Every Massachusetts County Hit By At Least One Recent Weather Disaster; New Report Says Global Warming to Bring More Extreme Weather

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US Senator John Kerry calls on Washington to get serious about climate change.

Environment Massachusetts

Holyoke, Massachusetts —After a year that saw many parts of the country hit by scorching heat, devastating wildfires, severe storms and record flooding, a new Environment Massachusetts report 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, already, every Massachusetts county has been hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2006.

 “Millions of Bay Staters have lived through an extreme weather events that has caused major problems for Massachusetts’ economy and public safety,” said MacKenzie Clark, Environment Massachusetts Field Associate. “Given that global warming will likely fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution now.”

 “Years and years of peer reviewed scientific studies should’ve been motivation enough for Washington to get serious about climate change instead of denying its consequences and ducking tough choices, said U.S. Senator John Kerry. “This study is the latest and the last red alert that inaction is risking lives here at home. This is not business as usual for Mother Nature. I’ve never in my life seen the extreme weather patterns I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the last years in New England, and I’m sick and tired of politicians ducking the issue and finding excuses for inaction or worse. At this point, you’re either on the side of dealing with reality or you’re against it.”

 The new report, entitled In the Path of the Storm: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States, examined county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2006 through 2011 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’ 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 such as sea level rise.

 Key findings from the Environment Massachusetts report include:

  • Since 2006, federally declared weather-related disasters affected all 13 Massachusetts counties.  Recent weather-related disasters in Massachusetts included Hurricane Irene, the Halloween snow storm and Charles River flooding in 2010.
  • In 2011 alone, federally declared weather related disasters affected every Massachusetts county. Nationally, the number of disasters inflicting more than $1 billion in damage (at least 14) set an all-time record last year, with total damages from those disasters costing at least $55 billion.
  • Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 242 million people since 2006—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. 

 “The amount of weather-related disasters that have occurred throughout Western Massachusetts, and Holyoke in particular, highlight the impact that global warming has on our environment,” said Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. “In order to reduce the cost of clean-up and repairs as a result of these weather disasters, it is crucial that we explore alternatives that will reduce carbon emissions and promote clean energy.”

 Clark noted that global warming is expected to have varying impacts on different types of extreme weather events. 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 little scientific consensus about the impact of global warming on events such as tornadoes. In addition, 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.

 Toxics Action Center organizer Claire Miller also chimed in from a public health perspective, linking global warming to health effects. “Extreme weather like heat waves are hard on the very young and very old and those with heart problems and asthma, and an overall warmer climate also means more smog and soot which damage lungs over the long run,” said Miller. “Here in Holyoke, in the shadow of GDF-Suez’s coal plant, and where asthma rates are double the state average, we must take action to reduce harmful air pollution and tackle global warming.”

 “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 Clark. “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.” 

The report was released as Massachusetts officials consider ways to improve the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first-in-the-nation cap on carbon pollution from the power sector that sells permits for carbon emissions and has led to nearly $1 billion in investments in energy efficiency and clean energy solutions in the region.

 “RGGI has been a key part of Massachusetts’ strategy to reduce pollution from fossil fuels and shift to clean energy, and has led to significant investments in clean energy,” said Clark.  “By strengthening RGGI, we can help secure a clean energy future for Massachusetts.”