2013 will be remembered in Europe in part as the year of the flood, with the worst flood event affecting several Central European countries in June. Estimated insured losses from this event were around USD4.1 billion, with economic losses of around USD18 billion (1). Persistent heavy rain caused the Vltava, Elbe and Danube Rivers to overflow their banks and in some cases breach flood defenses. Countries affected included Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and Poland.
Germany was particularly badly affected as the floods inundated countless homes, businesses and crops, severed road and rail routes and cut power and drinking water supplies to thousands of people. Floodwaters surging down the Elbe reached a critical level in the state of Saxony-Anhalt as the river surpassed the highest water level seen during the last major flood event in 2002. More than 20,000 people were evacuated in the state capital of Magdeburg alone as the Elbe peaked at 7.45 meters, compared to normal water levels of around 2 meters.
Thousands of people were also evacuated from their homes elsewhere in eastern Germany after the Elbe burst through a dam. In the historic eastern cities of Dresden and Halle, 30,000 people were evacuated after the highest water level in 400 years was recorded on the Salle River. Both the cities of Halle and Dresden were flooded as water seeped through flood dykes, although the historic city center was spared in Dresden.
The flooding was followed by a series of severe hail events that affected Germany in late July. Hailstorm Andreas caused significant damage in northern and southern regions of Germany on July 28 and July 29. Reports indicated that approximately 100,000 properties and 50,000 vehicles were damaged by Andreas. This event consequently became one of the costliest natural disasters to hit Germany, with estimated insured losses of USD3.7 billion (2).
The autumn and early winter months also brought a series of severe windstorms to Northern Europe that was very impactful and costly. Estimated insured losses were around USD1.4 billion for Windstorm Christian in October and USD925 million for Windstorm Xaver in December, according to PERILS. Another series of windstorms (including Dirk and Erich) affected Northern Europe in late December, bringing wind damage and notable coastal impacts. Soil saturation in many areas of Europe is a concern going into 2014, amplifying the risk of flood during normally wet months.
1. Swiss Re News Release, December 18, 2013.
2. Munich Re News Release, January 7, 2014.