December 22nd, 2009

2009 Catastrophe Update: Tropical Cyclone Activity in 2009

Posted at 10:43 AM ET

Julian Alovisi, Assistant Vice President, Instrat®

In direct contrast to 2008, no significant insured losses arose from tropical cyclones in 2009. In fact the 2009 hurricane season in the Atlantic was notable only for its below-average activity. For the first time in three years, no hurricanes made landfall in the United States, which explains why insured losses were substantially down in the country compared to the pervious year (see Figure 1). Figure 1 shows the amount and frequency of insured US property losses since 1992.

The ISO PCS said insured losses in the United States totalled USD10.2 billion in the first nine months of 2009, compared with USD24.9 billion in the first nine months of 2008. Although several severe weather events occurred in the US in 2009 and accounted for the bulk of the losses in the country, they did not match the cost of landfalling hurricanes in 2008.

Figure 1: Cat Losses between 1992 and 2009 in United States (Source: ISO PCS)


The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season produced a total of nine named storms, the lowest number since 1997. Only three storms became hurricanes, two of which reached major hurricane status at Category 3 strength or higher - again the lowest number since 1997. Two weak tropical storms (Claudette and Ida) made landfall in the United States this year, but no significant damage was reported.

GC ForeCat(1), Guy Carpenter’s pre-season forecast of hurricane landfall rates in the United States, successfully predicted below-average landfalling numbers for the country. Other forecasters, including the Colorado State University (CSU), WSI Corporation (WSI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the low activity in the basin was due in part to an El Niño event and predicted below-average hurricane activity in the Atlantic when the formation of El Niño became apparent from mid-2009 onwards (see Table 1).


El Niño’s Influence on Tropical Cyclone Activity in 2009
The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the most prominent year-to-year climate fluctuation on the planet. It originates in the tropical Pacific with unusually warm (El Niño) and unusually cold (La Niña) events recurring approximately every 3 to 7 years. Generally, during an El Niño event, tropical cyclone activity is reduced in the Atlantic basin and increased in the West Pacific basin, especially late in the season.

This trend was realized in 2009. As shown, activity in the Atlantic was below-average. In the West Pacific, however, activity was near normal levels but storm development markedly increased later in the season, particularly in September and October. The 2009 West Pacific season saw typhoon-induced floods in Taiwan and the first landfalling typhoon in Japan for two years, while the Philippines was devastated by four storms in succession.

Typhoon Morakot kicked off a series of devastating natural disasters in Asia when it made landfall in Taiwan on 7 August and killed more than 600 people. Morakot hit central Taiwan as a Category 1 typhoon with winds of around 148 kmph (92 mph). The storm also brought heavy rain to central and southern regions of the island, triggering the worst flooding in 50 years. Officials said more than 136,000 homes were damaged by the floods and mudslides, and total property damage has been estimated at USD2 billion. Munich Re said insured losses are expected to be around USD100 million(2), a fraction of the USD3.3 billion economic loss(2).

In Japan, Typhoon Melor made landfall on October 7 (October 8 local time) after it clipped Mie Prefecture as a weak Category 1 typhoon with sustained winds of around 119 kmph (74 mph). The powerful winds damaged homes and downed power lines, leaving around 570,000 households without power. According to the General Insurance Association of Japan, Melor incurred claims worth JPY55 billion (USD617 million) for non-life insurers. Melor was the first typhoon to make landfall in Japan since Typhoon Fitow in 2007.

However, it was the Philippines that bore the brunt of the typhoon season. Within the space of a month, the country was battered by four storms that caused widespread devastation and displaced an estimated 1.7 million people. The two most severe storms, Ketsana and Parma, left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and killed more than 950 people. Ketsana caused the worst flooding in 40 years in and around the capital of Manila, while Parma unleashed devastating landslides in northern Luzon. Ketsana and Parma destroyed or damaged around 240,000 homes and the cost to infrastructure and agriculture was expected to reach 38.3 billion pesos (USD820 million). The Philippine Insurers and Reinsurers Association said insurance claims stemming from Ketsana alone will cost at least 12 billion pesos (USD250 million), making it the costliest natural disaster to hit the Philippines since the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

The Guy Carpenter Asia-Pacific Climate Impact Centre (GCACIC) accurately predicted that tropical cyclone activity would be close to average in the West Pacific in 2009. The GCACIC also correctly predicted that the number of landfalling tropical cyclones in the South China provinces of Guangdong and Hainan would be near normal(3).



(1) GC ForeCat estimates the hurricane landfall rate for four different regions along the US coastline (Gulf, Florida, Southeast and Northeast) from January through to May each year -
(2) Munich Re NatCat Service October 24, 2009

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