CLIMATE DISASTERS ARE COMING

Donald, can you handle this? Kushner, can you handle this? FEMA, can you handle this? I don’t think they can handle this

 

TL/DR:

With hurricane season starting June 1, and projected to be devastating, 2020 will be a serious challenge for Trump’s FEMA

  • FEMA is now facing a shortage of available staff and volunteers with FEMA taking the lead on coronavirus, the country’s “first 50 state disaster”
  • More than 3,000 FEMA staff have already deployed to deal with COVID-19
  • Most volunteers are older people at higher risk from the virus. Three quarters of the Salvation Army’s 2.7 million volunteers are 65 and older
  • FEMA announced plans to rely on “virtual” assistance instead of in-person services for those impacted by disasters
  • Shelter plans for people affected by disasters this year will be complicated by the pandemic
    • In Michigan, residents displaced by flooding were screened for COVID-19 symptoms before they could enter a shelter and, if positive, not allowed in

Trump has already cut FEMA’s budget and resources, so FEMA started the year in disarray

  • FEMA’s budget was cut from $12.3 billion in 2018 to about $5.3 billion in 2019
  • An additional $165 million had been transferred from disaster relief and preparedness funding to go towards ICE detention beds as a part of Trump’s deportation machine

At the most critical moment for emergency response at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump’s FEMA fumbled its mission to secure protective equipment

Trump’s track record after recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida showed a troubling pattern of failing to plan ahead, squabbling with local leaders, and failing to deliver aid.

As we see more frequent large-scale disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and floods fueled by climate change this year, Trump is leaving communities vulnerable during a worldwide pandemic

 

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

Following disastrous flooding in Michigan and the publication of NOAA’s ominous hurricane season outlook, Donald Trump took a question from a reporter about FEMA’s ability to handle multiple possible major disasters amid an ongoing pandemic. In typical Trump fashion, the response was rambling and incoherent about how FEMA is doing a “fantastic job,” but as expected, Trump didn’t actually address the real concern about how communities are being left vulnerable to extreme weather during a global pandemic. Trump is showing us again his unwillingness to prepare for crisis situations.

FEMA is now facing a shortage of available staff and volunteers for disaster responses with FEMA taking the lead on coronavirus, the country’s “first 50 state disaster.” More than 3,000 FEMA staff have already deployed to deal with COVID-19. Most volunteers are older people at higher risk from the virus. Three quarters of the Salvation Army’s 2.7 million volunteers are 65 and older.

Shelter plans for people affected by disasters this year will be complicated by the pandemic, as we saw in this spring’s flooding in Michigan, where displaced residents were screened for COVID-19 symptoms before they could enter a shelter, with the Red Cross having to seek alternate arrangements for anyone who might be infected. FEMA announced plans to rely on “virtual” assistance instead of in-person services for those impacted by disasters.

Trump’s FEMA already started the year 2020 in a weakened position, having seen its budget slashed in recent years from $12.3 billion in 2018 to about $5.3 billion in 2019. Despite being rejected in Congress, Trump insisted on transferring $155 million last year away from disaster relief funds and $10 million in 2018 away from preparedness & protection funding, all to go towards detention beds for ICE’s deportation machine along the border.

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to take shape globally, according to a whistleblower account, FEMA and HHS were too busy “passing the buck back and forth” over who was responsible for procuring medical supplies and protective equipment that neither agency moved forward with purchasing supplies in the critical early stage of the outbreak.

Instead, only after things began to really get bad did Trump put his son in law, Jared Kushner in charge of a team of inexperience volunteers to coordinate protective equipment purchases with FEMA, which led to shipments being rerouted on surprise directives from the White House. FEMA cancelled and re-directed shipments to states for essential supplies like 100,000 masks that were destined for Iowa. Maryland had to resort to a secret mission to import testing kits into BWI Airport under the protection of the state’s national guard and state police.

Trump’s track record responding to recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida showed a troubling pattern of failing to plan ahead, squabbling with local leaders, and failing to deliver aid. If climate-fueled disasters stretch resources even thinner, is this what states will have to deal with for other emergencies?

