Natural Catastrophes in 2012 Dominated by U.S. Weather Extremes

The distribution of natural catastrophes in 2012 included 45 percent meteorological events (storms), 36 percent hydrological events (floods) and more.


| May 30, 2013


Reposted with permission from the Worldwatch Institute.

In 2012, there were 905 natural catastrophes worldwide, 93 percent of which were weather-related disasters. In terms of overall and insured losses (US$170 billion and $70 billion, respectively), 2012 did not follow the records set in 2011 and could be defined as a moderate year on a global scale. But the United States was seriously affected by weather extremes, accounting for 69 percent of overall losses and 92 percent of insured losses due to natural catastrophes worldwide, writes Petra Löw, a geographer and consultant at Munich Reinsurance Company,in the Worldwatch Institute's Vital Signs Online service.

Of the 905 documented loss events, 45 percent were meteorological events (storms), 36 percent were hydrological events (floods), and 12 percent were climatological events such as heat waves, cold waves, droughts, and wildfires. The remaining 7 percent were geophysical events — earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This distribution deviates somewhat from long-term trends, as between 1980 and 2011 geophysical events accounted for 14 percent of all natural catastrophes.

Deaths during natural catastrophes in 2012 stood at 9,600 — substantially below the 10-year annual average of 106,000. The percentage distribution of fatalities in the four recognized event categories — meteorological, hydrological, climatological, and geophysical events — also differed in 2012. Only 7 percent of the deaths were caused by geophysical events, compared with the long-term average since 1980 of 40 percent. In contrast, 93 percent of the fatalities in 2012 were caused by weather-related events.

Some two-thirds of the global overall losses and 92 percent of the insured losses in 2012 were due to weather-related events in the United States. Hurricane Sandy, the summer-long drought in the Midwest, and severe storms with tornadoes accounted for $100 billion of the overall losses. The insurance industry covered $58 billion of this. These losses were the second highest overall and insured losses since 1980 in the United States. The most expensive year in the United States was 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of Mississippi and the city of New Orleans. The rest of the 2012 overall losses occurred in Europe (13 percent) and the Asia-Pacific region (17 percent). The insured losses for these two regions were well below the average and accounted for 8 percent of the total.

Around 59 percent of overall losses in 2012 are attributable to storms, compared with the long-term average of 39 percent. Earthquakes accounted for 12 percent of overall losses, but that was only half the 1980-2011 average.





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