Articles | Volume 17, issue 9
Research article
29 Sep 2017
Research article |  | 29 Sep 2017

Surface water floods in Switzerland: what insurance claim records tell us about the damage in space and time

Daniel B. Bernet, Volker Prasuhn, and Rolf Weingartner

Abstract. Surface water floods (SWFs) have received increasing attention in the recent years. Nevertheless, we still know relatively little about where, when and why such floods occur and cause damage, largely due to a lack of data but to some degree also because of terminological ambiguities. Therefore, in a preparatory step, we summarize related terms and identify the need for unequivocal terminology across disciplines and international boundaries in order to bring the science together. Thereafter, we introduce a large (n = 63 117), long (10–33 years) and representative (48 % of all Swiss buildings covered) data set of spatially explicit Swiss insurance flood claims. Based on registered flood damage to buildings, the main aims of this study are twofold: First, we introduce a method to differentiate damage caused by SWFs and fluvial floods based on the geographical location of each damaged object in relation to flood hazard maps and the hydrological network. Second, we analyze the data with respect to their spatial and temporal distributions aimed at quantitatively answering the fundamental questions of how relevant SWF damage really is, as well as where and when it occurs in space and time.

This study reveals that SWFs are responsible for at least 45 % of the flood damage to buildings and 23 % of the associated direct tangible losses, whereas lower losses per claim are responsible for the lower loss share. The Swiss lowlands are affected more heavily by SWFs than the alpine regions. At the same time, the results show that the damage claims and associated losses are not evenly distributed within each region either. Damage caused by SWFs occurs by far most frequently in summer in almost all regions. The normalized SWF damage of all regions shows no significant upward trend between 1993 and 2013. We conclude that SWFs are in fact a highly relevant process in Switzerland that should receive similar attention like fluvial flood hazards. Moreover, as SWF damage almost always coincides with fluvial flood damage, we suggest considering SWFs, like fluvial floods, as integrated processes of our catchments.

Short summary
To quantify the relevance of surface water floods in Switzerland, we introduce and analyze an exhaustive set of insurance flood damage claims. First, we present a method to classify such claims and then we analyze the classified data with respect to space and time. The results reveal that just as fluvial floods are responsible for vast damage in Switzerland, so too are surface water floods. Accordingly, surface water floods should receive similar attention like fluvial floods.
Final-revised paper