Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Four out of five Americans live in areas hit by recent weather disasters

Environment America press release: After yet another year in which many parts of the country were hit by scorching heat, devastating wildfires, crippling drought, record floods and severe storms like Hurricane Sandy, a new Environment America Research & Policy Center report finds that weather-related disasters are affecting hundreds of millions of Americans, and documents how global warming could lead to certain extreme weather events becoming even more common or more severe in the future.

The report found that almost 80 percent of Americans live in counties hit by at least one weather-related disaster in the last six years. Hurricane Sandy, which led to the loss of 72 lives and racked up more than $70 billion in damages in the Northeast, was cited as just one example in the report.

“Hundreds of millions of Americans have endured extreme weather causing extremely big problems for our nation’s health, safety, environment and economy,” said Nathan Willcox, federal global warming program director with Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Given that global warming will likely fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution now.”

The new report, In the Path of the Storm, examines county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2007 through 2012 to determine how many Americans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available here. The report also details the latest science on the projected influence of global warming on heavy rain and snow; heat, drought and wildfires; and hurricanes and coastal storms. Finally, the report explores how the damage from even non-extreme weather events could increase due to other impacts of global warming, like sea level rise. Key findings from the Environment America Research & Policy Center report include:
  • Federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing nearly 243 million people since 2007—or about four out of five Americans.
  • Nationally, 11 weather disasters inflicted economic damages of $1 billion or more.
  • Other research shows that the U.S. has experienced an increase in heavy precipitation events, with the rainiest 1 percent of all storms delivering 20 percent more rain on average at the end of the 20th century than at the beginning. The trend towards extreme precipitation is projected to continue in a warming world, even though higher temperatures and drier summers will likely also increase the risk of drought in between the rainy periods especially for certain parts of the country.
  • Records show that the U.S. has experienced an increase in the number of heat waves over the last half-century. Scientists project that the heat waves and unusually hot seasons will likely become more common in a warming world.
  • Other research predicts that hurricanes are expected to become even more intense and bring greater amounts of rainfall in a warming world, even though the number of hurricanes may remain the same or decrease.
Damage from the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado, shot by Eje Gustafsson, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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