As Australian bushfires rage, tropical cyclones dominate nat cat picture for 2019

In 2019, 820 natural catastrophes caused overall losses equivalent to £115bn. A smaller portion of losses was insured compared with 2018: about £40bn. This is according to data from Munich Re, whose CEO, Torsten Jeworrek, says buildings and infrastructure must be made more resistant if the increasing trend in losses is to be reversed.

Japan saw a second year of record tropical cyclone losses. Hagibis and Faxai the two costliest nat cats of the year both in terms of overall and insured losses. According to preliminary estimates, overall losses from Hagibis totalled £13bn, with insured losses of about £8bn. Faxai caused estimated overall losses of about £7bn, with insured losses of about £5bn.

Chief climate and geoscientist at Munich Re, Ernst Rauch, said the typhoon season shows that we must consider short-term natural climate variations as well as long-term trends due to climate change. "In particular, cyclones are becoming more frequently associated with extreme precipitation, as with Hagibis in Japan in 2019 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in the US," he explained. "Recognising these changes can form the basis for further preventive measures to reduce losses.”

The strongest hurricane of the Atlantic season, Dorian, caused well-documented catastrophic damage. Buildings, infrastructure, yachts and ships were completely destroyed in many areas by the Cat 5 hurricane. Dorian caused overall losses of about £4.3bn, with only a small portion of these losses affecting the US. Insured losses came to about £3.6bn. Overall losses in the US during the 2019 hurricane season were £2.2bn, of which £1.5bn were insured.

The wildfire season in California, meanwhile, was less severe than in previous years. Several fires threatened cities and millions of people lost electricity for days, as power was shut down as a precaution.

The bushfire season in Australia, however, has already been very severe. High temperatures and dry air, in combination with a great deal of flammable fuel due to a lack of precipitation during the cooler season, led to a very early start to the bushfire season in September in Queensland, and since affecting New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Extreme fires enveloped Sydney in smoke; schools and government offices were temporarily closed. While the flames did not reach Sydney, losses from the fires have been substantial.

Australia's bushfire season is expected to continue throughout January and February.

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