March 24th, 2009

2008 Nat Cat Event Summary, Part I

Posted at 1:00 AM ET

hurricaneCaroline Gray, Instrat®

Event summaries are listed in chronological order.

United States Winter Storms

A series of severe winter storms hit California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington in January, causing widespread wind and flood property damage. More than 2 million homes and businesses were left without power, and four people were reportedly killed. Torrential rain, hurricane force winds, and heavy snow was reported in much of the region.

The storms dumped up to 10 inches (250 millimeters) of rain in some areas of California, while mountain communities in the east of the state were blanketed by nearly 6.5 feet (2 meters) of snow, according to the National Weather Service. In northern parts of California - between San Francisco and Sacramento, the state capital - the storms were particularly fierce. Eleven feet (3.3 meters) of snow fell in the Sierra Mountains, near Lake Tahoe, in just 72 hours, while gusts of up to 163 mph (260 kmph) were recorded at War Mountain. Southern California was also affected by the strong winds and heavy rain, and approximately 250,000 people in the region lost power - including 42,000 people in Los Angeles.

Nevada and Oregon were also badly affected by the severe weather. Lyon County, Nevada was declared an emergency area, as hundreds of homes were flooded - as was Umatilla County, Oregon, where many towns sustained substantial wind damage.

According to estimates by ISO PCS, the winter storms caused an overall insured loss of USD750 million. Of all the states affected by the storms, California suffered the largest loss (USD360 million).

Ice and Snow Storms in China

The worst ice and snow storms in China in more than 50 years affected 21 provinces in January and February, causing widespread and severe property damage and paralyzing all forms of transportation. Officials in China said 223,000 houses collapsed under the weight of the snow and ice, while an additional 862,000 were damaged. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the snowstorms affected an estimated 100 million people. Munich Re said the storms triggered economic losses of around USD21 billion and caused insured losses of USD1.6 billion. More than 80 people were killed, and 90 million hectares (222 million acres) of crops were destroyed, according to reports.

According to reports, the provinces of Anhui, Hunan, Hubei, Guangxi and Guizhou and Jiangxi were hit hardest; the municipality of Shanghai was also badly affected. At the height of the storm, 17 provinces had to endure reduced power supplies, and residents in Chenzhou, a city of about 4.5 million people in Hunan Province, were reportedly without power or running water for 13 days after approximately 1,000 pylons collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Residents in rural areas were also without electricity for up to two weeks, because transportation networks crippled by the storms disrupted coal supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people were left stranded at several rail stations across southern China, as millions of migrant workers headed home for the Chinese New Year. Reports said more than 500,000 people were stranded at Guangzhou railway station in Guangdong Province, after the authorities shut down services. An estimated 6 million passengers in total were reported to have been delayed. Air traffic was also affected when airports around the country cancelled flights (including Shanghai).

Commercial operations across the affected area were also impaired. Reports said steel and aluminium production was reduced due to a significant shortage of raw materials, and the power outages cut lead and zinc production by up to 30 percent. Telecom companies reported significant repair costs. Around 6,215 miles (10,000 kilometers) of lines were affected, and other businesses suffered product supply problems because of transportation delays, according to reports.

Windstorm Emma

Windstorm Emma subjected Europe to strong winds in late February, leaving a trail of destruction and disruption. Cars were blown off roads, roofs were ripped off houses, and trees were felled. The strong winds, coupled with heavy rain in many areas, resulted from a deep low pressure weather system that swept across many European countries - including the UK, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Reports state that 15 people were killed as Emma swept across Europe.


Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. Please contact your broker or Instrat® representative for assistance or go to for further information.

Gale-force winds spread across Scotland and northern England on February 29, 2008 and reached Central Europe early the next morning. Emma continued its path across Europe, where reports said it packed winds of up to 95 mph (155 kmph). Reports suggest that losses resulted mostly from relatively minor roof damage, the impact of falling trees and other wind-blown items.

The German state of Bavaria was hit with particular severity. Electricity to 150,000 homes was cut, and heavy rain caused flooding. Other parts of Germany experienced a loss of power and property damage throughout the country. In Austria, wind gusts of 80 mph (130 kmph) were reported in Salzburg and Vienna, and severe disruption was experienced on the transportation network, with many roads closed and rail services impacted. The strong winds downed numerous trees, and up to 10,000 homes were left without power.

In the Czech Republic, a state of emergency was declared in four states, when around 920,000 people (just below 10 percent of the population) were left without power at the peak of the storm on March 1. Damage across the country included downed trees and roof damage to many buildings, some of which were in Prague, the capital city. Poland also experienced some damage, with more than 2,000 trees reportedly uprooted and more than 350 roofs destroyed.

Damage was also reported in other European countries including the Netherlands, Hungary and Romania. Most of the fatalities were attributed to car accidents, falling trees and rockslides as a result of the strong winds.

The insured loss resulting from Windstorm Emma was between USD1.4 billion1 and USD1.5 billion,2 making the event among the four costliest natural catastrophes of 2008.

Previous installments in this series:

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Guy Carpenter’s Instrat® department provides CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Instrat also provides RISK-i reports for major technological or man-made events worldwide. These reports cover risks to property, transport and life including explosions, fires, crashes, engineering disasters and terrorist attacks that are likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

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  1. Munich Re Press Release December 29, 2008
  2. Swiss Re Press Release December 18, 2008
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