February Winter Storm Losses May Be As Much as $1.4 Billion

February 3, 2011

It’s no surprise that much of the United States has been blanketed by snow this week. Even Texas was iced in most of the week, and suffering from severe power emergencies. What may be surprising, though, especially if you live in a state where a bit of snow is relatively normal, is that insurance companies are estimating the losses they’ll be paying out at somewhere between $790 million and $1.4 billion, for commercial, industrial, and residential customers, and for auto insurance customers as well.

AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe modeling company, has estimated that the storm on February 1st and 2nd – one of the largest since the 1950s – affected almost 100 million people in 30 states, and covered an area from Texas to Canada, bringing with it high winds, sub-zero wind chills, freezing rain, ice, and, in some regions, more than a foot and a half of snow. In some places, seasonal records were broken in the storm, as well. Newark, NJ, for example, averages 25 inches of snow, but now has 62 inches, and there 56 inches fell on Central Park in New York, which averages 22.

In Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma, states of emergency were declared and the National Guard had to be called to help rescue motorists who got stranded. The state of Oklahoma has been declared a federal disaster area. It and Illinois were the two states that got hit the hardest.

Because of the accumulated rain, sleet, and freezing rain, there have been many roofs failing after rain-saturated snow was also added to the mix. In and around Boston, MA, more than seventy reports of roof collapses were logged, though most were commercial structures with flat roofs.

Dr. Tim Doggett, the principal scientist at the Boston-based AIR Worldwide explained, “While cleanup from the storm is underway, drifting is likely to continue to occur as a result of high winds, and there is still a potential for additional roof collapses. This is particularly true for light metal, long-span roofs such as on hangars or warehouses. Engineered structures must conform to high load tolerances and damage to these structures is therefore expected to be minimal. But the roofs of marginally engineered structures can collapse under large accumulations of snow, particularly if their roofs have not been well-maintained.”