoes in 2013. Part of the explanation for the drought in intense tornadoes that has occurred since October 2013 is the persistent dip in the jet stream over the eastern half of the nation. This has unlocked the floodgates for arctic air, essentially shutting down the instability that is needed to develop explosive thunderstorms, which are often fueled by heat and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

The long-term forecast suggests much of the same cold will continue across the North Central Plains into the East Coast through the start of May, which should aid in putting a lid on thunderstorm development. But an extremely quiet start to the tornado season guarantees nothing about its future course, since May and June, which average 116 and 60 tornadoes, respectively (based on records from 2003 – 2013 of EF1-rated tornadoes or greater), are usually the two busiest tornado months of the year in the U.S. Despite the historically slow start, when looking at the tornado data recorded since 1953, 37 of the 62 years, or 59%, have started with below-average tornado counts of EF1 or greater. Of the 37 years that started below average, 6 years, or 16%, ended up having an above-average tornado season, The most recent years with slow starts but above-average tornado activity are 2010 and 2004, which resulted in $12.7 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively, in wind and thunderstorm event losses, according to PCS. As we saw with the recent PCS #40 declaration, there will be tornado outbreaks that cause billions of dollars in damages, but a major year like 2011 or 2008 could almost be ruled out and this recent trend should make one rethink the claims of the “new normal” back in 2011.

 

Are We Done with PCS Winter Storm Losses for 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.”

Are we Done with PCS Winter Storm Losses for 2014?

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.