Guy Carpenter today reported that 2015 marked one of the strongest El Niño periods on record, while a positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) was evident both at the beginning and close of the year.
According to Guy Carpenter’s Global Catastrophe Review - 2015, although these prominent climate drivers were associated with an exceptional tropical season in the Pacific and severe windstorms and flooding in Europe, 2015 was a quiet year in terms of global insured losses, which totaled around USD 30.5 billion. Insured losses were below the 10-year and five-year moving averages of around USD 49.7 billion and USD 62.6 billion, respectively. Last year also marked the lowest total insured catastrophe losses since 2009 and well below the USD 126 billion seen in 2011.
The most destructive and deadliest catastrophic event of 2015 came in the form of the powerful magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal in April. This event saw a tragic loss of life around 9,000 with millions more affected, including 500,000 people rendered homeless. The following September, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake struck near Illapel, Chile, causing estimated insured losses ranging from USD 600 million to USD 900 million.
El Niño’s Impact on the Tropical Season
Characterized by warm waters in the tropical east Pacific, the strong El Niño seen in 2015 was associated with record-setting tropical cyclone activity in the North Pacific basin, but relatively quiet activity in the North Atlantic. Heavy Pacific typhoon activity affected Mainland China, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan, while Mexico saw landfall of Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane observed in the Western Hemisphere. In total, the 2015 tropical season produced 27 major hurricanes, surpassing the previous record of 21 major hurricanes seen in 1992.
“The onset of such a strong El Niño significantly influenced the record-setting activity seen in the 2015 tropical season,” said James Waller, PhD, Research Meteorologist for GC Analytics. “As with typical El Niño years, wind shear was elevated in the Atlantic basin and even reached record levels in 2015. The Tropical Atlantic basin saw 11 named storms in 2015, while the Tropical North Pacific basin saw the most active season in the historical record, surpassing the exceptional 1992 season.”
North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) Brings Strong Storm Activity
According to Guy Carpenter, the positive NAO phase, such as observed in the 2014/2015 winter season, is often associated with increased storm transits and greater storm severity. This year proved to be no exception with windstorms Elon and Felix affecting Northern Europe in early January, while significant flood events affected Central Italy in early March.
The most significant events were Storms Mike and Niklas at the end of March, which followed each other in close succession. Storm Mike caused downed trees and transportation disruption, with a reported gust of 151 kilometers per hour (92 mph). Storm Niklas brought high winds and heavy rains to much of Northern Europe, with a wind speed of 190 kilometers per hour (116 mph) observed at Germany’s highest mountain. The storm also brought significant transportation disruption for air, rail and land. Guy Carpenter reports that Winter Storm Niklas produced estimated insured losses of USD 1.0 billion.
Beyond natural catastrophes in 2015, there were also significant man-made catastrophic events, including the Port of Tianjin explosions in August, with the Guy Carpenter CAT-VIEW℠ post-event briefing estimating insured losses of between USD 1.6 and USD 3.3 billion. Significant events also affected the oil and aviation sectors, including the loss of the TransAsia flight over Taiwan and the downing of a Russian MetroJet over Egypt with 224 dead. The year of 2015 also saw the coordinated terror attacks in France which resulted in at least 130 fatalities.