Hailstorm: science facts concerning Australia

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Severe convective storms and hail - Icy cricket balls from above

Losses from severe convective storms, in particular from hail, represent the most frequent and (on an annual aggregate basis) the highest losses for the insurance industry in the entire Australian natcat business. Apart from the Sydney Hail­ storm in 1999, the five most expensive insured convective storm losses in Australia occurred within the last five years.

Over the last 35 years, the accumulated losses (all in Australian CPI­ adjusted values for 2014) from severe convective storms in Australia total around A$ 14.8bn for insured losses and A$ 25bn for direct economic losses.

Compared to other perils in Australia, only losses from flood events reach similar dimensions. On the frequency side, losses from severe convective storms make up about 50% of all loss ­producing natural hazard events that occur in Australia. Hence, severe convective storm is the number one peril in natcat business in Australia.

Sydney Hailstorm of 1999

The costliest loss event in Australia to date (after adjusting for inflation) was the Sydney Hailstorm of 1999. In the early evening of 14 April − untypi­cally late in the season − a supercell storm had developed south of Sydney in the area around Kiama. It moved northwards, parallel to the coastline, via Wollongong, Bundeena, straight to central Sydney and fur­ther north to Palm Beach, up as far as Gosford − a distance of more than 200 km.
 
The storm produced hail­ stones the size of cricket balls (7 cm), reaching its maximum intensity around the eastern suburbs of Syd­ney. On its path, it caused damage to more than 45,000 houses, 63,000 cars, 23 planes and countless boats, resulting in more than 120,000 insur­ance claims. The total sum of insured losses reached A$ 1.7bn, and the esti­mated direct economic losses were over A$ 2.3bn.

Adjusted for inflation, those values today would be equivalent to A$ 2.8bn and A$ 3,8bn respectively. And accounting for the increase in wealth and assets since 1999 (using GDP growth as a proxy), the values could reach as much as A$ 4.6bn and A$ 6.3bn.

Brisbane Hailstorm 2014 produced the largest hailstones in Australia

In November 2014, a rather short­ lived and localised but intense hail­ storm battered the Brisbane area. The supercell produced hailstones even larger than those in 1999, and hit central parts of Brisbane during rush hour, causing damage to some 60,000 cars. The roofs, windows and claddings of more than 22,000 homes and commercial buildings were damaged, and about 30 people were injured. The number of insur­ance claims exceeded 100,000, with a total insured loss of A$ 1.35bn, and a direct economic loss estimated at A$ 1.8bn.

The Brisbane area is hit by hail­ storms quite frequently. The most severe event affecting Brisbane prior to 2014 occurred in 1985. It caused insured losses of A$ 180m and about A$ 360m in direct economic losses, which compares to A$ 540m and A$ 1.1bn in CPI­ adjusted values.

Two other recent prominent convective storm events with large hail­ stones and significant flash floods occurred in March 2010, affecting Melbourne and Perth. Each event generated insured losses of about A$ 1bn, with the Perth event becoming the most expensive natural disas­ter in Western Australia.

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