The repeated heavy rainfall in Germany and Austria, which has resulted in severe flooding in some areas, is not unusual for the time of year, according to Prof. Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit. The storms, which have brought chaos to Munich Re’s home state of Bavaria, are due to an upper low pressure zone.
The same weather system brought large-scale floods at the end of May/beginning of June 2013, Höppe told Reactions . However, this time they are concurrent with almost stationary shower and storm activity.
“The scientific community has not yet been able to provide clear answers as to whether climate change is influencing the frequency and intensity of the kind of weather conditions we are currently seeing, Höppe said. “Independently of these conditions, our damage data shows an increase in both the number of and damage resulting from severe weather events in Europe that are prone to cause damage.”
Throughout the period from 1980 to 2015, thunderstorms – often involving hail and heavy rainfall that caused flash floods – have been a frequent cause of damage in Germany. Depending on the value of the properties concerned, some individual loss events have very costly. Most recently the severe hailstorms of July 27–28 2013 in southwestern and northern Germany left total losses €3.6bn and storm damage in North Rhine-Westphalia on June 9 2014 caused damage totalling €0.9bn.
In Germany, damage from wind and hailstorms is often covered by buildings and contents insurance. Nearly 90% of building owners have taken out such a policy. It is different for water-related damage caused by heavy rainfall and only about 38% of homeowners in Germany purchase this type of coverage.
Also, insurance density differs greatly region by region (e.g. 27% in Bavaria compared with 95% in Baden-Württemberg).
“As has been clear over recent days, events of this type can occur almost anywhere, regardless of the location of large rivers – highlighting the importance of insurance protection covering against the dangers of the elements,” Höppe said. “The locations that have most recently been particularly affected – Simbach, Triftern and Braunsbach – are almost exclusively in areas classified as lowest-risk (risk category 1), making them very easily insurable.
“Although preventive measures such as sealed cellars and retention basins are certainly useful, they cannot prevent local extreme events such as those we have seen over recent days.”
Reliable estimates for the overall economic and insured losses from the most recent storms will take weeks to compile.
Besides regions in Germany the Seine catchment in France has been struck by torrential rainfall.
“A tributary, the Loing River, experienced the worst flood since 1910 forcing 5,000 people to leave their homes, while Paris seems to be spared from a catastrophe like 106 years ago,” said Hoppe.
“The flood stage will exceed the 6m mark, which will be the highest since 1982, but still well below the record of 8,60m in 1910. Some metro stations and many museums and other touristic locations had to be closed,” he said.
"It is still too early to give a reliable loss estimate for the most recent storms. Such estimates of overall economic and insured losses can only be obtained some weeks after an event of this kind,” Hoppe added.