93% New Yorkers Live in Areas Hit by Recent Weather Disasters

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New Report Says Global Warming to Bring More Extreme Weather

Environment New York Research & Policy Center

Albany, NY – After New York suffered more than $1 billion in damage from extreme weather in 2011, a new report by the Environment New York Research & Policy Center documents how global warming could lead to extreme weather becoming more common or severe in the future. 

The report shows that 93% of New Yorkers live in counties affected by federally declared weather-related disasters since 2006.  In 2011 alone, federal disaster declarations were issued for the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and a series of violent April and May storms across northern New York.  These storms flooded homes and business, left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without power, closed roads and mass transit lines, and tragically even took lives.

“Nearly 17 million New Yorkers have endured extreme weather during the last 5 years, storms which are costing the state millions and creating serious public safety problems,” said David VanLuven, Director of the Environment New York Research & Policy Center. “Accelerating global warming is projected to fuel even more extreme weather, which means we can expect more damage and more costs.  We must slow the rate of global warming now by cutting back on carbon pollution.”

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, shows how many New Yorkers live in counties hit by recent weather disasters based on county-level weather-related disaster declarations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2006 through 2011.

The report’s complete county-by-county information on federal disaster declarations can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment New York’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 storms and heat waves could increase due to other impacts of global warming such as sea level rise.

Key findings from the Environment New York Research & Policy Center report include:

  • Since 2006, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 48 counties housing 16.7 million people – or more than 9 out of 10 New Yorkers. Three weather-related disasters were declared in New York in 2011:
  1. Hurricane Irene, which killed 9 New Yorkers, left more than 525,000 homes without power, devastated thousands of acres of farmland, and shut down New York City’s mass transit system.
  2. Tropical Storm Lee, which deluged Binghamton, NY with more than 9” of rain and flooded the city’s downtown for the second time in five years.
  3. A series of violent storms in April & May 2011 which destroyed 14 homes and caused major damage to more than 200 homes in upstate New York.
  • Statewide, Delaware County has had the most federal disaster declarations since 2006 (with 7), but 23 other counties have had at least 4 in the last 5 years.
  • Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 242 million people since 2006—or nearly four out of five Americans.  

A 2011 report by Columbia University, Cornell University, and CUNY concluded that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are increasing temperatures in New York, which in turn is raising sea levels and increasing the frequency and intensity of storms, heat waves, and paradoxically, droughts between the storms.

In the Path of the Storm was released as New York 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 New York’s strategy to reduce pollution from fossil fuels and shift to clean energy, and has led to nearly $14 million worth of investments in renewable energy through 2011,” said VanLuven.  “By strengthening RGGI further, we can help secure a clean energy future for New York and reduce the likelihood of extreme storms.”

Due to a revision in federal weather data that occurred after production of In the Path of the Storm was complete, Texas did not post the warmest June through August ever recorded in any U.S. state during the summer of 2011; in fact, neighboring Oklahoma did, with an average temperature 0.2 degrees warmer than that of Texas. Our original finding was based on an earlier analysis by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) that indicated that Texas’ average summer temperature was 0.3 degrees warmer than Oklahoma during 2011. The average summer temperature in both states during 2011 surpassed that of the previous record-holder, the “Dust Bowl” summer of 1934 in Oklahoma, as described in the report.