Cyclone Ciara blows over Europe

Extra-tropical cyclone Ciara (named Sabine in the DACH countries and Elsa in Norway) swept across Ireland, the UK and Central Europe on Sunday and Monday

The storm was associated with hurricane-force winds and heavy rains on Sunday and caused major travel disruptions as many flights and trains were cancelled across Europe. In Germany three people were injured by falling trees which lead to car accidents. Elsewhere things did not go so smoothly: At the moment it can be assumed that 5 people died.

In the UK and Germany more than 50,000 people were left without power. The Met Office in the UK stated that Ciara was the "storm of the century" being the storm with the largest extent since the 87J in 1987 for the UK. The German weather service (DWD) classified Ciara/Sabine as an event that "hits Germany every 2 years". Indeed, the extent of strong winds stretched all the way from Ireland to into Eastern Europe (see figures below):

Ciara swept over UK and Ireland with heavy rain and strong winds

In addition to the strong winds the cyclone also brought heavy precipitation across the UK and widespread flooding in northern England, parts of Scotland and Ireland. The Environment Agency put in place more than 200 flood warnings across England and flooding forced residents to abandon their properties in parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire. According to the Environment Agency “Storm Ciara brought high winds and heavy rain to much of England over the weekend, with some parts of Cumbria receiving nearly three quarters of February’s rain in just 24 hours, leading to rivers bursting their banks. There are currently around 550 properties believed to have been affected by flooding as a result of the severe weather. However, approximately 26,000 have been protected by flood defences across England.”

Due to the storm and generally very windy conditions across the Atlantic, a British Airways plane is thought to have made the fastest ever flight by a conventional airliner from New York to London. The strong winds enabled the flight to make the 3,500-mile transatlantic journey from New York to London in just 4 hours and 56 minutes, reaching a top speed of more than 1300 km/h, according to flight tracking website Flightradar24.

Figures: 10m max wind gusts (Beaufort scale in colour, m/s on contour lines) for Sunday 12pm UK time (top left) and for Monday 6am UK time (top right). Maximum wind gust forecast between Sunday February 9th to Wednesday February 12th from the Windjeannie forecast service provided by PERILS (bottom).

What does this mean for the insurance industry?

Cyclones like Ciara underline how important it is to prepare for these peak events. Experience has shown that several areas are critical:

  • Unexpected aggregation can take place via the specific event definition in a reinsurance contract (e.g. a 72-hour clause). 
  • Reinsurance products such as CatXL covers with one or more reinstatements, drop-down mechanisms (e.g. lower retention for second events), or Aggregate XL covers can be affected by more than one strong storm hitting during one and the same contract period.
  • Clustering generates large losses and therefore has a substantial impact on solvency considerations. Nowadays, regulators request that insurance companies provide their own view of how storm clustering affects their portfolio. 
  • Claims inflation can lead to substantial loss amplification.
  • Processes become overwhelmed with the vast number of claims.

The complete extent of the havoc that was caused by Ciara/Sabine will only become clear in the next couple of days. Our Cat Perils will monitor the event and publish an update with new information and initial external loss estimates as soon as they become available.

Swiss Re is here to help you in this endeavour. Together we make sure you and your clients have the resilience to withstand the next severe winterstorms.

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