90 percent of U.S. counties have experienced a natural disaster since 2011


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | November 17, 2022

90 percent of counties in the U.S. have experienced a wildfire, a hurricane, a flood, or another form of natural disaster, from 2011 to the end of 2021, per a report released on Nov. 16. The report also said that over 700 counties in the U.S. have encountered over five natural disasters. Five states have suffered 20 natural disasters since 2011. 

From 2011-2021, California had 25 federal disasters, the highest number in the country, which included numerous wildfires, a large number of earthquakes, and more. 58 counties in the state have had recent disasters, and Butte County received the most post-disaster financial assistance — over $183 million. The lowest number of federal disasters occurred in Nevada with three. 

Iowa had 21 total disasters, the fourth-highest number of natural disasters in the nation. Every county in the state experienced a natural disaster from 2011-2021. Iowa has received $717 million in post-disaster assistance and is still receiving aid for a storm in 1977.

These natural disasters have caused states and counties large amounts of money. Louisiana had the highest per capita support at $1,736 for each person. In addition, the median payout for all states in the U.S. was $97 per capita. In total, $91 billion had to be put toward post-disaster aid and assistance for states from 2011-2021. The states who needed the most financial support included New York, Texas, and Florida.

Hundreds killed as flooding inflicts ‘untold havoc’ in South Africa


Via Flickr.

Simone Garza | April 18, 2022

On April 13, nearly two feet of rain from a sluggishly severe thunderstorm killed about 400 people in South Africa. The storm started on April 9 and continued through April 12. 

A flash flood is an unexpected local flood caused by large amounts of rain. Floods can also heighten the transfer rate of waterborne infections, like hepatitis A, dengue fever, and West Nile fever. Flash floods can destroy crops, minimize livestock, and carry pollutants. 

The Province of KwaZulu-Natal reported over 240 schools were affected by the flood. Officials said more than 6,000 shacks and houses were either damaged or destroyed.The excessive amount of rainfall caused large amounts of mud, debris, and trees to collapse into sensitive communities. With over 900 cell phone towers down, communication within this district was challenging.

Although the rainfall has finished, residents that live in ground level regions have been encouraged to relocate to elevated areas due to the potential risk of rivers increasing. 

AccuWeather Lead International Forecaster Jason Nicholls, said the erratic rainfall accumulated a storm close to the southeastern coast of South Africa. Forecasters do not see an optimistic outcome as the search of survivors continues. 

“Many of the same areas could have another round of heavy rain and flooding through this weekend,” Nicholls said. Although the rain is unlikely to pass levels of the previous system, Nicholls said the possibility of extra rain will be threatening due to unsteady ground.

Disaster Cleanup from Last Weeks Storms will be Expensive and Time Consuming


Josie Taylor | December 23, 2021

Communities across the U.S. Southeast and Midwest will be assessing damage from the tornado outbreak on Dec. 10-11, 2021 for some time. It’s clear that the cleanups will take months, possibly years, and will cost a lot of money. 

Dealing with mass amounts of debris and waste materials is one of the most significant challenges for communities in the wake of natural disasters. Often this task overwhelms local waste managers, leaving waste untouched for weeks, months and even years. 

Climate-related disasters like floods, landslides, storms, wildfires and extreme hot and cold waves afflict millions of people around the world. These events have been increasing over time, particularly over the past several decades. There has also been an increase in loss from natural disasters. 

Disasters, like tornadoes, commonly produce thousands to millions of tons of debris in a single event. For example, waste can include vegetation, such as trees and shrubs; municipal solid waste, such as household garbage; construction and demolition materials; vehicles; and household hazardous materials, including paints, cleaning agents, pesticides and pool chemicals.

Americans in High Risk Climate Areas are Waiting for Climate Change Solutions


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | November 1, 2021

As climate change worsens, natural disasters are becoming more devastating. Americans in high risk areas are being hurt and are anxiously awaiting solutions. 

Although some of the damage is irreversible, halting the advance of climate change is both attainable and vital for life as we know it, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global consortium of climate scientists from 66 nations. 

The panel’s report “Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis” is described by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres as a “code red for humanity.” It is a centerpiece of the global climate summit opening Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland. Some 30,000 people from around the world are gathering for it. 

The IPCC says climate warming is already at 1.2 degrees C and must be limited to 1.5 C, though it is on trajectory to 2.8. Beyond 1.5 C, the climate will become more dangerous — with prolonged heat waves, severe droughts, widespread flooding, and worsening health conditions — and by 4 C, it will be unfit for human habitation, client scientists predict.

