9 out of 10 Virginians Live in Areas Hit by Recent Weather Disasters

New Report Says Global Warming to Bring More Extreme Weather

Environment Virginia Research and Policy Center

Newport News, VA— After another year in which many parts of the country were hit by scorching heat, devastating wildfires, crippling drought, severe storms and record flooding, a new Environment Virginia 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.

The report found that more than 95 percent of Virginians live in counties hit by at least one federally-declared weather-related disaster since 2007.

“Millions of Virginians have endured extreme weather with extreme consequences for Virginia’s health, safety, environment and economy,” said Sarah Frost, Assistant Field Director with the Environment Virginia 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 Virginians live in counties and independent cities hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available on the Environment Virginia Research and Policy Center 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 like sea level rise.

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

  • Newport News and its surrounding counties have experienced two weather-related disasters in the last four years alone. 
  • Since 2007, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 126 counties and independent cities in Virginia housing 7.8 million people—or more than 9 out of 10 Virginians. 
  • Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 243 million people since 2007—or nearly four out of five Americans. 
  • Nationally, 11 weather disasters inflicted economic damages of $1 billion or more.
  • 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.

Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center was joined by Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia’s 3rd District and Senior Climate Scientist at NASA Langley Bruce Wielicki in releasing the report.

“Global climate change is one of the most serious and challenging problems facing our nation, and I am committed to ensuring that Congress does its part in mitigating the effects of global warming,” Representative Scott stated.

“I am pleased to join Environment Virginia in calling attention to the effect that global warming will have on Virginians and residents of Hampton Roads.”

Said Wielicki, “Hampton Roads is one of America’s areas most vulnerable to climate change because of future sea level rise.

“If we want to protect our investments and our community, we should be leaders and not followers in taking action.”

Frost 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 Frost. “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.”

Environment Virginia 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 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 Frost. “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.”