One thing we do know is that climate change is already fueling major disasters this year.

The National Climate Assessment report in 2014 made it clear that heavy downpours are increasing nationally and are driven by warmer air holding more water vapor in the atmosphere. Last year, extreme rainfall caused billions in damages across the Midwest, and the situation is only likely to get worse as a third of the lower 48 states are projected to be at risk of flooding this year.

In Michigan, thousands of residents had to be evacuated near Midland as two dams failed, sending floodwaters towards a toxic superfund site.

Only two days after the flooding began in Michigan, NOAA issued its 2020 Atlantic hurricane season outlook warning of an “above-normal” Atlantic hurricane season for 2020. Scientists have established that climate change is making hurricanes stronger and more frequent.

In western states, the National Interagency Fire Center is monitoring warm and dry patterns in parts of the West which may be problematic for wildfires. Acres burned by wildfire have doubled in recent decades due to climate change.

These upcoming threats are very real and very serious, and we know what is behind making these disasters worse. Now, more than ever, we need competent leaders who pay attention to the warning signs, listen to the experts, and take action to deal with the climate emergency.

 

RESEARCH

QUESTIONS ABOUT FEMA’S READINESS

Scientists Raised Concerns That FEMA Is Tasked With Coordinating COVID-19 Response As Well As Response To Climate-Related Disasters “All While Understaffed And Under-Resourced To Do So.” Scientists from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Georgetown University, and the University of Cape Town published a paper on the compound risks of dealing with climate change during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the scientists: “In this rapidly unfolding crisis, governments, health agencies and disease experts must take immediate action to confront COVID-19, but must also tackle inevitable climate-related disasters to help minimize loss of life. Emergency response agencies and first responders are particularly likely to find themselves deployed across multiple crises simultaneously, putting them under unprecedented strain. As an example, in the USA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now tasked with coordinating the nationwide COVID-19 response as well as any response to ongoing extreme weather and climate-related disasters, all while understaffed and under-resourced to do so.” [Phillips, C.A., Caldas, A., Cleetus, R. et al. Compound climate risks in the COVID-19 pandemic. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2020)]

When Asked About FEMA’s Readiness To Handle Potential Upcoming Disasters, Trump Focused On Speculating About Blame For A Michigan Dam Failure.

Transcript excerpt:

QUESTION: Mr. President, we’ve seen this historic flooding here in Michigan and we have seen forecasts that we could see a really severe hurricane season. Is FEMA and the federal government prepared to meet the needs of some of these potential disasters?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You’re saying FEMA and the federal government? Yeah they’re here right now. FEMA’s here right now. They did a fantastic job on the coronavirus, a fantastic job in Michigan, they did a fantastic job everywhere frankly, you know you have ventilators – you’re gonna see them now, because this is one of the plants where we make thousands of ventilators. But FEMA was involved and we also – as you know – the Army Corps of Engineers at the highest level is right now in Michigan working on the fact that you had some dams that shouldn’t have broken and they were probably maybe not maintained properly, something happened to them. Could’ve been human error from what I understand but it was certainly a physical error too. They were old. But you have the best of the world to fix them and to get that water stopped and we have FEMA here and we have the Army Corps of Engineers here. They’ll be able to take care of it.

[Donald Trump remarks at Ford Rawsonville Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, 5/21/2020 (video via Bloomberg)]

IMPACTS OF PANDEMIC ON DISASTER RESPONSE PLANS

FEMA Is Short On Staff With More Than 3,000 Staff Deployed Nationwide To Help With Pandemic. “The Federal Emergency Management Agency is running short of highly trained personnel as the virus depletes its staff. Longstanding procedures for sheltering victims in gymnasiums or other crowded spaces suddenly are dangerous because they risk worsening the pandemic. And traditional agreements among states to help each other if crisis strikes are now sputtering as states remain wary of exposing their own people to the virus. It amounts to one of the most severe tests in decades for a system designed to respond to local or regional storms or other disasters — not a crisis on a national scale. Yet FEMA has been forced to take a primary role in Covid-19, deploying more than 3,000 staff nationwide and effectively running its first 50-state disaster response.” [New York Times 5/22/2020]

