Polar Vortex costliest ever US winter weather event

The Polar Vortex that affected most of the United States from 12th to 20th February generated record-breaking cold temperatures – the prolonged stretch of winter weather conditions extending as far south as the US/Mexico border.

The event is poised to exceed a record US$10bn in direct economic loss, according to Aon’s Global Catastrophe Recap report.

Concurrently, a series of low-pressure systems produced rounds of hazardous snow, sleet, freezing rain, ice and severe thunderstorms, resulting in power outages for millions, transportation disruptions, exten-ive property damage (particularly in the Southern Plains due to burst pipes) and impacts to the agricultural sector.

During the same month, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture on 13th February, killing one person and injuring 187 others. As many as 4,700 residential structures were damaged or destroyed. Total economic losses were expected to reach into the hundreds of millions. The General Insurance Association of Japan said that nearly 88,000 insurance claims had al-ready been filed.

In Australia, Tropical Cyclone Niran caused notable wind- and flood-related impacts across the coastal areas of Queensland and New South Wales, damaging thousands of homes, as well as other private and public infrastructure. Economic losses due to crop damage alone was listed at AUD200m.

Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist on the Impact Forecasting team at Aon, said: “The unprecedented volume of winter weather impacts tied to the Polar Vortex across the United States in mid-February will result in a prolonged period of loss development, but will certainly end as the costliest insurance industry event for the peril on record. Despite being the coldest February for the contiguous US in a generation, it marked only the 19th coldest February dating to the late 1800s.

"As the climate changes, such prolonged bouts of cold temperatures are likely to be less frequent, but the intensity of extreme cold events will grow more volatile. The impacts in Texas highlight the importance of infra-structure modernisation and improved building code practices to better prepare for more unusual weather behaviour in the future.”

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