The vast majority of Americans have experienced a weather-related disaster in the past six years, according to a report released today by the Environment America Research and Policy Center.
The report, which is based on disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, found that 243 million Americans — nearly four out of five — have lived in a county that has been hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2007. The breadth and impact of these disasters, which include drought, tropical cyclones, flooding, tornadoes, wildfires and snow and ice storms, has been significant. According to the report:
- Every U.S. state besides South Carolina has experienced a weather-related disaster since 2007, and in 18 states and the District of Columbia, weather-related disasters have affected every county.
- More than 19 million Americans live in counties that have averaged one or more weather disaster per year since 2007.
- In 2012 alone, there were at least 11 disasters that caused more than $1 billion in damage, including Hurricane Sandy, which, with a price tag as high as $70 billion, was the costliest weather-related disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina.
- Eight U.S. counties in South Dakota, Oklahoma and Nebraska have been hit by ten or more weather disasters since the beginning of 2007.
The report notes that the frequency and intensity of several weather-related disasters has increased over the last several years and is predicted to continue increasing as the climate warms. Intense rainfall, for instance, has become more frequent in the U.S., 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,” and this increase is predicted to continue. And it’s likely the record-breaking heat waves, drought and wildfires that have gripped the country in the last few years will also become more common as the planet warms. The link between tornadoes and climate change is more tenuous and complicated (see here).
The report is in line with other studies of its kind — in February, a report from the Center for American Progress found that in 2011 and 2012, 43 states experienced extreme weather events that caused at least $1 billion in damage, and these events caused 1,107 fatalities and up to $188 billion in damage in total. To slow the increase of many kinds of extreme weather events, the Environment America report calls on federal and state governments to implement caps on greenhouse gases — especially on high-emitting sources, such as power plants and the transportation sector — and adopt goals of reducing emissions by at least 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and at least 85 percent by 2050.