FEMA Relies On Volunteers Who Are At High Risk For COVID-19 And May Not Be Available To Help With Disasters During The Pandemic. On May 22, 2020, the New York Times reported: “For decades, the backbone of the nation’s disaster response system — and a hallmark of American generosity — has been its army of volunteers who race toward danger to help shelter, feed and counsel victims of hurricanes, wildfires and other calamities. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a critical weakness in this system: Most volunteers are older people at higher risk from the virus, so this year they can’t participate in person. Typically more than five million volunteers work in disaster relief annually, said Greg Forrester, president of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, an association of nonprofit groups, but this year he expects the number to decline by 50 percent. Asked how disaster relief efforts can meet the usual demand with half as many people, Mr. Forrester said: ‘You won’t.’” [New York Times 5/22/2020]

Three Quarters Of The Salvation Army’s 2.7 Million Volunteers Are Over The Age 65. In May of 2020, the New York Times reported: “Three-quarters of the Salvation Army’s volunteers for most disasters are 65 or older, according to Jeff Jellets, the group’s disaster coordinator for the southern United States. For those people, ‘We’re telling them, maybe this isn’t the best time for you to deploy,’ he said, given that older people are at particularly high risk from Covid-19. The consequences could be enormous: The Salvation Army has more than 2.7 million volunteers annually for everything from disaster response to after-school programs and vocational programs. Disaster volunteers worked 3.5 million hours during the 2017 hurricane season.” [New York Times 5/22/2020]

COVID-19 Complicates Disaster Response Plans That Involve Crowded Shelters. On May 21, 2020, CNBC reported: “This year, the Covid-19 crisis is complicating the job for emergency management officials who say they’ve had to revise their playbooks, step up their disaster preparations and reconfigure response plans in an effort to keep their teams and residents safe while still providing basic needs during a catastrophe. When Hurricane Harvey slammed the coast of Texas in 2017, nearly 10,000 people took shelter in the city’s convention center for more than two weeks. Originally intended to house half that number, displaced residents slept shoulder to shoulder on cots, shared temporary shower facilities and sorted through piles of donated clothes. That scenario seems implausible, if not impossible, given the current pandemic.” [CNBC, 5/21/2020]

Following Michigan Flooding, The American Red Cross Was Seeking Alternate Arrangements To Keep People Displaying COVID-19 Symptoms Out Of Shelters. On May 21, 2020, following a flooding disaster in Midland, MI, the Detroit Free Press reported: “The American Red Cross has set up eight shelters in the Midland area. Individuals are being screened for symptoms prior to entering the shelters, and masks and face coverings are being provided. In addition, shelter beds are being kept 6 feet apart from each other, and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices are being used. Individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms are not being allowed within the shelters, and Midland officials are working with the Red Cross to find alternate accommodations for those who may have the virus. In a news release, the organization announced it provided more than 65 overnight hotel stays for residents who had to leave their homes.” [Detroit Free Press, 5/21/2020]

FEMA FUNDING

Overall Budget Troubles

FEMA’s Budget Was Cut By More Than Half From $12.3 Billion 2018 To $5.3 Billion In 2019. In April of 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported: “Following substantial spending bumps in fiscal 2017 and 2018—after FEMA dealt with severe hurricanes—the agency’s budget was cut by more than half, from $12.3 billion in 2018 to about $5.3 billion in 2019. FEMA’s operating budget was $4.8 billion in 2016. The administration’s proposal for the coming fiscal year deepens the cuts to $4.9 billion.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/14/2020]

