Firefighters cut a tree with a chain saw to clear the street after a Dec. 6 storm in Graal-Mueritz, Germany.(Photo: Bernd Wuestneck, epa)
(USA TODAY) -- For the first time in two decades, the world's costliest natural disasters in 2013 were not in the USA, according to a report released today by Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurance firm. Last year, the most expensive weather disasters were in Europe, which included floods in central Europe and hailstorms in Germany.
"This hasn't happened in the last 20 years," said Peter Hoppe, head of geo risks research at Munich Re, which is based in Germany.
The USA's relatively quiet year was due primarily to the lack of landfalling hurricanes, which typically contribute a large portion of the natural catastrophe losses, said Hoppe. The North Atlantic had the fewest number of hurricanes since 1982.
"In the main development region of hurricanes, the air was exceptionally dry for a long period with a simultaneously high wind shear - conditions which curb the development of cyclones," he said.
The USA had $12.8 billion in insured losses in 2013, far below the recent average of $30 billion per year. The costliest disaster was the tornado outbreak in the central U.S. in May.
The loss resulting from the outbreak as a whole amounted to $3.1 billion, of which $1.8 billion was insured.
"Tornado losses were in the upper range" compared to recent years, Hoppe said. "Even though overall tornado activity was low, it was the fourth-most expensive loss year for tornadoes in the U.S."
"The need for sound building science research that leads to stronger, safer homes, businesses and communities is apparent," said Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Reinsurance America Inc. "Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America, where the number of weather-related loss events has almost quintupled over the past three decades.
"And the losses from severe thunderstorms in the USA are on the rise as well," Kuczinski said. "This is important to note despite the comparably low number of tornadoes this year."
Worldwide, the direct overall losses of about $125 billion and insured losses of about $31 billion remained below the average figures of the past 10 years ($184 billion and $56 billion).
The world's deadliest disaster in 2013 was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines and killed more than 6,000 people. The storm did $10 billion in damage, of which only about $700 million was insured.
The 2013 typhoon season in the Pacific was above average in terms of activity, with 31 named storms. "The destructive power of typhoons threatens coastal regions, islands and also inland regions throughout Southeast Asia," said Ludger Arnoldussen of Munich Re's management board.
"Based on a natural cycle, our analyses predict the beginning of a phase with higher typhoon activity for the coming years," added Arnoldussen.
Overall, 20,000 people died in natural catastrophes in 2013, significantly below the 10-year average of 106,000. "It was a good year in terms of saving lives," said Hoppe.
The German hailstorm in late July - in which some of the hailstones were bigger than tennis balls - was the insurance industry's most expensive hail event in German history. Overall, the loss from heavy hailstorms in both July and August in Germany totaled around $5.2 billion, of which $4.1 billion was insured.
Reinsurers such as Munich Re offer backup policies to companies writing primary insurance policies. Reinsurance helps spread risk, so the system can handle large losses from natural disasters.