Modelling European winter wind storm losses in current and future climate
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- Schwierz, C., Köllner-Heck, P., Zenklusen Mutter, E. et al. Climatic Change (2010) 101: 485. doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9712-1
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Severe wind storms are one of the major natural hazards in the extratropics and inflict substantial economic damages and even casualties. Insured storm-related losses depend on (i) the frequency, nature and dynamics of storms, (ii) the vulnerability of the values at risk, (iii) the geographical distribution of these values, and (iv) the particular conditions of the risk transfer. It is thus of great importance to assess the impact of climate change on future storm losses. To this end, the current study employs—to our knowledge for the first time—a coupled approach, using output from high-resolution regional climate model scenarios for the European sector to drive an operational insurance loss model. An ensemble of coupled climate-damage scenarios is used to provide an estimate of the inherent uncertainties. Output of two state-of-the-art global climate models (HadAM3, ECHAM5) is used for present (1961–1990) and future climates (2071–2100, SRES A2 scenario). These serve as boundary data for two nested regional climate models with a sophisticated gust parametrizations (CLM, CHRM). For validation and calibration purposes, an additional simulation is undertaken with the CHRM driven by the ERA40 reanalysis. The operational insurance model (Swiss Re) uses a European-wide damage function, an average vulnerability curve for all risk types, and contains the actual value distribution of a complete European market portfolio. The coupling between climate and damage models is based on daily maxima of 10 m gust winds, and the strategy adopted consists of three main steps: (i) development and application of a pragmatic selection criterion to retrieve significant storm events, (ii) generation of a probabilistic event set using a Monte-Carlo approach in the hazard module of the insurance model, and (iii) calibration of the simulated annual expected losses with a historic loss data base. The climate models considered agree regarding an increase in the intensity of extreme storms in a band across central Europe (stretching from southern UK and northern France to Denmark, northern Germany into eastern Europe). This effect increases with event strength, and rare storms show the largest climate change sensitivity, but are also beset with the largest uncertainties. Wind gusts decrease over northern Scandinavia and Southern Europe. Highest intra-ensemble variability is simulated for Ireland, the UK, the Mediterranean, and parts of Eastern Europe. The resulting changes on European-wide losses over the 110-year period are positive for all layers and all model runs considered and amount to 44% (annual expected loss), 23% (10 years loss), 50% (30 years loss), and 104% (100 years loss). There is a disproportionate increase in losses for rare high-impact events. The changes result from increases in both severity and frequency of wind gusts. Considerable geographical variability of the expected losses exists, with Denmark and Germany experiencing the largest loss increases (116% and 114%, respectively). All countries considered except for Ireland (−22%) experience some loss increases. Some ramifications of these results for the socio-economic sector are discussed, and future avenues for research are highlighted. The technique introduced in this study and its application to realistic market portfolios offer exciting prospects for future research on the impact of climate change that is relevant for policy makers, scientists and economists.