2014 tropical cyclone season very benign – Cards to be reshuffled for 2015

2014/12/01

The hurricane season in the North Atlantic was much more benign in 2014 than it has been on average in the warm phase, which has now lasted 20 years and has been characterised by higher hurricane activity. In the Pacific there was a great number of tropical cyclones in the east, but these are of lower loss-relevance as they do not usually make landfall. Despite a below-average season overall in the Northwest Pacific, an unusually high number of typhoons made landfall in Japan.

Munich. Prof. Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit, said: “The patterns observed are well in line with what can be expected in an emerging El Niño phase. This warm phase of the Pacific ENSO cycle influences various kinds of weather extremes worldwide.” Scientists predict that the current weak El Niño phase will last until around mid-2015. “If neutral ENSO conditions predominate again from mid-2015, there will no longer be any curtailing effect on hurricanes in the Atlantic. As El Niño conditions are still probable at the height of the tornado season in the USA (March to May), the likelihood of a more active tornado season in the USA is higher”, Höppe continued.

Water temperatures in the North Atlantic were below average. Atmospheric conditions such as lower humidity and stronger wind shear also inhibited the development of tropical cyclones. By contrast, an above-average number of cyclones formed in the East Pacific, one of which in the mid-Pacific hit Hawaii directly, with another narrowly missing. Hurricane Odile, the strongest tropical storm to reach Baja California since the beginning of satellite monitoring, caused major destruction. In the Northwest Pacific, the number of cyclones was below average overall, but landfalls on the Japanese coast were unusually high. “This too is consistent with El Niño conditions, as storms then tend to take a somewhat more northerly path”, said Höppe.

Overall economic losses from tropical cyclones by the official end of the hurricane season in late November 2014 were just over US$ 20bn, considerably lower than the average of the past ten years: US$ 57bn when adjusted for inflation. Insured losses are likely to be around US$ 3bn compared with an average of US$ 24bn. The most expensive event was Cyclone Hudhud in early October in India with an overall loss of around US$ 7bn.

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