A tally of damage claims for the storms that pounded the nation's midsection during the week ended May 21 has easily surpassed the level reached by the Joplin, Mo., tornado that claimed 158 lives in 2011, the deadliest U.S. twister since 1947.
The recent outbreak of tornadoes and hailstorms has generated more than 29,000 claims, according to The Des Moines Register's informal tally. That compares with 17,000 for the Joplin twister, which produced $2.8 billion in insured losses, according to the Missouri Department of Insurance.
Losses from the storms this month that hit an area stretching from Texas to Minnesota, and claimed 32 lives, are expected to reach as high as $6 billion. That figure includes an estimated $250 million of damage in Texas.
No area was hit harder than Moore, Okla., where 24 people were killed May 20, including seven students at an elementary school. More than 22,000 claims have already been filed in the state, according to the Oklahoma Insurance Department. The Register tally indicates that at least 7,000 claims have been filed outside Oklahoma.
That said, it could be worse, said Jim Wallace, chief executive officer of West Des Moines-based GuideOne Insurance. The area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains is not called "tornado alley" for nothing.
"The tornado in Oklahoma was certainly a terrible human tragedy, but 2013 in aggregate has been calmer than average from a tornado frequency standpoint," Wallace said Thursday. "January through April of this year saw far fewer tornadoes as compared to recent years. In fact, it had been shaping up to be the lowest tornado year since 1954.
"It wasn't until this storm system in May that the industry saw major tornado losses. And while this storm was very bad, the insurance industry is set up to handle these types of events."
The EQUECAT catastrophe modeling firm maintains that the 2013 tornado season is still a below-average season so far.
The National Weather Service says about a fifth of the twisters occurred May 18-20, when there were 76 tornado touchdowns and 249 hailstorms. The season runs from March through August.
The Oklahoma Insurance Department has credentialed more than 1,800 claims adjusters in Moore alone, and claims have surged as they've gone to work, according to department spokeswoman Kelly Collins.
The Register's tally of claims has surged to 29,134 in the past week, which began with 6,400 claims May 24. The increase was due partly to the addition of 6,700 State Farm claims in Oklahoma and the report of 1,585 new claims by FBL Financial Group, which pushed its total to 4,954.
The West Des Moines-based insurer does business under the Farm Bureau Financial Services brand name and does not operate in Oklahoma.
FBL insures 271,878 households in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Minnesota. It reported 2,020 claims in Iowa, 2,657 in Kansas, 219 claims in Nebraska and 58 in Minnesota.
Only 17 percent of the FBL claims were for vehicles. The rest were for residential and commercial property.
Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Mutual has reported 2,012 claims, with 81 of them in Oklahoma; Des Moines-based EMC said that it had received 60 claims; Cedar Rapids-based United Fire has reported 250 claims, with half of them in Oklahoma; and GuideOne has reported 214 claims, with 111 in Oklahoma.
U.S. property and casualty insurers cover weather-related disasters and paid out $34.2 billion in catastrophe claims in 2012 and a record $41.3 billion in 2011, according to the A.M. Best insurance rating service.