This summer's hurricanes officially most expensive in history

Insurance claims will reach a record US$23 billion following the string of hurricanes that have battered the southern states of America this summer, insurance specialists have stated.

Payments to the victims whose lives and property were affected by the hurricanes will exceed the insurance payout from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Costing insurers a total of US$15.5 billion, Hurricane Andrew was previously the costliest natural disaster in history. However, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne have each been estimated to have cost US insurance companies between US$4 billion and US$7 billion each, totalling at least US$23 billion altogether.

The insurance industry group's report pointed out that this meant four of the ten most expensive hurricanes in US history had unusually all occurred during time span of just six weeks.

"We stress that while the insurance industry has sufficient financial resources to pay the claims, the unprecedented quarter of hurricanes will make the claims handling process in Florida more difficult," the III stated.

The fact that more extreme weather events are likely to be caused by global warming has been well documented (see related story), and recent reports have voiced concerns that could cause serious problems for the insurance industry as claims have been estimated to triple by 2050 unless more action is taken to prevent climate change (see related story).

A resident of Birmingham, Alabama, which was devastated by Hurricane Ivan, said it was just lucky that most people had been evacuated before the storm hit.

"Most of the Alabama coastline was literally washed off the map," Greg Hendrick told edie. "The City of Gulf Shores looked more like Venice than a beach resort community; paved streets had become waterways, and cars and mobile homes were floating through town. Many residents are still in shock."

However, residents of the southern states should be relieved to learn that only three more storms were forecast for the rest of the Atlantic season (which runs from June to November) by the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.

This year, twelve tropical storms developed during the first four months of the Atlantic season, eleven of which turned into hurricanes, and six of which were considered "intense", with wind speeds of over 110 miles per hour.

William Gray, who led the research in Colorado, said it would be very unlikely for so many storms and hurricanes to brew up in just one season again.

"This year has been a once-in-a-lifetime type of year," Mr Gray said. "Although residents of Florida should always be prepared for landfalling hurricanes, they should not expect what we have experienced this year to become the norm for the future."

By Jane Kettle




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