In the Path of the Storm

Media Contacts
Stuart Keating

Environment Missouri Research and Policy Center

Kansas City, MO—After a year that saw many parts of the country hit by scorching heat, devastating wildfires, severe storms and record flooding, a new Environment Missouri 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 Missouri county has been hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2007.

“Millions of Americans have endured extreme weather causing extremely big problems for our nation’s health, safety, environment and economy,” said Stuart Keating, state advocate with Environment Missouri 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, In the Path of the Storm, examines county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2007 through 2012 to determine how many Americans 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 Missouri Research & Policy Center report include:

  • In 2012 alone, the near-record drought that gripped much of our state is project to cost us over $2.5 billion 
  • Federally declared weather-related disasters have affected every county in Missouri, and counties housing nearly 243 million people nationwide since 2007—or about four out of five Americans.
  • Nationally, 11 weather disasters inflicted economic damages of $1 billion or more.
  • 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 especially 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.

Keating 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 climate change increases the likelihood that we’ll see even more extreme weather in the future,” said Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II, who represents Missouri’s Fifth District. “Carbon pollution from our power plants, cars, and trucks is fueling climate change, and tackling this issue demands we cut emissions from these sources. This is also an economic issue, as increasing numbers of extreme weather events are costing our economy billions of dollars.”

Environment Missouri 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 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 Keating. “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.”