Storm: Insurers fear extreme hailstorms

Storm: Insurers fear extreme hailstorms

Hail is a side effect of summer thunderstorms. Insurance companies see the increasing destructiveness of these small-scale storms. Three Upper Bavarian communities serve as a warning example.

Germany’s insurers fear increasing destructiveness from hailstorms. An extraordinary hailstorm that devastated three communities on the edge of the Alps in the summer also caused extraordinary destruction there.

According to data from the Bavarian Insurance Chamber, around 90 percent of their customers subsequently reported damage, an extremely high proportion. The geoscientists at the reinsurer Munich Re assume both a trend towards larger hailstones and a connection with climate change.

According to the German Weather Service, however, there is no scientific evidence that the hailstones have actually become larger – and therefore more dangerous – in the long term. The hailstorm “Denis”, which caused a stir in the insurance industry, hit Upper Bavaria and parts of Swabia on August 26th. According to the Insurance Chamber, Bad Bayersoien, Benediktbeuern and Königsbrunn, three idyllic communities in the foothills of the Alps, were hit hardest.

17,500 damage reports

The Insurance Chamber alone received 17,500 claims reports, including a large number of major losses: “Roofs completely destroyed, house facades destroyed in many cases, and the window panes were often destroyed,” summarizes Christian Krams, head of group claims at the Bavarian Insurance Chamber.

“These were no longer hailstones, but hailballs up to ten centimeters in size, which behaved similarly to billiard balls indoors and caused further destruction there.” Many houses were badly damaged both outside and inside. “And that means we have significantly higher average claims,” says Krams.

Allianz received 37,000 damage reports nationwide for “Denis” and the storm front “Erwin” that immediately followed, with a gross loss of 290 million euros. In Benediktbeuern, around 70 percent of the buildings insured by Allianz were damaged. “Denis/Erwin was exceptionally strong hail in terms of hailstone size and intensity,” says a spokeswoman. In principle, hail events are always very regionally limited. “So during hail events we always have a very strong concentration in a small area.”

Even larger hailstones than in Upper Bavaria were observed in northern Italy this year. “Climate change is contributing to the emergence of severe weather conditions, which in turn have the potential for the formation of severe hailstorms,” says a spokeswoman for Munich Re.

Studies: Trend towards hailstone sizes over five centimeters

The reinsurer refers to studies according to which a trend towards hailstone sizes of over five centimeters in central and southern Europe has been well documented in recent decades. Munich Re has been recording and documenting natural disasters around the world for decades because this is of great importance for calculating insurance premiums.

For the insurance chamber, the storm caused the second largest loss in the company’s more than two hundred year history. The Munich-based company initially assumed 170 million euros, but recently increased this estimate to 230 million euros. “With hail there can be a lot of destruction in a small area, and a few hundred meters away there is almost nothing,” says Krams.

“What really surprises me is that we in Bavaria have the lowest insurance rate for storms and hail compared to the 16 federal states,” says the manager. Accordingly, 81 percent of private buildings in the Free State are insured against storm and hail. Conversely, this means that almost one in five houses does not have insurance cover against thunderstorms.

After the storm before ruin

According to the General Association of Insurers, the annual damage amounts after storms and hail fluctuate greatly. Last year the damage expenditure was around three billion euros. Anyone who is hit and is not insured could face ruin with up to six-figure damage. “Such cases also occur in the storm region, they are real fates,” says Krams.

According to Munich Re, the causality behind the increasing destructiveness of hail is plausible from a scientific perspective. “A warmer climate can hold more moisture, increasing the potential energy for severe storms.”

It is by no means a purely Bavarian phenomenon. “The hail hotspots in Germany are in the regions between the northern Black Forest and the Swabian Alb – the Stuttgart area and south – the foothills of the Alps south of Munich, partly on the central edge of the Ore Mountains southwest of Dresden and in the area around some western German low mountain ranges,” says Lothar Bock, meteorologist at the German Weather Service in Munich.

So far, hailstones up to 14 centimeters in diameter have been documented in Germany. “One was found on August 6, 2013 near Undingen in the Swabian Alb.” The best-known storm of this type in Germany in expert circles – and most expensive for insurers – is a hailstorm that hit parts of Munich and the surrounding area in 1984, with grain sizes of up to 10 centimeters.

DWD: It is still unclear whether more severe hailstorms will occur

According to the DWD, it has not been conclusively clarified whether severe hailstorms occur more frequently these days than before. “Based on the data I have, this cannot yet be confirmed,” says Bock. “The areas with hail damage and those without are often clearly demarcated, but that is the nature of hailstorms.”

“Large hail” is therefore tied to a corresponding thunderstorm cell or supercell, “which only covers a certain area,” explains the scientist.

According to Bock, large hail is not a new phenomenon in Germany. But regardless of climate change, Germany has become more vulnerable when it comes to hail, according to the DWD expert’s assessment: Vulnerability has increased both due to denser population and increased assets. In the event of a strong hailstorm, this also means greater financial damage.

Source: Stern

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