February 2nd, 2011

Update: Tropical Cyclone Yasi

Posted at 1:34 PM ET

yasi-2-smallTropical Cyclone Yasi made landfall near Mission Beach along the northern coastline of Queensland in Australia at around 14:00 UTC on February 2 (0:00 on February 3 local time) with sustained winds of around 240 kmph (150 mph), according to reports. The wind speeds are equivalent to a category 4 cyclone on the Saffir Simpson Scale and a category 5 cyclone on the Australian Tropical Cyclone Intensity Scale. Yasi came ashore around 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Innisfail, pounding communities in the area with destructive winds and heavy rain. The landfall point was also to the south of Cairns (population of around 165,000) and to the north of Townsville (180,000), sparing both cities the worst of the severe weather but subjecting them to powerful winds, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said Yasi poses an extreme threat to life and property, especially between Cairns and Townsville. The JTWC added that Yasi was a large storm at landfall, with cyclone-force winds extending around 145 kilometers (90 miles) from its center and tropical storm-force winds extending 400 kilometers (250 miles), meaning towns in its path could experience destructive winds for up to four hours.

The BoM has issued a cyclone warning area of more than 885 kilometers (550 miles) of the Queensland coast from Sarina to Cape Flattery, and extending more than 800 kilometers inland to the border to Western Australia State. The BoM also warned that the cyclone’s powerful winds would be accompanied by an extremely dangerous storm surge of up to 7 meters (23 feet) between Cairns and Ayr, threatening to flood towns and tourist resorts. Heavy rainfall is also forecast to fall in areas between Cooktown and Sarina, with up to 700 millimeters (28 inches) expected in some areas. Parts of central and southern Queensland experienced catastrophic flooding last month and data from the JTWC indicates that Yasi’s outer bands could impact some central Queensland towns that are still recovering from the event. However, Brisbane is located around 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) from the landfall area and is not likely to experience severe conditions.

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Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. i-aXs users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or GC AnalyticsTM representative for assistance or go to www.i-axs.info for further information.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Yasi looked set to be the worst cyclone in Australian history and the BoM warned the impact of the cyclone is likely to be more life-threatening than any experienced during recent generations. Reports said Yasi is the first category 5 storm (on the Australian scale) to hit Queensland since 1918. Airports and ports have been shut in the region. Despite strict building standards in Queensland, officials say property damage in the affected region is expected to be significant.

According to reports, Yasi’s powerful winds and heavy rain are already causing property damage in towns near the landfall area, including Innisfail, Cardwell, Tully and Townsville, but it is too early to know the extent of the damage. Officials said more than 400,000 people live in the cyclone’s predicted path and around 90,000 household have lost power so far. More than 10,500 people fled to 20 evacuation centers in the region before the storm arrived, and those that did not evacuate were told to secure their properties and fill their bathtubs with water for drinking supplies. Anticipating a massive relief operation, the military is readying supply ships with aircraft landing capability to help with search and rescue once the storm has passed.

Industrial and agricultural interests have also been affected by Yasi. Although most of Queensland’s coal mines are located to the south of Yasi’s predicted path, operations in the area belonging to Rio Tinto, Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Peabody Energy have been closed. Activity at several coal export ports and rail lines has also been disrupted.

Elsewhere, operations at a 300,000-tons-a-year copper refinery in Townsville and a 30,000 tons-a-year nickel refinery at Yabulu have been shut. Farming is also expected to be badly affected by the cyclone, particularly the sugar industry. Northern Queensland accounts for around a third of Australia’s sugarcane production and sugar group Canegrowers has warned the storm could cause at least AUD500 million damage to the sector. Reports said the sugarcane loss could exceed AUD1 billion when the cost of broader damage to infrastructure is factored in. Banana growers also fear they could suffer significant losses, although the Australian Banana Growers’ Council said some farmers have been able to trim young banana plants of their leaves, lessening the wind’s effect. In addition to sugar and bananas, northern Queensland is also an important producer of watermelons, mangoes, lychees, macadamia nuts, strawberries and various vegetables, the National Farmers Federation said. Reports said Queensland’s large livestock industry is also prepared for heavy loses from Yasi.

According to reports, Yasi’s size and strength could surpass that of Cyclone Tracy, which hit the northern Australian city of Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people and flattening more than 90 percent of its houses. Reports added that Yasi is far bigger and stronger than Cyclone Larry which caused insured losses of AUD540 million after taking a similar track to Yasi and making landfall just south of Innisfail in 2006.

Sources: Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Joint Typhoon Warning Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, Australian Associated Press, The Age

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Guy Carpenter publishes 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 CAT.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Guy Carpenter compiles 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 RISK.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. i-aXs users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or GC AnalyticsTM representative for assistance or go to www.i-axs.info for further information.

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