Severe drought, flooding and winter storms topped the list of natural perils in March, according to the latest Global Catastrophe Recap report from Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting.

The U.S. was hit by multiple storm systems in March:

  • One notable winter storm brought significant snow, sleet and freezing rain accumulations as well as isolated flooding to the Carolinas and Virginia, leading to total economic damages of around $100 million and an expected insurance payout above $50 million.
  • Hail as large as softballs and winds gusting in excess of 80 mph caused significant damage in Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida.
  • Rainfall, ice jams and the rapid melting of an above normal snowpack led to flooding across parts of Montana and Wyoming, and a statewide flood emergency was declared in Montana. Total economic damages to property and infrastructure were estimated to be $10 million.

As of March 31, economic damages for the 2013/2014 U.S. winter season stood at $5.7 billion, with at least $2.6 billion covered by insurance, according to Impact Forecasting. Meanwhile, Europe endured its costliest windstorm season since 2009/2010, with insurers expected to pay out more than $4 billion in storm-related claims.

Also in the United States, a nearly mile-wide mudslide struck the community of Oso, Washington March 22, killing 34 people and causing about $10 million in economic damages.

Severe drought conditions worsened in northeastern Brazil during March, as officials began calling it the worst drought in 50 years. The agricultural sector sustained extensive damage, leading to agricultural losses in excess of $4.3 billion. (Around 10 percent of Brazilian farm land is covered by insurance.)

In Pakistan, a major drought continued during the month, killing at least 212 people in the Sindh Province and resulting in significant loss of livestock and agriculture. The government has allocated $18 million for relief and recovery.

Persistent rainfall in South America caused multiple rivers to burst their banks, flooding parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The rains were most pronounced in the Brazilian states of Rondonia (near the border of Bolivia) and Acre (near the border of Peru), where a combined 29,500 families were left homeless. Total economic losses in the region were estimated in excess of $200 million.

Significant floods also occurred in South Africa, killing 32 people and causing $85 million in economic damages, and in New Zealand, with a 100-year rainfall event affecting the Canterbury region.

China was hit by three separate stretches of severe weather that impacted central, eastern and southern sections of the country. Data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs indicates that 26 people were killed, 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and total economic damages reached $374 million.

“Despite the nearly 70 natural disaster events experienced globally during the first quarter of 2014, the financial losses attributed to these events were largely negligible to economies and insurers,” said Steve Bowen, associate director and meteorologist within Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting team.

“The preliminary tallies of nearly $20 billion in economic damages and $7 billion in insured losses were both close to the level of losses sustained in 2012 and 2013 but well below those seen in 2010 and 2011,” Bowen noted. “However, while this year’s first-quarter losses were manageable for insurers, it is worth remembering that the second and third quarters are historically the costliest for the industry as severe thunderstorms, floods, droughts, and tropical cyclone activity become more prevalent.”