Almost 9 out of 10 Pennsylvanians Live in Areas Hit by Recent Weather Disasters; 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

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

Six months after Hurricane Sandy led to fourteen deaths in Pennsylvania, a new PennEnvironment Research & 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.

“Millions of Pennsylvanians have endured extreme weather causing extremely big problems for Pennsylvania’s health, safety, environment and economy, said Adam Garber, Field Director with PennEnvironment 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, 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 Pennsylvanians live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on PennEnvironment’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. 

“With communities continuing to experience devastating weather-related disasters, it’s time to move us off of dirty fossil fuels,” said State Representative Steve Santarsiero (Bucks County). “We need policies that move the state and the nation towards becoming more energy efficient and using more renewable energy.”

Key findings from the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center report include:

  • Since 2007, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 52 counties in Pennsylvania housing 11,361,524 people—or nearly 9 out of 10 Pennsylvanians. Since 2007, Bucks County has experienced 8 federally declared weather-related disasters. Recent weather-related disasters in Bucks County included Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency reported fourteen deaths believed to be related to Hurricane Sandy.
  • In 2012 alone, federally declared weather-related disasters affected Pennsylvania counties housing 11,361,524 people. Nationally, 11 weather 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 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.
  • 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. 

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center was joined by State Representative Steve Santarsiero and Julia Menzo of Liberty Lutheran in releasing the new report.

“Responding to Hurricanes Ivan, Irene, and Sandy, Tropical Storm Lee, and one other major flooding event, all in the last decade, brings awareness to the fact that our climate is changing. If we’re going to meet the growing need for a response to these disasters, we need greater recognition of the sensitivity of our natural environment to human activity, including how we power our economies,” said Julia Menzo of Liberty Lutheran.

Professor Michael Mann of Penn State University also gave some input. “Increasingly extreme weather is already having a devastating effect on our economy…In 2012, thanks in part to the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy, aggregate costs exceeded $160 billion,” said Professor Mann. “The only way we will avoid increasingly greater threats and costs is by directly confronting the climate crisis.” 

Garber 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 Garber. “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.”

PennEnvironment 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 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 Garber. “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.”