As thawing temperatures begin to release Texas from the record-breaking deep freeze that has gripped the state over the past week, the devastating financial toll from broken water pipes, downed trees, wrecked automobiles and related weather-induced destruction is becoming clear.
Insurance industry executives say they anticipate the price tag for recovery could approach that of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 — which resulted in $19 billion in insured losses in Texas, primarily along the Gulf Coast, and is considered the costliest storm in the state's history.
One big difference between then and now is that the current weather emergency has impacted all 254 Texas counties, a trend manifested in the large number of claims statewide that already have begun pouring in to insurance companies.
"It's clearly going to be a very costly event given the historic scope, intensity and duration of the cold wave," said Adam Smith, an applied climatologist with a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This impact is compounded due to the large cities and populations that were affected."
Still, Smith said he will be surprised if the damages surpass that of Harvey, because "hurricanes are typically the most costly weather disasters to impact the United States."
A precise financial estimate of the destruction isn't available yet, partly because the tally will keep growing over the coming days as broken pipes hidden in walls and cement slabs thaw, and as property owners and repair people are able to move around enough amid the previously frozen landscape to assess conditions.
“Just about every Texan was impacted, whether through power outages or an accident on icy roads," said Camille Garcia, communications director for the Insurance Council of Texas, a trade group.
“It is unique in so far as we have not had (an event) in years in Texas that involves claims from the entire state," Garcia said. "We are confident that we are looking at hundreds of thousands of claims" once final numbers come in.
Garcia said she thinks the ultimate amount of insured damages statewide will rival Harvey's price tag, a figure that equates to about $20 billion today when adjusted for inflation.
She and some other insurance industry experts are advising policyholders to begin filing claims as soon as they can, but also not to delay essential repairs.