“IN THE PATH OF THE STORM”
Environment Maine Research and Policy Center
Portland, ME—After another year in which many parts of the country were hit by hurricanes, scorching heat, devastating wildfires, crippling drought, severe storms and record flooding, a new Environment Maine 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.
Maine was not immune from the effects of extreme weather over the past year. Flooding of the Pleasant River in Brownville last year took one life and caused substantial damage to a local highway. While not officially termed a “disaster,” Portland experienced a record rainy day for June weather with 3.63 inches of rain. And blizzards like 2013’s nor’easter that brought power outages to nearly 20,000 people may become increasingly common.
“Extreme weather is threatening Maine’s health, safety, environment and economy,” said Alison Giest, Federal Field Organizer with Environment Maine Research & Policy Center. “Given that global warming is expected to fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution by shifting to clean energy.”
The report comes as a follow-up to last year’s “In the Path of the Storm” report and examines county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2007 through 2012 to determine how many Mainers live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment Maine Research & Policy Center website. The report also details the latest science on the projected influence of global warming on extreme weather.
Environment Maine Research & Policy Center was joined by State Rep. Ben Chipman, member of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources; Portland City Councilor David A. Marshall; and Lani Graham, MD and MPH, member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-chair of the Maine Medical Association’s Public Health Committee.
“Warming temperatures and sea-level rise are here now and will increasingly affect Maine’s environment, economy, and our way of life,” said State Rep. Ben Chipman. “We need to take serious action on climate change now.”
“Climate change has clear, demonstrated impacts in Portland that necessitates us to plan for our future and develop precautionary measures to protect our city,” said Councilor David Marshall. “We need to continue our efforts to reduce carbon emissions to limit the effect we are having on global warming.”
“Health impacts expected to be caused by climate change are both immediate and long term, and include heart attacks, heat stroke, increasing vector borne diseases, such as Lyme Disease, and respiratory problems,” said Lani Graham, MD. “We must take action to mitigate these effects and to prevent even more serious ones. We have a responsibility to both current and future generations.”
Key findings from the Environment Maine Research & Policy Center report include:
- Since 2007, weather-related disasters affected all 16 Maine counties. Cumberland County has experienced four federally declared weather-related disasters including several severe winter storms, flooding, and a tornado.
- In 2012 alone, there were 11 federally declared weather-related disasters around the country, inflicting economic damages of $1 billion or more each, including Hurricane Sandy.
- Across the country, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 243 million people since 2007—or nearly four out of five Americans. Specifically in 2012, this was 77 million people.
- New research suggests that extreme precipitation events became 85 percent more common in New England, a greater increase than any other region of the country, between 1948 and 2011. Flooding has also been the most prevalent type of extreme weather, affecting 176 million people since 2007.
Record-breaking extreme weather events were responsible were responsible for some of 2012’s worst weather-related disasters.
- Hurricane Sandy was the largest tropical cyclone in terms of area since record keeping in 1988, producing record storm tides. It took 72 lives and inflicted an estimated $50 billion in damages, making it the costliest weather-related disaster to ever hit the East Coast.
- The contiguous United States experienced its hottest month and hottest year in recorded history in 2012 by an entire degree. July was also the single warmest month on record.
- Nebraska and Wyoming experienced their driest years on record, while, at the same time, the United States experienced its most widespread drought in more than a half century.
- In 2012, wildfires burned 9.3 million acres of land in the United States—an area larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut, making it the third-largest area burned in a single wildfire since record-keeping began in 1960, and exacerbated by extended drought, higher temperatures, and lower winter snowpack.
While Hurricane Sandy shut off power for 90,000 people in Maine and disturbed shipping industries, we can expect more storms like Sandy. Flooding in the Casco Bay area will threaten the shellfish industry and will likely be beyond capacity of current storm water storage systems, posing pollution and sewage concerns in Portland.
Giest 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.
Environment Maine 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 Legislature’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee prepares to consider LD 1425, Gov. Paul LePage’s just-released energy bill. The bill would implement changes in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative already agreed to by officials in the region. It also would change the way Maine uses the revenue generated from auctioning the program’s pollution credits, shifting investments away from energy efficiency.
At the federal level, currently 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.
“The extreme weather we suffered in 2012 is a frightening reminder of why we must do everything we can to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that is fueling global warming and lessen the threat of even worse extreme weather in the future,” said Giest. “President Obama should move forward with strong limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.”
Environment Maine Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces
For more information, please visit www.environmentmainecenter.org