Severe Thunderstorms in the US and Canada Account for 80% of Property-Casualty Losses

Think of costly disasters and these leap to mind: tornados, hurricanes and wildfires. Surprisingly, these weather events cause far less property loss and damage than a much more commonplace event, one that can strike nearly anyone at any time during the warm months. Below we review the top causes of property loss based on 2019 statistics, from most costly to least costly.


#1: Thunderstorms. Responsible for 80 percent of insured losses in 2019, stemming from 49 significant events. 


Severe thunderstorms cause devastating losses, with one recent event standing out: the 2020 upper Midwest derecho storm. Derechos – straight-line windstorms with gusts up to 225 kilometers per hour – are associated with a rapidly moving squall line of thunderstorms. The center of the continent, from northern Canada through the American south, is at particular risk for these extreme windstorms, which can travel thousands of miles and last many hours. Part of the reason thunderstorms comprise the bulk of property losses? They occur anywhere across North America, and though concentrated in the warmer months in northern regions, they continue year-round in southern locations.

#2: Winter Storms and Tropical Cyclones. Responsible for about eight percent of insured losses in 2019, stemming from 21 significant events.

 A distant second to thunderstorms in percentage of insured losses, these storms are severe but usually forecast days ahead, allowing property owners to plan and take preventive measures. One recent event, however, demonstrated these storms’ unpredictability: hurricane Isaias. This storm, which barely attained hurricane-force winds, caused US$4-5 billion in damage in the United States alone, making it the costliest tropical cyclone to hit North America since Sandy in 2012. Forecasters recently upgraded the 2020 hurricane season from “active” to “very active.”

#3: Wildfire, Heatwaves and Droughts.  Responsible for about six percent of insured losses in 2019, stemming from 9 events. 

In the United States, 2019 wildfire destruction was at its lowest level since 2004. The number of acres affected was low nationwide, including in California, where utilities cut power at times to reduce risk. Conversely, some areas of Canada experienced an extreme fire season. Notably, 2019 wildfires in northern and central Alberta burned almost two million acres, or nearly four times the typical land area burned over a five-year span in that region. Forecasters point to climate change, higher temperatures and lengthier droughts as fuel for extended wildfire seasons and intensified blazes. They expect above-average fire activity in 2020.

#4: Floods and Earthquakes. Responsible for less than five percent of insured losses in 2019, stemming from 11 events.

Though flood losses were less than those caused by wildfires last year, inundation significantly affected certain regions in 2019. Spring flooding in eastern Canada in late April and May across Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick devastated residents and properties in these areas. In the United States, three significant floods affected 14 million people along the Mississippi, Missouri and Arkansas rivers. Earthquakes comprise a small number of losses to ensured property.

Are you a commercial owner requiring planning to reduce damage due to natural disasters? Remember, they can happen anytime anywhere. Choose your mitigation and restoration partner now by calling your local Paul Davis office.