Three major storms batter Northern Europe
Three named storms arrived in Europe over the last week: Storm Dudley, Storm Eunice and Storm Franklin (also known as Ylenia, Zeynep and Antonia). The compound effects of wind damage from Storms Dudley and Eunice across Europe presented the most significant European Windstorm loss since Storm Kyrill in January 2007. Storm Franklin was a minor attritional event from a wind damage perspective but caused localized flooding in many areas.
The “Polar Vortex,” a large ring of circulating winds up to 30 miles above the Earth, has been particularly strong this year. This resulted in a fast moving jet stream effectively acting like a conveyor-belt, delivering a series of deep low-pressure systems and causing damaging storms over NW Europe.
Eunice underwent an explosive cyclogenesis, during which the central pressure of the storm decreased rapidly by 60 millibars (mbar) in 48 hours reaching ~965 mbar on the evening of Friday, February 18th. Additionally, the storm moved rapidly eastwards, travelling 4000km in just 72 hours, with strong damaging winds impacting the UK, France, BENELUX, Denmark, Germany and Poland, reaching the Baltic Sea by Saturday.
Furthermore, Eunice was a Shapiro-Keyser type cyclone, which means the cold and warm fronts split apart. Such cyclones can produce a so-called ‘sting jet’. The sting jet leads to a region within the cyclone that experiences higher intensity wind gusts than the surrounding area, increasing the destructive potential of the storm. Initial numerical weather analyses currently suggests that Eunice may also have contained a damaging sting jet.
Unusual atmospheric conditions caused significant damage
Storm Eunice resulted in at least 15 fatalities. Damaging wind gusts over 113km/h (70mph) were widely recorded across the affected area with destructive peak wind gusts recorded in many coastal locations – for example, a wind gust was recorded at 196 km/h (122mph) at The Needles, possibly the strongest ever recorded in England. South-West coastal areas of the UK experienced peak gusts exceeding 140km/h during the morning. Additionally, the coincidence with the onset of spring tides led to elevated water levels in the Bristol Channel, resulting in minor coastal flooding along the Welsh coast.
The storm caused widespread, severe disruption to critical transport infrastructure and power transmission as it moved eastwards across the UK, BENELUX, Denmark, Germany and Poland. Nearly one thousand flights were cancelled or delayed due to the storm, many bridges and tunnels were closed, in addition to huge road and rail disruption. Millions of people were temporarily without power from the UK to Poland and schools were closed across many regions under civil protection initiatives.
A costly year for insurers
When looking at the combination of the three storms, this will be the largest loss from European Windstorm risk since 2007. Storm Dudley was a significant winter storm but Storm Eunice was 3 times as damaging across the affected area.
The compounding effect of an active storm season with storms occurring so quickly after each other worsened the situation. If the damaged homes and businesses are not reinstated in a timely manner, there could be loss amplification from water ingress.
In recent years, significant European windstorms have not occurred in areas with high concentrations of insured exposures. However, the impact of these storms could be costly, with many primary carriers forced to use their reinsurance allocation for the year within a single storm. Eunice was the fifth named storm of the season and was quickly followed by Storm Franklin. With further storms expected in the remaining months of the storm season, this could be a costly year for insurers.
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