Hitting Close to Home | Global Warming is Fueling Extreme Weather Across the U.S.

Every year, weather-related disasters injure or kill hundreds of Americans and cause billions of dollars in damage. [1] Many of the risks posed by extreme weather will likely increase in a warming world. Scientists have already noted increases in extreme precipitation and heat waves as global warming raises temperatures and exacerbates weather extremes. [2]  

Weather-related disasters affect millions across the country 

Since September 2010, counties housing 97 percent of the total U.S. population (nearly 310 million Americans) were affected by federally-declared weather-related disasters. Over the last five years, weather-related disasters were declared in all 50 states and in D.C. 

  • In 32 states, every county had at least one weather-related disaster. 
  • More than 57 million Americans live in counties that were affected by five or more weather disasters. 

Extreme weather events caused at least 405 power outages in the U.S. since 2010, affecting more than 70 million Americans. [3]
In 2015, there were 10 weather and climate disaster events that cost over $1 billion each across the United States. 

 

New online map shows personal stories of extreme weather

Environment America’s new interactive extreme weather map shows weather-related disasters in the United States over the last five years and tells the stories of the people and communities who have endured some of those disasters. Map visitors can focus in on specific types of weather and even add their own stories of how extreme weather has affected their lives.

 

Weather extremes are becoming more common 

  • Globally, 2015 was Earth’s hottest year on record, surpassing 2014, which beat out 2010. The three warmest years in the historical record have happened in the past six years. [4]
  • California is experiencing its worst drought in more than a millennium. 
  • The flooding in South Carolina during the fall of 2015 was triggered by record rainfall. In the first week of October, the state received more precipitation than it had ever recorded for an entire month of October.
  • For the first time on record, in 2015 wildfires in the U.S. burned more than 10 million acres in a single year

Many types of extreme weather are expected to become more frequent or severe in a warming world, which could lead to more weather-related disasters. 

  • Tropical Storms and Hurricanes: Global warming has the potential to make tropical storms more destructive. Hurricanes and other coastal storms [5] are likely to be more powerful and rainier [6], while storm surges could be more destructive as sea levels rise. [7]
  • Heavy Rain and Snow: Extreme precipitation is already increasing; continued trends could increase the risk of intense downpours, heavy snowstorms and severe flooding. [8]
  • Droughts and Wildfires: While global warming is anticipated to bring more rain to some areas, it will also likely elevate temperatures and extend dry spells. The potential for stronger drought—and greater area burned by wildfires—will increase, particularly in the West and Southwest. 
     

The United States must continue to cut global warming pollution 

To protect our communities and our children from a future of worsening extreme weather, states, cities, and the nation should limit global warming pollution to levels consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement—at least 40 percent below 1990 emissions by 2030 and at least 80 percent by mid-century. Essential steps include: 

  • Fully Implement the Climate Action Plan. The United States should forge ahead with the Climate Action Plan, including cleaning up big trucks, limiting methane pollution, and implementing the Clean Power Plan, the first federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants. 
  • Maximize energy efficiency. The nation should accelerate progress in making our buildings, appliances, industry and transportation more efficient. 
  • Shift to 100 percent clean power. Meeting our climate goals will require accelerating deployment of clean, renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. 
  • Use clean energy for transportation and heating. Governments and businesses should shift our transportation and industrial energy systems away from fossil fuels and toward electricity or other kinds of clean energy. 
  • Keep dirty fuels in the ground. To protect the global climate and our health, the nation must cease construction of any new fossil fuel infrastructure and leave our coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground. 

 

For full methodology, citations and the online map, please visit www.EnvironmentAmerica.org/ExtremeWeather 
For the downloadable PDF, click here.

Sources

[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Table of Events,” archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20151016175308/https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events, accessed on 1 March 2016.

[2] E.M. Fischer and R. Knutti, “Anthropogenic Contribution to Global Occurrence of Heavy-Precipitation and High-Temperature Extremes,”Nature doi: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2617, 27 April 2015. 

[3] Inside Energy (IE), “Data: Explore 15 Years of Power Outages,” archived at http://insideenergy.org/2014/08/18/data-explore-15-years-of-power-outages/, accessed 1 March 2016.

[4] Rebecca Lindsey, “No Surprise, 2015 Sets New Global Temperature Record,” Climate.gov by NOAA, 1 March 2016.

[5] Gabriele Villarini and Gabriel Vecchi, “Projected Increases in North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Intensity from CMIP5 Models,” Climate, 26: 3232-3240, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00441.1, 24 October 2012.

[6] E. Scoccimarro et al., “Intense Precipitation Events Associated with Landfalling Tropical Cyclones in Response to a Warmer Climate and Increased CO2,” Climate, 27(12):4642-4654, doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00065.1, June 2014.

[7] C. Tebaldi, B. Strauss and C. Zervas, “Modelling Sea Level Rise Impacts on Storm Surges Along US Coasts,” Environmental Research Letters, 7(1), 14 March 2012.

[8] Donald Wuebbles et al., “CMIP5 Climate Model Analyses: Climate Extremes in the United States,” American Meteorological Society Journal, 95(4), April 2014.