‘Derecho’ damage approached half a billion dollars in Ohio

The “derecho” wind storms of late June and early July were the third-most expensive natural disaster in Ohio in 38 years.

Only the tornado outbreak in Xenia in 1974 and the hurricane-borne winds of 2008 created costlier damage, according to an insurance trade association.

Statewide preliminary estimates put insured losses at $433.5 million to $440 million for the June 28-July 4 period, the Ohio Insurance Institute said.

“Any time there’s a huge amount of loss like that, of that magnitude, it’s a surprise,” said Mitch Wilson, an OII spokesman.

Wilson couldn’t say which areas of Ohio were hit hardest, but much of the damage focused on roofs and downed trees, as well as wind and rain damage to homes’ contents.

Damage from the Hurricane Ike wind storm four years ago exceeded $1.2 billion, while the 1974 tornado outbreak created $1 billion in damage. Both figures are based on 2008 dollars, the OII said.

No specific 2012 storm damage totals for Clark County were available Monday, but the county did meet the federal assistance threshold of at least $469,000, Clark County Emergency Management Agency Director Lisa D’Allessandris said. The county likely sustained more than $524,000 in damage.

Springfield Twp. is in its last week of clean-up and New Carlisle just completed its work, she said.

An email sent Monday afternoon by the Ohio EMA to local emergency management agencies said the governor has requested the president declare a major disaster, D’Allessandris said. Clark County was included in the request.

“There is no set time frame for FEMA to review or for the president to make a decision on the request,” she said.

The most damaging local event since 2008 put into action two major plans developed in Clark County after Hurricane Ike.

Canvassing teams checked the welfare of residents door-to-door, and the 211 information and referral hotline from the United Way was used to distribute information.

Although a specific figure for storm damage in Champaign County also wasn’t available, the county did meet at least the $136,000 threshold to qualify for federal assistance, said Craig Evans, director of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency.

Three areas in Champaign County are still conducting cleanup efforts — North Lewisburg, St. Paris and the Champaign County Engineer’s Department. In St. Paris, the village efforts to clean up after the storm are about half complete, said Joe Sampson, village administrator. A handful of buildings sustained roof damage from the storms, he said, but the majority of the cleanup remaining is trees and brush.

Evans said he was not surprised by the severity of the storm.

“We took some damage, mostly from trees and downed power lines,” Evans said.

A derecho is defined as a wall of intense and fast windstorms. The late June storm left a more than 700-mile swath of damage across parts of the Midwest and the East Coast, cutting power to millions, according to AccuWeather, of State College, Pa. Thirteen people were killed.

The National Weather Service said the storm covered 600 miles in 10 hours, while the weather service station in Wilmington put high-wind gusts at 80 mph in several communities, including Dayton, Coldwater and Gahanna.

Insured losses ranged from $20,000 to nearly $61 million, the OII said.

Ohio’s total damage from the June-July storms may well be higher, Wilson said. The $433 million figure is based on survey responses from 27 of OII member companies — companies which represent 76 percent of the auto coverage market in Ohio and 73 percent of the state’s home ownership market, he said.

Jamie Simpson, WHIO-TV meteorologist, has long noted that straight-line wind events need to be taken as seriously as tornadoes. While tornadoes can strike in a scattershot fashion, “straight-line wind events blow through and they hit everybody,” Simpson said.

Insurance watchers say the storms are part of an undeniable trend that will be felt when insurers calculate new rates.

“The derecho is just the latest in a multi-year string of events,” said Robert Hartwig, president and economist of the New York City-based Insurance Information Institute.

Nationally, there were about $9.3 billion in insured catastrophe losses in the first half of 2012, $8.8 billion of that due to thunderstorms and wind events, Hartwig said. That makes 2012, so far, the third most expensive year ever, he said.

While hurricane activity has been somewhat muted since 2008, it’s the Midwest and South that seem to be experiencing much of nature’s wrath, he said. He cited the 2011 tornadoes that hit Joplin, Mo. and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

This is the eighth “major natural disaster” to hit Ohio since 2011, according to Dan Kelso, OII president. The institute also counts two winter storms in 2011 and six “wind-hail” storms, it said in a statement.

Insurance companies cannot raise rates to recoup losses, and they aren’t permitted to attribute rate increases to single events, Wilson said. But they can take into account loss history and modeling predictions of weather patterns, he said.

The state Department of Insurance is charged with determining whether proposed insurance rates are appropriate, he said.

“The history of the losses are taken into account, without a doubt,” Wilson said.

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