A powerful storm named Xaver battered Northern Europe with hurricane-force wind gusts and massive storm surges on December 6, causing widespread property damage and severely disrupting transport networks. The most severe damage was reported in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. Around 1,400 properties were flooded in the United Kingdom alone after eastern coastal regions experienced the most severe storm surge since 1953. Coastal areas of Germany, including the city of Hamburg, were also subjected to severe surges and flooding. Less severe damage was reported elsewhere in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Poland. Reports said at least eight people were killed by the storm’s severe weather across Northern Europe and more than 500,000 homes lost power at the height of the storm. It remains too early to determine the likely economic and insured costs from Xaver. PERILS, the independent provider of European catastrophe insurance loss data, is currently analysing the impact of Xaver to assess whether it has caused a sufficient loss to qualify for full reporting under its methodology.
A powerful frontal system developed off the coast of Greenland on December 4 and rapidly strengthened as it tracked through Scotland and Northern England before moving into Northern Europe. The system was named “Xaver” by the Free University of Berlin during this time. The storm brought massive storm surges of up to 6 meters to areas in the United Kingdom and Germany. Hurricane-force winds also have affected parts of the United Kingdom and Germany. Wind gusts in excess of 170 kmph were recorded in parts of Germany.
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Xaver is the second major storm to affect Europe during the 2013/14 windstorm season. Christian battered Northern Europe with hurricane-force wind gusts, surging seas and driving rain on October 28, causing insured losses of approximately USD1.35 billion, according to PERILS.
Hurricane-force winds and tidal surges from Xaver killed at least eight people in northern Europe. Roads, bridges and railways were closed across Northern Europe and dozens of flights and ferry services were cancelled. The United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands were worst affected. In Poland, at least 400,000 homes were without electricity because of severed power lines. Thousands of homes were also left without power in Sweden while some flooding was reported in Denmark. Copenhagen Airport, the Nordic region’s busiest airport, was closed to all traffic at the height of the storm.
Yet, despite some reports of roof damage and the widespread disruption to transportation, damage from the powerful winds nevertheless appears to have been minimal and surge damage was limited by strengthened sea defences in many areas.
Two people were killed in the United Kingdom as wind gusts of up to 225 kmph battered parts of Scotland. Reports indicate more than 130,000 homes and businesses were left without power across the United Kingdom, the majority in Scotland, while all forms of transportation were severely disrupted due to downed trees. North Sea oil and gas producers including ConocoPhillips, Maersk Oil and Statoil cut production and evacuated staff from some platforms.
Extreme flooding occurred in several communities across eastern coastal regions of the United Kingdom as the country experienced its worst storm surge in 60 years. Indeed, the surge resulted in record sea levels for some communities as they surpassed those recorded during the devastating floods of 1953. Heavy rain from Xaver also caused several rivers to burst their banks. Thousands of people were consequently evacuated from their homes and up to 1,400 properties were flooded in several communities, according to the Environment Agency (EA).
Reports said some 400 properties in the Humber region were flooded and an additional 300 homes were reported flooded in Rhyl, North Wales as high waves penetrated flood defences. Boston, Lincolnshire, also reported 300 flooded homes after flood defences failed while 200 homes were inundated in Whitby. Further flooding was reported in Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and Scarborough while several houses collapsed into the sea as waves eroded cliffs in the town of Hemsby, Norfolk. The Thames Barrier was also closed, preventing the surge from reaching London.
The EA said sea levels peaked at 5.8 meters in Hull and 4.7 meters in Dover, Kent, the highest level in more than 100 years. East Yorkshire, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and North Wales were particularly badly hit by the surge. At the height of the storm, the EA had more than 50 severe flood warnings and 140 flood warnings in place. The government said some areas saw sea levels rise to levels that are only expected to occur once in every 500 years. It added that improved flood defences protected 800,000 properties, meaning the impact was not as severe as 1953.
Xaver brought hurricane-force winds and tidal surges to parts of Northern Germany, prompting the country’s weather service to issue an extreme weather warning for the northern states of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and Bremen. Wind gusts of up to 174 kmph were recorded at the North Sea island of Sylt. The powerful winds caused widespread disruption to rail traffic across Northern Germany and dozens of flight were cancelled in Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne.
Damage from coastal flooding also occurred in Hamburg City. Hamburg’s historic fish market and port flooded as the city experienced its biggest tidal surge since the 1960s, according to reports. Several streets in Hamburg near the Elbe River were also flooded as water levels rose to more than six metres at several locations along the river. Reports said a number of properties flooded as a result, forcing the closure of several schools and businesses. Ship traffic at Hamburg’s port was also halted overnight. However, sea defences generally performed well and prevented severe flooding elsewhere in the city and at other northern coastal communities. All 38 flood-gates in Hamburg were closed on December 6.
Several water barriers in the Netherlands, including the Eastern Scheldt barrier, were closed to protect low-lying communities from the storm surge. This coordinated action successfully held back the rising waters. Damage reports from the Netherlands have therefore been minimal, although some flooding occurred in Dordrecht, Rotterdam and Vlaardingen, according to reports. The sea reached almost four meters above the mean sea level in southwestern Zeeland, the highest level since 1953. Widespread transport disruption occurred in the Netherlands.
The Dutch Association of Insurers said early indications suggest the cost of the damage from Xaver could range from EUR5 million to EUR10 million.
Sources: Guy Carpenter, WSI, BBC News, Agence France Presse, Reuters, Associated Press
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