Messages from forgotten catastrophes

20.10.2015 – 8754_web_R_K_B_by_magicpen_pixelio.deIn a new publication Swiss Re experts Peter Zimmerli, Head Atmospheric Perils, and Dominik Renggli, Expert Atmospheric Perils, delve into history to assess losses from future storms in Europe. Analysing three major winter storms that swept across late 19th century Europe, the publication argues that a rear-view mirror approach can prove just as useful as artificial scenarios purely generated by weather or climate models.

Swiss Re was moved to look more closely at these violent storms in the course of the development of its new model for the assessment of European winter storm risks. “Irrespective of the peril, we have always been convinced that to devise a sound natural catastrophe model, you need a thorough understanding of historic activity”, Zimmerli says.

To try and pin down the so-called “peak gust footprints” and general character of these historical storms, the publication could not rely on an abundance of scientific data that is available, for example, on historical hurricanes. For these, there are publicly accessible and commonly accepted “best track” lists of past events going back to the 19th century. There is no such database for European winter storms. Instead, the authors were obliged to examine written records in newspapers, scientific journals, village chronicles and forestry reports.

One of the publication’s sobering conclusions is that during the twenty-year period from 1875 to 1895, Europe was buffeted by three European winter storms that would trigger much larger insurance losses today than any comparable event in recent decades. “We look forward to discussing our findings with our stakeholders and, resources permitting, the possibility of customised research into these events and their potential impact on balance sheets”, Zimmerli concludes. (vwh/mst)

Bild: magicpen /

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