by Jackie Weidman
Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared that his state needs $42 billion to recover from Hurricane Sandy and to protect against future extreme weather events. Three quarters of this sum is just for damage repair and restoration of homes, businesses, and mass transit.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also announced that Sandy caused $29.5 billion in economic costs there, cautioning that the estimate will likely rise after next summer’s tourism season and real estate values take a hit.
Cuomo urged that mitigating damage from future storms is essential, as climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather. “There has been a series of extreme weather incidents,” Cuomo said just days after Sandy’s landfall. “We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns.”
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) warned that obtaining federal funding for recovery efforts could be difficult, especially during the fiscal showdown. Schumer said that an emergency supplemental appropriations bill will be introduced in December and that it “will be an effort that lasts not weeks, but many months, and we will not rest until the federal response meets New York’s deep and extensive needs.”
Additionally, the House of Representatives hasn’t been friendly to disaster relief. In both 2011 and 2012, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee proposed cutting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) budget by $87 million and an additional $182 million, respectively.
This isn’t the first time that states have asked Congress for disaster funding, and it certainly won’t be the last. FEMA only has $12 billion in disaster aid to provide annually. Yet in 2011 and 2012, the U.S. experienced at least $126 billion in direct costs just from extreme weather events that caused $1 billion in damages or more.
A recent Center for American Progress report called “Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle- and Lower-Income Americans,” finds that the vast majority of U.S. counties – 67 percent – were affected by at least one of the 21 billion-dollar extreme weather events in the past two years. The report found that lower- and middle- income households are disproportionately affected by the most expensive extreme weather events.
Although New Jersey and New York account for the lion’s share of damages from Hurricane Sandy, they aren’t the only states slammed by extreme weather. Sixteen states were afflicted by five or more extreme weather events in 2011-12. Households in disaster-declared counties in these states earn $48,137, or seven percent below the U.S. median income. These states were ravaged by hurricanes and tropical storms, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, floods and crippling drought.
After Superstorm Sandy, droughts are the second and third most costly extreme weather events in 2011-12, respectively. Extremely dry conditions over the past two years resulted in long drought seasons that caused at least $40 billion in economic damages combined.
This year, the worst drought in decades continues to ravage the south-central United States. Drought conditions expanded and intensified this month after retreating in September and October, according to the November 20 drought monitor. Eric Luebehusen, a meteorologist with the Agriculture Department told E&E News that this could be the worst winter wheat season since 1995, as dry conditions deplete irrigation storage and stifle secondary root growth. A Purdue University economist estimates that the 2012 drought will cause up to $77 billion in economic costs, and experts at the University of Illinois predict that taxpayers will ultimately be responsible for at least $10 billion of them.
These are just some of the costs that extreme weather has inflicted on the U.S. economy in recent years. Lasting effects are felt on national, state, and local levels as families must rebuild destroyed homes, small business owners suffer from loss of business, and states scramble to come up with the funds for recovery.
Hurricane Sandy is the exclamation point on the warnings about climate change, after the deadly and expensive extreme weather events repeatedly struck the United States in 2011 and 2012. We are not helpless victims on the receiving end of a suddenly angrier climate; these recent weather events are a call to action and preparation.
Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.