Nearly 100 Percent of Minnesotans Live in Areas Hit by Recent Weather Disasters; New Report Says Global Warming to Bring More Extreme Weather

Media Contacts
Michelle Hesterberg

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

Environment Minnesota Research and Policy Center

Minneapolis, MN — Several months after flooding in Duluth led to $100 million in damages last June, a new Environment Minnesota 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 nearly 100 percent of Minnesotans live in counties hit by at least one weather-related disaster since 2007.

“Millions of Minnesotans have endured extreme weather causing extremely big problems for Minnesota’s health, safety, environment and economy,” said Michelle Hesterberg, Field Associate with Environment Minnesota 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 Minnesotans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment Minnesota’s website 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 Minnesota Research and Policy Center report include:
•    Since 2007, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 82 counties in Minnesota housing over 5 million people – or nearly 100 percent of Minnesotans. Recent weather-related disasters in St. Louis County included the extreme rainfall and flooding last June. Up to 10 inches of rain fell, causing one of the worst floods on record and over $100 million in damage.
•    In 2012 alone, federally declared weather related disasters affected 20 Minnesota counties housing over 1 million people.  Nationally, 11 weather-related 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 Minnesota has experienced an increase in heavy precipitation events, with the rainiest 1 percent of all storms delivering 12 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.

In northeastern Minnesota, many are still recovering from the flooding last summer.

“Duluth, Southern St. Louis County and Carlton County suffered the largest rainstorm in our history last June,” St. Louis County Commissioner Frank Jewell stated. “Creeks turned into rivers, hillsides were washed away and hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged and destroyed. Climate science shows that we will need to organize for other extreme weather events and we may not be ready. Certainly, as this report suggests, we should support reducing carbon pollution that is one of the proven sources of climate change,” Jewell added.

In Duluth on Tuesday, Environment Minnesota was joined by Julene Boe, Executive Director of the St. Louis River Alliance and Anni Friesen, Program Assistant with Ecolibrium3, to discuss the local impacts of last summer’s flood while releasing the new report.

“Last June’s flood devastated Duluth and the surrounding communities, many of which are along the St. Louis River,” Julene Boe of the St. Louis River Alliance said. “Many homes were destroyed, bridges were washed away, trout streams were damaged, and parks were closed for the summer. Because extreme weather events like the flooding last June will become more frequent and increasingly severe with climate change, it is critical that we prepare our communities to respond to extreme weather.”

“Climate change is real. The costs are high. For communities, disasters don’t wait until you’re ready and they don’t come with an instruction manual. Fortunately, we were able to quickly respond when the impacts of climate change were felt in our community with last year’s flood,” Anni Friesen added on behalf of Ecolibrium3, a local non-profit being recognized by the Obama administration this week for its work on climate resilience.

Michelle Hesterberg 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 Michelle Hesterberg. “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 Minnesota 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 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 Michelle Hesterberg. “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.”