New report: Every Rhode Island county hit by multiple recent weather disasters; research says global warming to bring more extreme weather

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

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

Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center

Providence— With bizarre weather patterns this winter and recent years in which many parts of the country have experienced scorching heat, devastating wildfires, severe storms, and record flooding, a new Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center report documents how global warming could lead to certain extreme weather events becoming even more common or more severe in the future.

“The entire State of Rhode Island has seen the effects of weather related disasters, and the grave threat they pose to Rhode Island’s safety and economy,” said Channing Jones, Field Associate with Environment Rhode Island 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: 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 to determine how many Rhode Islanders live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on Environment Rhode Island’s website.

“Extreme weather events, like Rhode Island’s historic floods in 2010, can result in the loss of homes, livelihoods, and even lives,” said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “These extreme events fit a pattern predicted by climate scientists, and we should take action now to minimize the damage that carbon pollution is causing to our country and our world.”

The new report finds that every Rhode Island county has been hit by multiple federally declared weather-related disasters since 2006. 2011’s Hurricane Irene, which caused $7.3 billion in damage and 45 deaths along the East Coast, was one of the extreme weather events highlighted in the report.

At a press conference to release the report on Wednesday outside the Warwick Sewer Authority, Environment Rhode Island’s Channing Jones was joined by Scott Avedisian, Mayor of Warwick, and Janine Burke, Executive Director of the Warwick Sewer Authority. In March 2010, after heavy rains flooded the Pawtuxet River, 2500 Warwick homes and businesses were evacuated. Additionally, flood waters breached the levee protecting Warwick’s sewage treatment plant, flooding the Warwick Sewer Authority and six pumping stations, rendering the sewage treatment facility inoperable over two weeks and sending raw discharges of sewage into Narragansett Bay.

“The City of Warwick and especially the Warwick Sewer Authority have much to fear from climate change,” said Burke. “In addition to long-term concerns for the fate of our coastal infrastructure due to sea level rise, we have already had to deal with the cruel consequences of the increasing frequency and amounts of precipitation.”

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.

“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 Jones. “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.”

“It is heartening to see more people recognizing that what we collectively do can adversely affect the environment,” said Mayor Avedisian, noting that his administration has been examining “policies and programs that will help our community to further reduce energy use and curb greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report was released as Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island’s strategy to reduce pollution from fossil fuels and shift to clean energy,” said Jones. “It has led to $4 million in investments into energy efficiency programs that provided services to more than 150,000 Rhode Islanders and saved more than 80 million kilowatts of energy. By strengthening RGGI, we can help secure a clean energy future for Rhode Island.”