If action is not taken, Americans in areas like Florida or California will see life threatening situations with floods and wildfires, though Americans around the country will see the effects as well.

Climate Change Costs Billions of Dollars


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | August 30, 2021

Today, we are seeing natural disasters hit all over the United States. There are devastating floods in Tennessee, fires across the west destroying trees, property and wildlife, and hurricane damage is being seen across the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

In 2020 $11 billion of damages were seen across the midwest from the derecho.  850,000 acres of crops were destroyed. 

Already in 2021, $40 billion in insured damage from natural disasters has been reported world-wide. The 2021 damage so far is above the 10-year average of $33 billion. The only other year with more costly damage was 2011, when earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand sent the six-month total to $104 billion.

Swiss Re, a global insurance and reinsurance company, said the increased cost of natural disasters can be attributed to climate change. Climate change is causing a rise in temperatures, sea levels and weather extremes. 

Iowa lawmakers can help with these catastrophic prices. They can extend solar tax credit, which gives intensive to use efficient renewable energy. Iowa also has not completed a baseline study of buildings’ compliance with energy efficiency standards since 2011. These are ways Iowa can help with problems caused by climate change. With the increase in costs worldwide, these costs are bound to hit average American families if nothing is done about it. 

Derecho recovery continues with tree replanting, aid requests


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 12, 2021

One year after the derecho devastated many Iowa communities, the state is still recovering.

The storm ripped through nearly 800 miles of the Midwestern United States and crossed eight states within 14 hours. Winds reached higher than 60 miles per hour across the region. With Tuesday marking the anniversary of the natural disaster, Iowans are looking forward after a year of rebuilding.

One of the hardest hit areas of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, is looking to replant some of the trees that were uprooted in the storm. Several trees in the area were removed by contractors because they were damaged, including early 20 percent of the city-owned trees. This led to a smaller diversity of species in the municipality. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported on Tuesday that the city is still taking inventory of what trees were lost in the derecho. The city is hoping to finish the project by the end of 2021.

Cedar Rapids is currently looking to replant several species of trees, including the swamp white oak and Western catalpa trees. Post-derecho planting has officially begun in the city to continue recovering the landscape.

Alongside strides to return to pre-derecho Iowa, some elected officials from the state are looking to continue investing funds in recovery initiatives. The storm is the most costly inland weather disaster in the history of the United States, with an $11 million price tag. Iowa’s delegation in Washington are pushing for more funding to go to programs like Cedar Rapids’s tree planting.

A Brief Look at Scientific America’s List of Natural Disaster Records


Via Flickr

Maxwell Bernstein | October 30, 2020

Scientific America compiled a list of record-breaking natural disasters that have occurred in the United States since the beginning of 2020. 

So far this year, the United States has seen 16 natural disasters that have cost over $1 billion. 

The hurricane season is still in effect until Nov. 20, and so far, the alphabetical list of hurricane names has been used up, making forecasters use Greek letters to name hurricanes. This year could tie with the 2005 record of most named storms if one more storm reaches tropical storm strength: a total of 28 storms.  

When it comes to wildfires, 5 of 6 of California’s most damaging wildfires occurred this year, with the August Complex setting California’s record for the most damaging wildfire, with over a million acres of damage.

Phoenix has seen 144 days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, setting a new heat record there. 

Climate Change is now Inevitable


Image from EPA

Maxwell Bernstein | September 23, 2020

Climate change is inevitable and natural disasters that are similar to those currently affecting the Gulf and West Coast will be twice as bad as they are now, if not worse, according to The New York Times

Proper actions are needed to mitigate some of the effects of climate change such as planning for the effects of natural disasters and rising sea levels, along with reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The succession of storms in the Gulf Coast and the record-breaking fires in the West Coast are all exacerbated by the changing climate, which stems from human-produced CO2 emission’s ability to trap heat. The frequency and severity of natural disasters will increase over time.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in August, “The global average atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2019 was 409.8 parts per million (ppm for short), with a range of uncertainty of plus or minus 0.1 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years.”

As of Saturday, the Metronome, a large public art installation in Union Square in New York City now displays the Climate Clock, a time limit, “to curb greenhouse gas emissions enough to give the Earth a two-thirds chance of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, as compared to pre-industrial times,” according to CBS news. 

As of now, the clock gives 7 years and 99 days to reach this goal. 

CGRER Looks Forward: Geographer Eric Tate


Julia Poska | February 8, 2019

DSC_0988
Eric Tate, 2019. Photo by Julia Poska. 

