December 29th, 2015

Winter Storm – December 26 – 29, 2015

Posted at 3:10 PM ET

ws-12-26-29-a-smA complex frontal system has rendered significant impacts to the Southern, Southwestern, and Midwestern States, with an ongoing threat from the Midwest to the Saint Lawrence Valley to the Northeast. The system brought severe thunderstorms to the Northern Gulf states, with a confirmed EF-4 tornado affecting the Dallas area, causing several fatalities and extensive structural damage. Excessive rainfall has produced significant and historic flooding in the Central Mississippi Valley. Significant winter weather including heavy snow and ice continues to threaten areas from the Midwest to the Northeast, after nearly 40 inches of snowfall in New Mexico and over half an inch of ice reported from Texas to Illinois. Significant power outages have been reported for some areas. Transportation disruption has been especially severe for both land and air.

Media reports indicate at least 43 fatalities, mostly as a result of tornado and flood hazards. It will take some time to assess the full impact of these events and as always our first thoughts are with those lost and directly affected.

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U.S. local storm reports December 26 - 28, 2015 (U.S. Storm Prediction Center - NOAA)

Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from GC AdvantagePoint®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. GC AdvantagePoint users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or cat modeling analyst for further information.

Meteorological Discussion

A large, complex frontal system has affected an area from New Mexico to the Great Lakes to the Northeast. The frontal system produced severe thunderstorms, excessive rainfall and significant winter weather hazards affecting a very large area.

Severe thunderstorm activity was enabled in the presence of warm, moist and unstable air in the presence of robust wind shear, affecting areas from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. Several tornadoes were reported by the U.S. Storm Prediction Center. One EF-4 tornado was confirmed by the National Weather Service affecting Dallas and Rockwell Counties in Texas. The National Weather Service also confirmed EF-2 tornadoes affecting Collin County and Harrison County, Texas. Damaging non-tornadic wind gusts were reported from Texas to the Florida Panhandle, with reports of downed trees and power lines according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center (SPC). Several hail reports were also found, with golf ball sized hail reported in Tarrant County, Texas and Nevada County, Arkansas according to SPC reports.

Cold air on the northern flank of the system, together with ample moisture, enabled significant winter weather from New Mexico to the Great Lakes to the Northeast where the threat is still ongoing. Blizzard warnings were active for New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Freezing rain was observed in areas of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York. Freezing rain amounts exceeding half an inch have been reported, with reports of one inch in areas of Illinois and Kansas. The National Weather Service is expecting ongoing freezing rain today from inland Massachusetts to the Saint Lawrence Valley. The storm has also produced significant snowfall. Estimated snowfall amounts exceeding 40 inches were found in New Mexico, with snowfall amounts up to 20 inches reported in Texas, according to the National Weather Service. Snowfall amounts exceeding 10 inches were also reported in Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Additional snowfall is expected in the Midwest, Great Lakes and Maine today by the National Weather Service and winter weather advisories and warnings remain active to this effect. Significant winter weather including freezing rain is also expected from Southern Ontario Canada to the Canadian Saint Lawrence Valley today and Environment Canada has also posted advisories and warnings.

The aggressive mechanics of this storm, together with abundant moisture have produced significant rainfall over a very large area. Rainfall totals near ten inches were reported in Arkansas and Illinois, with amounts exceeding twelve inches reported in Union, Missouri, according to the National Weather Service. These widespread rainfall amounts, together with heavy rainfall from prior storms, have produced both riverine and flash flooding. Around the Saint Louis area, the Mississippi River and its tributaries are expected to approach or exceed record flood stage, putting the December 1982 and summer 1993 records in jeopardy according to the National Weather Service. The National Weather Service also reports many locations at major flood stage from Eastern Oklahoma to Western Arkansas, specifically along the Arkansas River, where numerous locations are expected to maintain major flood stage into the weekend. Flood warnings are maintained by the National Weather Service for all areas under threat.

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Radar-Estimated Precipitation, 7 Days Ending 7 a.m. EST, December 29, 2015; Source: NOAA/NWS

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Observed and Forecast River Stage - Mississippi River at St. Louis; Source: NOAA/NWS

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Model-Estimated Snowfall, 24 Hours Ending 1 a.m. EST, December 29; Source: NOAA/NWS

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Model-Estimated Snowfall, 24 Hours Ending 1 a.m. EST, December 28; Source: NOAA/NWS

Impacts

Significant impacts have been reported due to winter weather, excessive flooding, severe thunderstorm activity and the confirmed EF-4 tornado in the Dallas area. On Monday, media reports indicated more than 1,300 U.S. flight cancellations, with another 1,650 delays. Chicago area airports were severely affected.

Texas

Numerous tornadoes were reported, resulting in at least eleven fatalities in the Dallas area and around 1,600 structures and homes damaged according to media reports. The National Weather Service has confirmed an EF-4 tornado that affected the city of Garland, Texas at about 6:45 p.m. EST Saturday, with at least eight fatalities. Media reports indicate that Texas Governor Greg Abbott made disaster declarations in Dallas, Collin, Rockwall and Ellis counties. Many roads across West Texas and the Panhandle were closed, with long travel delays expected across the area. Thousands of power outages were reported in Texas on Monday.

