Cost Of Superstorm Sandy, And Other 2012 Extreme Weather Events, On The Rise

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.

12 Responses to Cost Of Superstorm Sandy, And Other 2012 Extreme Weather Events, On The Rise

  1. Leif says:

    Looks like we have one of two choices here. We continue to say these events are an “act of God” and We taxpayers pick up the tab or we accept what ~97% of climate scientists are telling us that CO2 and related pollutants are the major contributer and have the fossil Barons step up to the plate as well. After all the big five could cover all of Sandy costs and still have change on last years tax free profits alone.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Meanwhile, a series of recent climate reports have underscored the depth of the challenge before the U.N. climate negotiators. A report released Tuesday by the U.N. Environment Program warned current climate projections are likely too conservative because they don’t factor in the thawing of permafrost – a layer of soil that stays frozen year-round in cold climates.

    Lead author Kevin Schaefer, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, said 1,700 gigatons of carbon are locked up in permafrost primarily in the U.S., China, Russia and Canada. He called for further studies on the potential climate impact if it’s released, saying up to 39 percent of total emissions could come from permafrost by 2100.

  3. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    This year’s top 2 catastrophies may approach 100 billion dollars when they are fully accounted for, hurricane sandy and the midwest drought. Have we ever had two 100 billion dollar weather events at the same time?

    For the new york area, sandy was a big one, but not the big one, weather models show a catagory 3 storm can push a storm surge of 20 – 30 feet into the new york area, i assume damage would be 500 billion to a trillion dollars. How do you explain this to someone who wants to rebuild after sandy, or someone who wants to buy real estate in the flood zone?

  4. NJP1 says:

    everybody is throwing billions of dollar figures around, but missing the point here
    Hurricane Sandy hit the coast with a certain force, and the energy unleashed did damage, it knocked down buildings and so on
    it therefore follows that we have to repair that damage by using still more energy.
    that means hydrocarbon energy, oil, to rebuild, pump out and so on.
    So to repair the damage caused by global warming, we have no option but to burn hydrocarbons that caused the problem in the first place.
    But fossil fuels are costing more year on year, whereas natures forces are unlimited.
    Pretty soon we shall reach the point where whatever nature knocks down is going to stay down because we won’t have the means to put it back up again

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s like knocking out the strands of a spider’s web. One by one they weaken the carefully constructed web until the critical mass of weaknesses causes the whole thing to suddenly collapse. So it will be with industrial civilization, built on the sands of greed and arrogant indifference to the natural world.

  6. wili says:

    A hundred billion here, a hundred billion there…pretty soon you’re talkin’ about real money!

    Methinks David Roberts’ (in his otherwise excellent video) quoted estimation that every year of delay in getting serious about reducing ghgs will cost $500 billion is a bit of an under-estimate.

    Watch it!

  7. wili says:

    Particularly when we are putting buildings back up exactly in the places where they are most likely/certain eventually to get knocked down or washed away again.

    It is past time for a planned retreat from the coast. There is plenty of excess housing stock in the country. Instead of giving folks money to rebuild in these sure-to-be-eventually-inundated areas, give them a deal on a vacant foreclosed house before it gets vandalized.

  8. John McCormick says:

    Wili, there is a problem with your idea and ask you to rethink and add a few important details you missed.

    Mainly, victims of Sandy in NY and NJ who lost everything may have had jobs and community of friends, doctors, etc. In their state of mind as they sift through debris to find their lives, a paycheck may be the best defense against acute depression.

    While relocating away from the low areas prone to flooding will become obvious to some of them, leaving for some distant city, without a job waiting, is not a cure.

  9. Ric Merritt says:

    Scanning quickly that list of states, I see a lot of red and purple, but only one true blue, Illinois.

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    You missed this one Joe, ME

  11. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    There are plenty of places in new jersey and new york that are high enough above sea level to be secure for generations, even if sea level rise is faster than the worst predictions. The problem is that even if someone is insured, it only covers the cost of rebuilding. If the homeowner can not get money for the real estate, the compensation may be significantly below what another property costs, if the location of the new property is highly values for it’s location. For renters, this may not be a problem, because they were probably paying more for a sea side location, if it was market rate.

    The day has finally come, what the scientists had predicted is comming to pass, what the prophets predicted is happening.