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

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

Environment Missouri Research and Policy Center

St. Louis, 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 county in Missouri has been hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2006. In Southwest Missouri, Webster County is one of only ten counties in the US that has been hit by ten weather disasters since 2006. The extreme flooding of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in 2011, which caused the inundation of 200 square miles of farmland in Missouri, is one of the extreme weather events highlighted in the report.

“Nearly all of Missouri’s 6 million residents have lived through extreme weather in recent years, harming our economy and our public safety,” said Ted Mathys, Environment Missouri Advocate. “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: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States, examines county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2006 through 2011. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment Missouri’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 such as sea level rise.

Key findings include:

  • Since 2006, federally declared weather-related disasters affected all 115 Missouri counties. Webster County is one of only ten counties nationwide that has experienced ten federally declared weather-related disasters since 2006.
  • Recent weather-related disasters in Missouri include the extreme flooding of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in 2011. That spring, the Missouri basin topped its all-time record for monthly runoff. Throughout most of Missouri, the swollen river was closed to both commercial and recreational vessels for several months, and contributed to massive flooding in the Mississippi River. In order to save the town of Cairo, Illinois, the Bird’s Point levee was demolished, inundating 200 square miles of Missouri farmland and destroying some 70 homes. Temporary and permanent repairs to the levee are expected to cost at least $25 million.
  • In 2011 alone, federally declared weather related disasters affected 98 counties housing more than 3.5 million Missourians. Nationally, the number of disasters inflicting more than $1 billion in damage (at least 14) set an all-time record, 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.

Environment Missouri was joined by Phillip Iman, Disaster Coordinator for the American Red Cross, Capital Area Chapter, in releasing the report.

“The American Red Cross stands ready to work together with all of our partner organizations to meet the needs of all people affected by disaster,” said Iman. “The free disaster relief provided by the Red Cross is funded solely by donations from the American public and the generous donation of time by our trained volunteers, and the recent series of disasters have definitely stretched our resources.”

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 a product of a climate system where global warming now “loads the dice” for extreme weather, although in different ways for different types of extreme weather.

“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 Mathys. “Carbon pollution from our power plants, cars and trucks is fueling global warming. So tackling global warming demands that we cut emissions of carbon pollution from those sources.”

The report was released as the Obama administration is finalizing historic new carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, and as the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to develop carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants—the largest single source of the carbon pollution that is fueling global warming. At the same time, some polluting industries and their allies in Congress are working to block these and other clean air standards.

“We applaud the Obama administration for the clean car standards they are finalizing, and urge EPA to move ahead with strong carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants,” said Mathys. “The extreme weather we suffered through in 2011 is a sobering 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.”