The beginning of June is upon us. Cookouts, plans for summer vacations, high school and college graduations are all on our mind. But did you know the start of June marks the official beginning of hurricane season?
Yes, June 1st marks the day when meteorologists and weather watchers start tallying up the year’s tropical storms and hurricanes, the most dramatic examples of how climate change is making our lives more risky. Rising air and sea surface temperatures now make it more likely that tropical storms will be more intense and bring heavier amounts of rainfall than they might have in the past. Rising sea levels mean that flooding damage related to storm surges will also be more severe.
This year scientists are forecasting around 15-18 named tropical storms, just shy of the 19 named storms in 2012, the third highest number on record. Check out this compilation of various tropical storm predictions and a list of 2013’s storm names (my favorites are Humberto and Chantal).
Given that climate change makes stronger tropical storms more likely – not to mention other weather related risks that accompany our rapidly warming climate – how prepared are we?
In Ready or Not NRDC analyst Ben Chou found that the vast majority of states are not adequately factoring climate change into their plans for managing their water resources and water infrastructure. See your city or state’s climate preparedness rating and download a copy of the report.
Stronger and more damaging tropical storms and hurricanes are among the most obvious threats that states should be preparing for.
Given the increased risks of stronger tropical storms thanks to climate change, one might expect that states on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are at the forefront of climate preparedness efforts. Some, like New York and Massachusetts, are looking ahead and planning accordingly. Others, like Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida (none of which are strangers to hurricanes) rank near the bottom according to Ready or Not.
This lack of preparedness and planning not only affects those immediately impacted by hurricanes and other climate related disasters, but has real tangible costs for our nation as a whole.
A study by NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air Program released just two weeks ago calculated the costs borne by the U.S. taxpayer due to climate change and climate related disasters like droughts, floods, and storms -- nearly $100 billion in 2012 alone. That means that the federal government spent more on dealing with 2012’s extreme weather than it did on transportation or education. Similarly, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office for the first time added climate change to its annual list of high-risk factors for the federal budget. NRDC’s Aliya Haq recently did an excellent piece on these topics.
As the official beginning of the 2013 hurricane season, June 1st also marks the day when we can start tallying how much our nation’s lack of preparedness for hurricanes and tropical storms will cost us. The lack of preparedness for these and other climate-related natural disasters is something that the federal government and states need to remedy.
According to a statement today from the White House, “The President made clear that he expects his team to continue to make sure that his administration is taking all necessary steps to prepare ahead of hurricanes and severe weather during this season, as well as continue to support states as they also take necessary precautions.”
Here are a few things I recommend the President put on his administration’s priority list for the coming weeks.
- Direct FEMA to factor climate change into state plans for dealing with disasters. Most state plans that FEMA approves rely on historical data to determine the size, frequency and severity of the natural disasters they need to prepare for. But in a rapidly warming climate these historical data are not necessarily accurate predictors for the scope of future droughts, floods, and storms. NRDC filed a petition with FEMA in 2012 asking them to do just this, but have yet to get a response.
- Require states to incorporate climate preparedness into existing plans for managing our rivers, lakes and coastlines. NRDC and American Rivers have already put together a “how to” guide on climate preparedness planning called Getting Climate Smart.
- And lastly, how about regulating carbon emissions from the biggest single source of carbon pollution—existing power plants? EPA has the authority to do this, and NRDC has an innovative plan for reducing carbon dioxide for doing it in a way that is cost-effective and fair.