Portland, OR - 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 Oregon 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 8 out of 10 Oregonians live in counties hit by at least one weather-related disaster since 2007. Last year’s Long Draw Wildfire which caused over $4 million in damage in Oregon, was one of the extreme weather events outlined in the report.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer echoed the concerns highlighted in the report.
“Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center’s report, “In the Path of the Storm” draws an important connection between the frequency and severity of weather related disaster events and climate change,” said Rep. Blumenauer, “2012 set more than 3,500 records for extreme heat, rain, and snow. The fact that people have failed to heed the warnings of the scientific community is shocking.”
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 Oregonians live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available here. 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 Oregon Research & Policy Center report include:
• Since 2007, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 18 counties in Oregon housing 3,114,909 people—or 8 out of 10 Oregonians. Since 2007, Columbia, Polk, Lincoln, and Tilamook County have experienced four federally declared weather-related disasters. Recent weather-related disasters in Oregon included flooding in 12 Oregon counties, and the Long Draw Wildfire, Oregon’s largest wildfire in 150 years.
• Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 243 million people since 2007—or nearly four out of five Americans.
• 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.
“Millions of Oregonians have endured extreme weather causing extremely big problems for Oregonians health, safety, environment and economy,” said Charlie Fisher, field organizer with Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. “Given that global warming will likely fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution now.”
Fisher 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.
Rep. Blumenauer—a member of the Safe Climate Caucus—has been a voice for action in Washington D.C.
“It’s hard to imagine another circumstance in which advice of the experts, backed by overwhelming data, would not prompt a change in policy and behavior,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Enacting a carbon tax, renewing the Production Tax Credit, and reforming flood insurance provisions which encourage people to live in harm’s way are just a few of the ways that Congress can lead by example in the fight against climate change.”
Environment Oregon 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 as the Environmental Protection Agency 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 Fisher. “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.”