Data: FEMA; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios
Some regions of the U.S. are safer from climate-fueled extreme weather events than others, but no region will be untouched, especially as greenhouse gases keep building up in the atmosphere.
The big picture: The map above shows major disasters declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the past two decades — a snapshot that ranges from hurricanes and severe storms to wildfires and drought.
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Climate change, scientists have found, is increasing the intensity — and in many cases the frequency — of these kinds of events. This is especially true when it comes to heavy rain or snow, heat waves and wildfires.
Why it matters: The breadth is important. Some areas present well-known and documented risks — think coastal Louisiana’s storm vulnerability or how 18 of the 20 largest wildfires on record in California have occurred since 2000.
But many other areas are experiencing their own extreme weather, such as this year’s deadly flash flooding in Tennessee.
This year has also seen dangerous, thunderstorm-generated, strong wind events called derechos in the Midwest and record drought parching the West.
Other metrics point to similar risks, and often in populous regions, such as the record-setting summer heat in Pacific Northwest cities.
What they’re saying: “There is nowhere in the USA (or on Earth) that is totally risk-free from the impacts of climate change,” said Brown University environmental studies professor Laurence C. Smith in an email exchange.
Yes, but: “[T]he inland mid-central and northeastern states along the Canadian border may experience some of these detriments somewhat less severely than other areas of the country,” Smith said.
What’s next: Limiting the future scope of extreme weather risks will require global emissions cuts to curtail global warming as much as possible.
But significant warming and extreme weather damage are already baked in, which requires risk management and adaptation decisions — personal and governmental.
Threat level: Michael Wehner, an expert on how climate change influences extreme weather with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, tells Axios via email that “as heat extremes continue to get hotter, work outdoors will have to be altered.”
“Even now, it is critical that such outdoor workers have access to cooling stations, water, etc. to avoid heat stroke and other illness,” he said, adding that shifting work hours to avoid peaks will become more important during heat waves.
The bottom line: Smith said he recently bought land in the Adirondack region of New York State — mainly for personal enjoyment and forest preservation, “but also with an eye to climate change.”
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