New Report Says Global Warming to Bring More Extreme Weather
Interactive Online Map Shows County-by-County Weather-Related Disaster History for NJ
Trenton, NJ—After a year that saw many parts of the country hit by scorching heat, devastating wildfires, severe storms and record flooding, a new Environment New Jersey report 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, already, every New Jersey county has been hit by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2006.
“Millions of New Jerseyans have lived through extreme weather, causing extremely big problems for New Jersey’s economy and our public safety,” said Matt Elliott, Environment New Jersey’s global warming and clean energy advocate. “Given that global warming will likely fuel even more extreme weather, we need to cut dangerous carbon pollution now.”
The new report, entitled In the Path of the Storm: Global Warming, Extreme Weather, and the Impacts of Weather-Related Disasters in the United States, examined county-level weather-related disaster declaration data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 2006 through 2011 to determine how many New Jerseyans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The complete county-level data can be viewed through an interactive map available here on Environment New Jersey’s website. 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 such as sea level rise.
Key findings from the Environment New Jersey report include:
- Since 2006, federally declared weather-related disasters affected all 21New Jersey counties. For example, since 2006:
- Atlantic County has experienced 7 federally declared weather-related disasters;
- Mercer County has experienced 6 federally declared weather-related disasters;
- Middlesex County has experienced 5 federally declared weather-related disasters;
- Bergen County has experienced 5 federally declared weather-related disasters; and
- Monmouth County has experienced 3 federally declared weather-related disasters.
- Recent weather-related disasters in New Jersey included damage and flooding from Hurricane Irene, severe winter storms and heavy snow accumulation, severe summer storms and coastal flooding, remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, and others.
- In 2011 alone, New Jersey experienced its wettest month in its history (August 2011), punctuated by heavy rains from Hurricane Irene that sent rivers to historic highs and damaged more than 2,000 homes. In fact, federally declared weather-related disasters affected every New Jersey county.
- Nationally, the number of disasters inflicting more than $1 billion in damage (at least 14) set an all-time record last year, with total damages from those disasters costing at least $55 billion.
- Nationally, federally declared weather-related disasters have affected counties housing 242 million people since 2006—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.
Elliott noted that global warming is expected to have varying impacts on different types of extreme weather events. 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 little scientific consensus about the impact of global warming on events such as tornadoes. In addition, 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.
“Extreme weather is happening, it is causing very serious problems, and global warming increases the likelihood that we’ll see even more extreme weather in the future,” said Elliott. “Carbon pollution from our power plants, cars and trucks is fueling global warming, and so tackling global warming demands that we cut emissions of carbon pollution from those sources.”
The report was released as opponents of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) are seeking to pull New Jersey out of RGGI, the first-in-the-nation cap on carbon pollution from the power sector that was established by 10 northeast state governors and which took effect in 2009.
“RGGI is helping New Jersey meet our environmental and energy challenges by providing investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, cutting pollution and curbing dependence on fossil fuels,” said Elliott. “We cannot let the fossil fuel industry and their allies succeed in eliminating this critical program, and we urge the Legislature and the governor to get New Jersey back in RGGI.”
Environment New Jersey is a state-wide, citizen-based environmental group that advocates for clean air, clean water, and open spaces.