FEMA Spends $41 Million A Year To Offset The Costs For Local Law Enforcement Offices To Protect Trump Properties. On April 4, 2020, The Intercept reported on COVID-19 supply shortages from FEMA and noted: “Although federal officials have known of the shortages for months, they have not been remedied. Yet every year since 2017, Congress has directed FEMA to set aside $41 million of its budget to offset the extraordinary costs of providing security for President Donald Trump’s properties. The ‘Presidential Residence Assistant Protection Grants’ were most recently funded by Congress in an appropriations package in December. According to memos posted on its website, FEMA has previously identified Trump properties in New York, New Jersey, and Florida as ‘qualifying residences’ and paid out millions of dollars to the New York Police Department and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, among others. The grant program is limited to reimbursing ‘operational overtime and backfill overtime’ for law enforcement and cannot be used to underwrite salaries or purchase police equipment.” [The Intercept 4/4/2020]

FY 2019: $155 Million Transferred To ICE Detention

Trump’s DHS Transferred $155 Million Away From FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund To Pay For ICE Custody Operations. In a notice to Congress explaining transfers of funds for border security operations, the Department of Homeland Security reported: “$155M will be transferred from the Disaster Relief Fund Base to ICE’s Custody Operations PPA to support MPP IHF. The amount is resourced from recoveries of prior year funds. As of June 2019, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has recovered $172M in this account in FY 2019; FEMA projects to recover an additional $68M by fiscal year end. As reported in the July FY 2019 DRF Monthly Report, the projected need for DRF Base-funded activities in FY 2019 is $664M. The current projected carryover balance into FY 2020 for the DRF Base is approximately $602M, which includes projected recoveries. The transfer will reduce the projected carryover balance to $447M. Absent significant new catastrophic events, DHS believes the resulting DRF Base balance is sufficient to support operational needs.” [Department of Homeland Security FY 2019 Southwest Border Emergency Transfer and Reprogramming Notification, 7/26/2019]

Trump Transferred Money Out Of FEMA Because He Was Denied Funding From Congress For Detention Beds. In a story titled “Trump admin pulling millions from FEMA disaster relief to send to southern border,” NBC News reported: “The allocations were sent to Congress as a notification rather than a request, because the administration believes it has the authority to repurpose these funds after Congress did not pass more funding for ICE detention beds as part of an emergency funding bill for the southwest border in June.” [NBC News, 8/27/2019]

FY 2018: $10 Million Transferred to ICE Detention

Trump’s DHS Transferred $10 Million From FEMA “Preparedness And Protection” and “Response And Recovery” Funding Towards Detention Beds For ICE. On September 12, 2018, the Washington Post reported: “The Trump administration appears to have diverted nearly $10 million in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency at the forefront of the president’s zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to the separation of hundreds of children, some as young as 18 months old, from their parents. The reallocation of public money is documented in a ‘Transfer and Reprogramming’ notification prepared this fiscal year by the Department of Homeland Security, the parent department of ICE, as the agency is known. It was made public by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon in an appearance Tuesday on ‘The Rachel Maddow Show,’ as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the Carolinas. Merkley’s office provided the 39-page budget document independently to The Washington Post. It shows that DHS requested that about $9.8 million going toward FEMA efforts such as ‘Preparedness and Protection’ and ‘Response and Recovery’ be funneled instead into ICE coffers, specifically underwriting ‘Detention Beds’ and the agency’s ‘Transportation and Removal Program.’ The U.S. Secret Service was also a beneficiary of the reallocation.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2018]

FEMA’S HANDLING OF THE COVID-19 CRISIS

Missteps In Securing Protective Equipment

DHS Inspector General Opened An Investigation Into FEMA’s Response To The Coronavirus Outbreak. According to a list of ongoing projects posted by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, a project was opened: “To determine to what extent FEMA is coordinating with federal agencies in preparing for and responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.” [Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, Ongoing Projects accessed 5/21/2020]