Natural disasters are enormously costly. The U.S. incurred an estimated $306 billion in physical damage from extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods in 2017 alone.

CGRER member Eric Tate, a professor in the University of Iowa geography department,  quantifies disaster impacts in a bigger way.

“Looking at these impacts just by dollars affected may not really get at the true impact of how people are affected, how their livelihoods are affected,” he said.

Tate studies the social effects of disasters, with an emphasis on floods. Looking beyond physical damage, he determines how population characteristics like age, disability, education and poverty create social vulnerability to harm.


Listen to Tate explain social vulnerability in his own words. 

Disaster impacts are typically distributed unevenly; certain groups suffer disproportionately due to social, political, economic and institutional inequalities. These processes may debilitate some households while neighbors go unaffected during the same storm.

Using mainly government disaster relief data, Tate has measured and mapped the social reality of disasters like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. He’s currently examining 2015 flooding in South Carolina. His research aims to inform planning and policy by lending insight into how various population characteristics contribute to vulnerability.

“What is needed in this field is a bunch of studies looking at different disasters at different scales of analysis, looking at different variables, looking at different outcomes,” he said. “When you put them all together, now you start to get some generalizable understanding.”

Officials can use such analyses to help vulnerable populations before, during and after disasters with adjusted mitigation and primary response plans. The social dimension of sustainability is often underemphasized, but is crucial for implementing effective change.

“If we want to have sustainable futures but the gains aren’t equitably shared, then is that sustainable?” Tate asked.


Tate on the need for research into the spillover effects of disasters. 

He sees several ways policymakers on all levels can more deeply embed equity into decision making. They can model vulnerability among their constituents themselves or look to academic research that does so. They can seek to be inclusive and involve a diverse cross section of the population early on in the decision making process.

Tate pointed to the National Environmental Policy Act as well, which requires the government to complete environmental impact assessments prior to undergoing all federally funded executive projects. He thinks a similar statute could mandate assessments of the far-reaching social consequences of such projects.

He also advised considering climate change in proactive disaster planning, as atmospheric carbon seems to amplify climatological weather events. In Iowa, flooding has already become pronouncedly more intense and will continue to get worse in coming decades.

“Regardless of your belief in climate change or not, we’re seeing changes in hydrological extremes,” Tate said.


Tate on how to help protect yourself and your community from flooding. 

Intensified flooding will increase pressure on the already vulnerability and likely push some previously unaffected households beyond their coping capacities.

Tate calls for updated statistical analysis to better inform everyone from city planners to homeowners about risk and vulnerability in different areas. The 100-year floodplain of today may become the 50-year floodplain in 15 years, but flood maps are based on historical frequencies and do not reflect projections for the future.

“Trying to understand future risk based on past occurrences is likely to lead you to faulty conclusions,” he said. “We should be thinking maybe a little less probabilistically and a little more possibilistically.”

 


***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a new blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspective and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***

 

Natural disasters cost $175 billion in 2016, highest since 2012


30988304984_fdd35ded4d_o
St. Antoine hospital in Jérémie, Haiti was among the structures damaged when Hurricane Matthew ravaged the country earlier this year. (CDC Global/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | January 6, 2017

Shortly after the New Year, German insurance giant Munich Re announced that natural disaster damages were higher in 2016 than they have been since 2012.

Insurance losses totaled $175 billion over the last twelve months, which is two-thirds more than in 2015. The company counted 750 natural disasters internationally, which includes “earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves.” The 6.9 magnitude Earthquake that shook southern Japan was the world’s most costly natural disaster this year, claiming $31 billion in damages.

North America was plagued with the most natural disasters it has seen since the 1980’s, it experienced a total of “160 loss events in 2016.” Spring heat waves in Canada led to wildfires in Alberta, costing the region $4 billion, while August floods in the southern United States racked up $10 billion in losses.

Flood events made up 34 percent of this year’s total losses. Comparatively, these events accounted for 21 percent of total losses over the last ten years. Flash floods in Germany and France cost the region almost $6 billion this year. Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research Unit, said these increases are related to “unchecked climate change.”

Hoppe said, “Of course, individual events themselves can never be attributed directly to climate change. But there are now many indications that certain events — such as persistent weather systems or storms bringing torrential rains – are more likely to occur in certain regions as a result of climate change.”

Indeed, a recently published report from the World Meteorological Organization outlines the relationship between human-induced climate change and the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Among other examples, the authors point out that the 2013 Australian heat wave was made five times more likely because of human-induced warming.

The report said, “Extreme events are always a result of natural variability and human-induced climate change, which cannot be entirely disentangled.”