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Illustration by Security Management

2021 Extreme Weather Cost the Globe at Least $280 Billion 

From deep winter freezes to floods to severe thunderstorms to heatwaves to hurricanes, natural disasters caused total losses of at least $280 billion in 2021—but less than half of those losses were insured, according to Munich Re

Global insured losses from weather catastrophes hit $105 billion in 2021, with another $7 billion incurred from manmade disasters, according to early estimates from Swiss Re Institute. Full estimates of losses are still being calculated in light of disasters late in 2021, including wildfires and tornadoes. In 2019, total losses from natural disasters reached $166 billion.

“In 2021, insured losses from natural disasters again exceeded the previous 10-year average, continuing the trend of an annual 5 to 6 percent rise in losses seen in recent decades,” said Martin Bertog, heat of cat perils (catastrophe modeling) at Swiss Re, in a news release. “It seems to have become the norm that at least one secondary peril event such as severe flooding, winter storm, or wildfire, each year results in losses of more than $10 billion. At the same time, Hurricane Ida is a stark reminder of the threat and loss potential of peak perils. Just one such event hitting densely populated areas can strongly impact the annual losses.”

The costliest event in Europe was the July 2021 flooding in Germany, Belgium, and nearby countries, tallying $13 billion in insured losses and economic losses of above $40 billion.

The Asia-Pacific region got away lightly in 2021, with moderately modest losses of $9 billion insured and $50 billion economic losses. The costliest disaster was a severe flood along the Yellow River in central China.

However, the most expensive events happened in the United States. Hurricane Ida caused more than $30 billion in estimated insured losses. Tens of thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed in the New Orleans, Louisiana, area and then caused severe flooding in the northeast. Winter storm Uri caused $15 billion in insured losses as it dumped heavy snow and ice on Texas, triggering power failures.

“The 2021 disaster statistics are striking because some of the extreme weather events are of the kind that are likely to become more frequent or more severe as a result of climate change,” said Ernst Rauch, chief climate and geo scientist at Munich Re and head of the climate solutions unit, in a news brief. “Among these are severe storms in the USA, including in the winter half-year, or heavy rain followed by floods in Europe. For hurricanes, scientists anticipate that the proportion of severe storms and of storms with extreme rainfall will increase because of climate change. Even though events cannot automatically be attributed to climate change, analysis of the changes over decades provides plausible indications of a connection with the warming of the atmosphere and the oceans. Adapting to increasing risks due to climate change will be a challenge.”

Read more about how climate change is affecting critical infrastructure preparedness and resiliency in the August 2021 edition of Security Technology.