Whistleblower Complaint Pointed Out That FEMA And HHS Were “Passing The Buck Back And Forth” Over Who Should Order Medical Supplies, And Neither Agency Placed The Orders. Former head of BARDA, Dr. Rick Bright said in a whistleblower complaint submitted through his lawyers to the Office of Special Counsel: “From late January through March 2020, Dr. Bright pushed the ASPR and Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) supply chain groups to take swift and urgent action to place orders to secure limited supplies in the U.S., ramp up production, and begin stockpiling needles and syringes immediately. During an HHS leadership call on March 13, 2020, Dr. Bright raised the issue with Dr. Kadlec directly, emphasizing the urgent need to halt the export of needles and syringes, place orders to buy, and ramp up production. Dr. Kadlec responded in a frustrated and dismissive manner, telling Dr. Bright that they should wait to act until they had something to inject. Dr. Bright pushed back, arguing that it was imperative to order the needles and syringes immediately to ensure that the United States would have them when a vaccine became available. As noted above, Dr. Bright raised concerns about this issue with Mr. Navarro during their meeting on February 14, 2020 and again in March. In turn, Mr. Navarro raised these issues to the White House Task Force. Dr. Bright and his team reiterated the dire consequences of these shortages and the need to take urgent action to begin stockpiling this life-saving equipment. Instead of heeding his recommendations, ASPR and FEMA staff sent Dr. Bright numerous emails indicating that there was a lack of clarity about which agency – HHS or FEMA – should buy the needles. In passing the buck back and forth, no group had yet placed orders for these critical supplies.” [US Office of Special Counsel Complaint & Disclosure Form filed by Dr Rick Bright]

The Trump Administration Put A Group Of Young Volunteers Led By Jared Kushner An With No Procurement Experience In Charge Of Passing Leads For Purchasing Protective Equipment On To FEMA. On May 5, 2020, the New York Times reported: “This spring, as the United States faced a critical shortage of masks, gloves and other protective equipment to battle the coronavirus pandemic, a South Carolina physician reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency with an offer of help. Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks had longtime manufacturing contacts in China and a line on millions of masks from established suppliers. Instead of encountering seasoned FEMA procurement officials, his information was diverted to a team of roughly a dozen young volunteers, recruited by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and overseen by a former assistant to Mr. Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump. The volunteers, foot soldiers in the Trump administration’s new supply-chain task force, had little to no experience with government procurement procedures or medical equipment. But as part of Mr. Kushner’s governmentwide push to secure protective gear for the nation’s doctors and nurses, the volunteers were put in charge of sifting through more than a thousand incoming leads, and told to pass only the best ones on for further review by FEMA officials.” [New York Times, 5/5/2020]

Working Against, Not With States

FEMA Received “Surprise Directives From The White House” To Redirect Medical Equipment. In an article about Jared Kushner’s role in the pandemic response, the New York Times reported: “In recent days, administration officials said, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which traditionally coordinates the government’s responses to disasters, has received surprise directives from the White House — including to dispatch deliveries of medical equipment to states that had not even submitted formal requests based on which governor got Mr. Trump on the telephone.” [New York Times, 4/2/2020]

Four Shipments Of PPE Destined For Kentucky Were Canceled And Re-Routed By FEMA. On April 11, 2020, the Washington Post reported: “Four shipments of equipment heading to Kentucky hospitals were redirected or taken over by FEMA, according to a hospital CEO who wrote to Yarmuth and other lawmakers earlier this month. The first order was en route from Texas when it was diverted to St. Louis at the demand of FEMA, Garren Colvin, the CEO, wrote in an email reviewed by The Washington Post. In another case, a deposit had already been made for supplies from China when, Colvin wrote, ‘we were told that the order was canceled at the request of the US Government.’” [Washington Post, 4/11/2020]

FEMA Redirected Iowa’s Order For 100,000 N95 Masks. On May 21, 2020, the Des Moines Register reported: “An Iowa agency’s order of nearly 100,000 high-quality masks to aid in its coronavirus response was canceled last month after President Donald Trump invoked his authority to give the federal government priority for obtaining and distributing those supplies, according to a top state official and documentation obtained by the Des Moines Register. Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, confirmed to the Register that her request for 98,500 N95 respirator masks was canceled late last month after a supplier in western Iowa alerted her staff that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under authority from the president, would distribute those supplies.” [Des Moines Register, 5/21/2020]

