Catastrophes represent ”one of the most challenging periods for the insurance industry since the Canterbury earthquake sequence” - PERILS

PERILS has disclosed its initial industry loss estimate for Cyclone Gabrielle, which brought extreme rainfall and strong winds to the North Island of New Zealand during the period of 11 to 17 February 2023.

Based on loss data collected from the New Zealand insurance market, property claims currently stand at $1.543 billion. 

Darryl Pidcock, head of PERILS Asia-Pacific, commented: “New Zealand has largely been spared from catastrophic weather events in the past 50 years. This makes it all the more unusual that two billion-dollar weather events, first the North Island Floods and then Cyclone Gabrielle, should occur within weeks of each other.

”These catastrophes represent one of the most challenging periods for the insurance industry since the Canterbury earthquake sequence of 2010/11.”

Supply chain disruption

The cyclone and floods caused significant disruption to supply chains, particularly for major ports close to Auckland, which were unable to allow ships to berth until the storm had passed. 

High swells around the Port of Tauranga have also led to the suspension of all vessel callings at the port. 

Maersk has issued an advisory to customers informing them that ships have had to leave Tauranga port’s anchorage and are now at sea, where they will remain until it is deemed safe for them to return.

Cyclone Gabrielle arrived just two weeks after devastating floods had affected Auckland and surrounding areas on the North Island of New Zealand.

Inundated North Island

Although the eye did not make landfall, its width and intensity ensured that its impact was felt across most of the North Island, especially affecting the Hawke’s Bay region, and Auckland and surrounding areas with extreme rainfall and strong winds.

Large parts of the North Island experienced wind gusts of 90-110 km/h, with a peak gust of 141 km/h recorded at Cape Reinga at North Island’s northernmost tip. Rainfall in excess of 200 mm was widespread, with the Raparapaririki station in the Gisborne district receiving 568 mm within 48 hours.

The impact of Cyclone Gabrielle was amplified as the torrential rain fell on saturated soils from the previous wet weather. Moreover, storm surge and high tides contributed to the catastrophe, which in addition to inland flood and wind damage saw coastal inundation and landslides damaging property and critical infrastructure.

Pidcock added: “We believe that our second New Zealand industry loss report within two weeks will contribute to a better understanding of weather risk and in turn the ongoing insurability of atmospheric perils.

”Moreover, our industry loss data are used as triggers for catastrophe risk protections and thus facilitate the flow of risk capital into the New Zealand insurance market.”