Mississippi

Ten fatalities and 58 injuries were reported by media in Mississippi due to two reported tornadoes. Hundreds of homes were reported damaged.

Missouri and Illinois

Media reports indicate at least thirteen fatalities as a result of flash flooding over the weekend. More than 180 roads were closed on Monday due to flooding.

In Missouri, emergency personnel evacuated many residents and conducted dozens of water rescues in flood-affected areas.

In Illinois, media reports indicate major flooding along the Kankakee, Illinois, Sangamon, and Vermilion rivers. Wind gusts of 53 mph in Waukegan were reported.  In southern Illinois, reports indicate three adults and two children drowned Saturday when their vehicle was caught by flood waters. Several roads were closed according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Ameren, Illinois reported 23,000 power outages on Tuesday, mostly in the Galesburg and Peoria area according to media reports.

Oklahoma

According to media reports, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after blizzard conditions affected the western and central parts of the state and excessive rainfall affected southern and eastern parts of the state. Significant flooding is expected by the National Weather Service in eastern Oklahoma. Media reports indicate that ice and strong winds caused downed power lines, with at least 54,000 customers without power on Monday in the Oklahoma City area. Reports indicate more than 50 injuries and at least 175,000 were without power.

New Mexico

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency for the entire state due to heavy snowfall.

Arkansas

Severe weather led to a few tornado reports on Sunday, but there were no initial reports of significant injuries or damage according to media reports.

New York

Snow, sleet, freezing rain and high winds were reported in upstate New York, causing poor driving conditions. The National Weather Service reports at least one to four inches of snow from the Albany area to the Mohawk Valley and to the southern Adirondacks. Winter weather advisories remain active for much of New York state on Tuesday. More than 5,000 utility customers in western New York were without power due to high winds according to media reports.

Massachusetts

Freezing rain has been reported for inland areas of the state. Several accidents were reported Tuesday morning in the Chelmsford and Brockton/West Bridgewater area, according to State Police. The chief of the MBTA reported mass transit running as normal according to media reports.

Connecticut

Sleet, freezing rain and rain have been reported, following an inch or less of snow. Connecticut State Police report more than 50 crashes, with no major injuries. Rail service is running as normal according to media reports.

Michigan

High winds, freezing rain and snow were reported, leading to hazardous driving conditions, several thousand power outages and numerous flight delays and cancellations, according to media reports. State offices reopened Tuesday following closure on Monday. The governor activated the Emergency Operations Center to assist in response and recovery efforts according to media reports. 

Wisconsin

Blowing snow and sleet were reported, leading to dangerous driving conditions. Hundreds of reported accidents occurred Monday, mainly in the Milwaukee and Madison area. More than 11 inches of snow were reported in Green Bay, with seven to 10 inches reported further west. Milwaukee County offices are expected to reopen Tuesday morning following Monday closure.

Indiana

Freezing rain produced dangerous road conditions in northwest Indiana, leading to numerous reported accidents. Further south, flooding from excessive rainfall caused road closures across the southern two-thirds of the state. Thousands of utility customers were without power Monday afternoon according to media reports. 

Selected Unofficial Freezing Rain Amounts (Storm Total)

SOURCE: NOAA/NWS, as of 9:30 a.m. EST, DECEMBER 29, 2015

Location

Amount (inches)

 

 

Middletown, Iowa

0.25

Near Kewanee, Illinois

1.00

Galesburg, Illinois

0.30

Near Bloomington, Illinois

0.25

Near Fort Wayne, Indiana

0.20

Near Anthony, Kansas

1.00

Harper, Kansas

0.50

Near Charlie Heath, Missouri

0.25

Burbank, Oklahoma

0.25

Aspermont, Texas

0.50

Dickens, Texas

0.50

Bear Lake, Pennsylvania

0.25

Johnstown Regional Airport, Pennsylvania

0.20

Adirondack Airport, New York

0.14

Massena Airport, New York

0.11

 

Selected Unofficial Snowfall Amounts (Storm Total)

Source: NOAA/NWS, as of 9:30 a.m. EST, December 29, 2015 

Location

Amount (inches)

 

 

Waterloo Airport, Iowa

10.5

Denver, Iowa

9.8

Near Rogers City, Michigan

11.0

Curtis, Michigan

10.0

Windom, Minnesota

9.1

Near Two Rivers, Wisconsin

13.5

Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin

13.2

Green Bay, Wisconsin

10.5

Near Princeton, Kansas

4.0

Gilman City, Missouri

4.0

Near Bonito Lake, New Mexico

41.0

Cloudcroft, New Mexico

30.0

Sandia Park, New Mexico

19.0

Near Boise City, Oklahoma

9.5

Queen, Texas

24.0

Near Artesia, Texas

20.0

Lubbock, Texas

11.0

Sources: Reuters, Associated Press, U.S. National Weather Service, Meteorological Service of Canada, U.S. Storm Prediction Center, U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

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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.

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