Insurance companies count cost of storms

A series of fierce storms in the past few years have cost Swedish insurance companies 5.2 billion kronor, leading to higher premiums and warnings of worse to come.

Claims for weather-related damage really took off following Storm Gudrun in 2005. Premiums in 2006 were the highest since the year 2000, according to statistics from the Swedish Insurance Federation.

Insurance companies Länsförsäkringar, If, Trygg-Hansa and Folksam together insure most of Sweden’s forests, according to Hans Frank, head of damages at Länsförsäkringar Skåne.

“Gudrun alone cost us three billion kronor,” he said.

Nationwide, nearly 143,000 reports were made of damage caused by winds, flooding or other natural phenomena between 2000 and 2006. The total cost was nearly 5.2 billion kronor.

No figures are yet available for 2007. Last year saw one fairly large storm, but it was not on the same scale as Gudrun. The storm could still turn out to be costly, however, as it covered a bigger geographical area than its fiercer predecessor.

Both Hans Frank or Ulf Bäckman, spokesman for If, say that the unusually large number of storms and floods are not coincidental.

“Local authorities need to take account of the fact that water levels in Lake Vänern and the Göta Älv Valley could rise. You simply can’t build too close to the water,” said Bäckman. He said that insurance companies might in future not insure people where the risk of flooding is high. Higher risks also mean higher premiums, he said.

“There is a risk that they may rise further,” he said.


IN PICTURES: Thunderstorms hit trains and roads in southern Sweden

Severe thunderstorms and heavy winds on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning have delayed trains and disrupted road traffic across southern Sweden, according to the Swedish Transport Administration.

IN PICTURES: Thunderstorms hit trains and roads in southern Sweden
A lightning bolt spreads out over the sea at the Scaniabadet swimming area in Malmö on Tuesday night. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
“There was a huge amount of lightening over night and this morning, and that knocked out the power systems,” Katarina Wolfram, a press spokesperson for the Agency told the DN newspaper. “On several stretches, barriers are down at level crossings even though there is no train coming.” 
Lightning strikes near the Turning Torso in Malmö's Western Harbour district. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
The routes between Hässleholm and Kalmar, Karlskrona and Kalmar, and Värnamo and Alvesta have all been affected.
Wolfram said it had been difficult to carry out repairs in the morning as there was still a risk of lightning strikes. 
“Lightning and working on electrical faults are not the best combination, so we are not sending out personnel to areas where there are still thunderstorms,” she said. 
The administration expects normal traffic to resume after midday. 
According to Sweden's state weather forecaster, parts of northern Skåne received as much as 24mm of rainfall on Tuesday night, while a photographer for the TT newswire took spectacular photos of forked lightning in the skies of Malmö.
The storm front is now moving north towards Östergötland in central Sweden. 
Lightning in the skies above Malmö on Tuesday night. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT