1 out of 4 Coloradans Live in Areas Hit by Recent Weather Disasters; New Report Says Global Warming to Bring More Extreme Weather

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Interactive Online Map Shows County-by-County Weather-Related Disaster History

Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center

Colorado Springs, CO—9 months after the Waldo Canyon Fire took the lives of two Coloradans, a new Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center report finds that weather-related disasters are already 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 1 out of 4 Coloradans live in counties hit by at least one weather-related disaster since 2007. Last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire, which caused over $350 million in economic damages, was one of the extreme weather events outlined in the report.

“Millions of Coloradans have endured extreme weather, causing enormous problems for Colorado’s health, safety, environment and economy,” said Margaret McCall, field associate with Environment Colorado 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, entitled “In the Path of the Storm,” examined county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2007 through 2012 to determine how many Coloradans 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 Colorado Research & Policy Center report include:

  • Since 2007, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 4 counties in Colorado housing over 1.2 million people—or nearly 1 out of 4 Coloradans. And that figure does not account for drought, which last year led to a disaster declaration for 62 of 64 Colorado counties.  A recent weather-related disaster in Colorado that garnered national attention was the Waldo Canyon Fire, which prompted the evacuation of 32,000 residents from northwest Colorado Springs, destroying 347 homes. The Waldo Canyon Fire was the nation’s costliest wildfire in 2012.
  • In 2012 alone, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 3 Colorado counties housing 945,000 people. Nationally, 11 weather disasters inflicted economic damages of $1 billion or more.
  • Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 243 million people since 2007—or nearly four out of five Americans.  
  • In the period from 1948-2011, Colorado experienced a 25% increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation. 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 and 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. 

Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center was joined in releasing the report by Councilor Coreen Toll of Manitou Springs; Ryan Cole, Executive Director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions; and Carol Ekarius, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte in releasing the new report.

“The effects of climate change result in cascading impacts, such as significant increases in damaging floods that follow the fires, which often add costs that exceed the actual cost of fighting the fire, or reductions in the tourism that fuels our economy,” Ekarius stated. “Addressing climate change is imperative to protect our natural resource values and our region’s economic vitality.”

Toll affirmed, “Climate change and its resulting weather-related disasters have provided a wake-up call to Manitou Springs and other municipalities around the planet. It’s time to heed the call.”

McCall noted that every weather event is now a product of a climate system where global warming “loads the dice” for extreme weather, though in different ways for different types of extreme weather. While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that it is “virtually certain” that hot days will become hotter and “likely” that extreme precipitation events will continue to increase worldwide, there is less scientific consensus about the impact of global warming on events such as tornadoes.

“Extreme weather is happening, it is causing very serious problems, and global warming increases the likelihood that we’ll see even more extreme weather in the future,” said McCall. “Carbon pollution from our power plants, cars and trucks is fueling global warming, and so tackling global warming demands that we cut emissions of carbon pollution from those sources.”

Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center called on decision-makers at the local, state and federal level to cut carbon pollution by expanding efforts to clean up the largest sources of pollution, shifting to clean, renewable energy, using less energy overall, and avoiding new dirty energy projects that make the carbon pollution problem even worse.

The report was released as the Obama administration is considering whether to approve construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and as the Environmental Protection Agency is developing carbon pollution limits for power plants—the largest single source of the carbon pollution that is fueling global warming.

“Between the millions of Americans who have spoken in support of strong action to address global warming, and the threat that extreme weather poses to our communities and future generations, we desperately need the president to follow his recent strong statements on global warming with equally strong action,” said McCall. “We urge President Obama to finish implementing strong limits on carbon pollution for power plants, and to reject the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”