Interactive Online Map Shows County-by-County Weather-Related Disaster History
Concord— Eight months after Hurricane Sandy led to significant damage in Massachusetts, a new Environment Massachusetts Research and 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 every Massachusetts county has been hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2007. Last year’s Hurricane Sandy, which caused significant damage in Massachusetts, was one of the extreme weather events outlined in the report.
“Hundreds of thousands of Bay Staters have endured extreme weather causing extremely big problems for Massachusetts’s health, safety, environment and economy,” said Danielle Falzon, Energy Associate with Environment Massachusetts Research and 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 Bay Staters live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment Massachusetts’s website. 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 Massachusetts Research and Policy Center report include:
- Since 2007, federally declared weather-related disasters affected all 14 Massachusetts counties. Recent weather-related disasters in Massachusetts included Hurricane Sandy, Severe Snowstorms and Tropical Storm Irene.
- In 2012 alone, federally declared weather-related disasters affected Massachusetts counties housing 2,020,110 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.
- 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 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 Massachusetts Research and Policy Center was joined by Alison Field-Juma, Liisa Jackson and Professor Chuck Fidler in releasing the new report.
“We can expect to see more floods, dry streambeds, and water pollution due to climate disruption if we don’t take action now and make smarter long-term investments,” said Alison Field-Juma, Executive Director of OARS. “This report helps all of us by clearly presenting and explaining the current understanding of our rapidly changing climate and its impacts on our daily lives.”
“The effects of increased severe weather events as a function of climate change are extremely complex,” said Chuck Fidler, Professor of Science and Science Education, Wheelock College. “It is not simply enough to think about frequencies or intensities of storms or disasters, but how these events affect everything from food production, disease, public utility access, school bus service, and our communities-at-large.”
Falzon 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 Falzon. “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 Massachusetts Research and 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 two months after Massachusetts officials joined officials from eight other states in announcing a new agreement to make deeper cuts in power plant carbon emissions that would lead to a 20 percent reduction over the next decade. The states must now revise their rules in order to carry out the agreement.
“In the wake of Winter Storm Nemo, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, the Northeast must double-down on its commitment to lead the nation in reducing the pollution that’s warming the planet and changing our climate,” said Falzon. “We need Massachusetts officials to follow through on their commitment to strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and reduce carbon pollution from power plants.”
Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center is a statewide, citizen-based, environmental non-profit organization working toward a cleaner, greener, healthier future.