Ten years ago, on January 18 and 19, 2007, Winter Storm Kyrill tore across a wide swath of Europe bringing destructive winds and rain. Significant travel and power disruptions, flooding, and building damage ensued, and 47 people lost their lives.
Big and Strong
Not only was Kyrill strong (its minimum central pressure was 965 mb as it approached the UK), but also unusually large. Its damaging wind footprint— the largest in recent history—stretched across 10 countries; from Ireland to Germany and beyond (west to east), and from Scotland to Austria (north to south). The insured loss for Kyrill was more than USD 7 billion in present-day dollars, placing it among the 40 greatest insured losses of all time according to Swiss Re.
Wind gusts were observed at 200 km/h in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic; 160 km/h in the UK; 150 km/h in Austria; 140 km/h in France; 130 km/h in Switzerland and Hungary; and 100 km/h in the Netherlands. This was an intense storm in terms of precipitation as well, dropping heavy rain throughout Europe, especially Germany and the Netherlands.
It is estimated that Kyrill damaged up to 75 million trees across Europe. Flying debris, including tree limbs and billboards, caused significant building damage throughout the affected countries, smashing windows and damaging walls. Parked automobiles in Germany and England were crushed by falling trees, while freight trucks in England and Germany were tipped over by strong gusts. In the Netherlands, having ignored warnings to stay indoors, cyclists were reportedly blown backward and a construction crane toppled onto a university building causing heavy damage.
With the possible exception of Windstorm Daria in 1990, no event had produced such widespread and extensive damage in more than 30 years. In an assessment of the storm’s key meteorological characteristics, AIR meteorologists determined that Kyrill was a “broad brush” event, and may have included one or more “sting jets,” which can cause extreme, highly localized damage. Broad brush events have an elongated and north-south oriented cold front; this frontal orientation allows for a very broad wind footprint.
High Insured Losses
Kyrill met two of the three criteria for an extreme European loss event—intensity, size, and location. Of the three, what it lacked was extreme intensity. Nevertheless, economic losses for Kyrill totaled around USD 12 billion (indexed to 2016 values), of which more than half was borne by the insurance industry.
The average claim for winter storm events in Europe is relatively small compared to other perils, and is typically around USD 1,500. However, the footprint size and corresponding number of claims can quickly skyrocket total event losses into the billions. Because deductibles for wind throughout Europe range from nonexistent to low, even a few blown-off shingles can warrant a claim. Good insurance penetration in Europe also contributes to the relatively high insured losses. Except for a few countries, such as Poland, Czech Republic, and Lithuania, wind insurance take-up in Europe is virtually 100%.
While Kyrill’s 10th anniversary serves to remind us of just how costly individual European winter storms can be, there is another consideration: the propensity of these storms to arrive in clusters. It is thus critically important to examine potential losses not only for individual storms, or occurrences, but also annual aggregate losses—something AIR’s European extratropical cyclone model is uniquely capable of providing.