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A house is severely damaged after a tornado tore through the area on June 19 in Wessington Springs, S.D. The extended winter caused a slow start to the U.S. tornado season. / Joe Ahlquis,t AP

Economic losses from severe weather are well below average so far in 2014, fueled mainly by the quietest year for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in seven years, according to an analysis by German reinsurance firm Munich Re, the world's largest.

Calling it a year dominated by a "strange weather pattern," Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks research department, said insured losses from natural disasters in the USA this year have totaled $9.1 billion, below the average of $11 billion for the first six months of 2000-2013.

However, harsh winter weather caused much more damage than usual, he said, with $2.4 billion in losses. A ferocious snowstorm in early January caused $1.7 billion in damage alone, the world's third costliest weather event this year.

"The harsh winter in the Midwest and on the East Coast once again exposed the vulnerability of infrastructure in the U.S," said Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Reinsurance America. "In many cases, there were power outages for long periods, and economists estimate that the cold winter also significantly contributed to strongly negative economic growth in the first quarter."

The extended winter caused a slow start to the U.S. tornado season, which typically peaks from May to July. Losses this year from such weather - about $6 billion - are the lowest level of insured tornado and severe thunderstorm loss since 2007, Höppe said.

Japan also endured an unusually harsh winter, including a series of storms in February that ended up as the costliest natural disaster worldwide in the first half of the year.

"These extremes - with heavy winter conditions in North America and Asia and the extraordinarily mild winter across large parts of Europe - were due to significant and lengthy meanders in the jet stream," Höppe said. The jet stream, a river of fast-moving air high above the Earth, affects weather patterns at the surface.

"Scientists are still having intense debates about whether such sustained changes to patterns in the jet stream might increase in the future due to climate change," Höppe said.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, a developing El Niño climate pattern - defined by warmer-than-average water in the tropical Pacific Ocean - should be the main driver of weather in the USA and worldwide. El Niño tends to diminish hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean but increase tornadoes in the USA.

During the first half of the year, Munich Re reports that 2,700 people died worldwide as a result of natural disasters, far fewer than normal. Typically more than 53,000 people die from natural disasters from January-June each year, many in big earthquakes, of which there have been none this year.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Economic losses from weather below average

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