Earth’s driest continent has been served up a year of cataclysmic floods, with a third consecutive La Nina costing insurers more than $6 billion

By John Deex

Unprecedented” can be a dangerous word to use – but 2022 has set a number of records in relation to floods that hopefully won’t be repeated anytime soon.

Sydney, for example, broke its annual rainfall record after just 279 days of the year, with records dating back to 1859.

The flood catastrophe that hit New South Wales and Queensland in February and March is also in the record books as the Australian natural disaster with the highest value of insurance claims – $5.65 billion and still rising.

That event led to more than 237,000 claims, but the flooding didn’t end there.
NSW was hit again in July, with another 22,000 claims rolling in (valued at $244 million), and in October it was Victoria’s turn to be devastated by overflowing river systems, along with Tasmania and NSW. Add another 17,000 claims to the grim tally ($477 million).

In November, another significant event was declared in central-western towns in NSW – where drought is feared more than rain, until now. That brought another 3500 claims and counting.

There was also a myriad of smaller events, causing misery and mayhem across the country.

The cause? A very rare “triple dip” La Nina is at least partly to blame. Throw into the mix climate change with the uncertainties it brings, joined by other weather drivers such as the Indian Ocean Dipole and you have a destructive mix that brought incessant rain and massive flooding on the east coast.

Coverage on of industry loss events through 2022 has been dominated by floods this year. Issues reported on included the widening unaffordability of flood cover, coupled with unavailability for farmers, and the sheer volume of claims that has at times overwhelmed insurers.

Devastation: Forbes, NSW, following flooding in November. Picture supplied by Nearmap, which aims to capture aerial imagery following every major natural disaster in Australia

However, there has been a response from governments to the need for genuine mitigation spending and building resilient communities. The scale of the floods has forced the states into action.

NSW and Queensland have announced buy-back and build-back schemes for the worst-affected residents, and the Federal Government came good on its commitment to provide $200 million a year for mitigation measures.

The Insurance Council of Australia says the events of this year should act as a “collective catalyst”.

“A relentless third La Nina season has left almost half of eastern Australia waterlogged and suffering,” CEO Andrew Hall says.

“Our climate is testing the nation’s readiness and proving once again that more needs to be done to protect communities from the extremes we are living with.

“All this hardship is our collective catalyst for long-term change to better protect Australian communities. We must take this opportunity to build back better.”

Mr Hall says the frequency and severity of the year’s flood events requires meaningful action from the industry and from government policymakers.

“This means resilient homes, more mitigation, a thorough review of land-use planning and moving people out of harm’s way. Together we are making progress but there is still more to do.”

At the time of writing, the negative Indian Ocean Dipole is drawing to an end, while the La Nina system that has dominated the weather is expected to wrap up early in 2023.

No one would dispute that in the eastern states in particular Australians are due a calmer spell of weather in 2023 – but that’s far from guaranteed.