Threat Of Federal Government Confiscation Led Maryland To Deploy Its National Guard And State Police To Protect A Shipment Of Testing Kits. On April 30, 2020, Newsweek reported: “Maryland has deployed members of its National Guard and state police to supervise 500,000 coronavirus testing kits currently being held at an ‘undisclosed location,’ Governor Larry Hogan told The Washington Post on Thursday. During a teleconference interview with Washington Post Live, Hogan explained that the decision to impose heightened surveillance procedures followed reports of federal officials seizing supplies delivered to other states. Maryland recently purchased the test kits from South Korea after requests for assistance from the United States federal government went unanswered and domestic suppliers could not provide the aid.” [Newsweek, 4/30/2020]

DISASTER RESPONSE FAILURES UNDER TRUMP

DHS Inspector General Report Found Faults In FEMA Contracting In Response To Hurricane Maria. A report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found: “Following Hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did not maximize the use of advance contracts to address identified capability deficiencies and needs in Puerto Rico. Specifically, we identified 49 of 241 new contracts issued in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria for the same goods or services covered by existing advance contracts. In addition, FEMA Region II did not issue any new advance contracts prior to Hurricane Maria and did not perform analysis to identify goods or services to obtain through advance contracts. We attributed FEMA’s limited use of advance contracts to its lack of strategy and documented planning process for ensuring maximum use of advance contracts. Although FEMA reported to Congress in December 2007 it had a strategy in place, we determined it was a one-time strategy that did not meet the intent of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006. Without advance contracts to expedite acquisitions, goods and services for people in need may have been delayed or were more costly to the Government.” [Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report 3/23/2020]

As Hurricane Dorian Took Shape In 2019, Trump Reignited Feud With Puerto Rico Officials. In August of 2019, The Hill reported: President Trump on Wednesday rekindled his spat with Puerto Rican leaders as Hurricane Dorian approached the island. The president blasted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as ‘incompetent,’ demeaned the island as ‘one of the most corrupt places on earth’ and diverted Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds toward the southern border even as his administration is expected to provide assistance to the U.S. territory in the wake of yet another large-scale storm. The moves mark a fresh chapter in the long-simmering feud between Trump and island officials stemming from criticism over his handling of the fallout from Hurricane Maria.” [The Hill, 8/28/2019]

NBC News Headline: “Frustrated Florida Residents Still Waiting For Help As President Trump Visits.” In May of 2019, NBC News reported: “It’s been seven months since Hurricane Michael wrecked Gail Philyaw’s house here, but she still can’t quite bring herself to call the government-provided trailer she now lives in ‘home.’ Parked in her yard, sandwiched between a storm-crushed car and piles of debris, the Coleman five-wheeler is temporary housing until the grandmother of 20 can move back in to her own house, which still needs a new roof and flooring. ‘Mrs. Gail,’ as she’s known around the neighborhood, is hopeful that President Donald Trump’s visit to the region Wednesday will bring much-needed attention to the community’s plight and, ideally, news of supplemental disaster relief that could help people like herself who remain in ‘dire need’ of assistance.” [NBC News, 5/8/2019]

CLIMATE-LINKED DISASTERS

Extreme Rainfall Inland Flooding

2020 Season Outlook

Washington Post Headline: “One-Third Of The Lower 48 Faces Risk Of Flooding This Spring, Weather Service Says.” On March 19, 2020, the Washington Post reported: “A third of the United States is at risk of flooding this spring, including 23 states and 128 million Americans. That’s according to the spring flood outlook released by the National Weather Service on Thursday. The forecast for significant spring flooding comes a year after one of the worst seasons on record in 2019. But this year, the flooding isn’t expected to be quite as severe.” [Washington Post, 3/19/2020]

Great Lakes Water Levels Expected To Top 2019 Records In 2020. In January of 2020, Fox 2 Detroit reported: “With water levels in the Great Lakes breaking records in 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is predicting levels to reach similar heights in 2020, with a chance of new records being set again. Projections that extend six months from the present-day estimate levels in every Great Lake, as well as Lake St. Clair will be well above the average levels, with Lakes Michigan and Huron appear the most likely to set record highs. Both came close to records in 2019.” [Fox 2 Detroit, 1/8/2020]

Michigan Flooding

CNN Headline: “Thousands In Michigan Evacuate After 2 Dams Are Breached, And The Governor Warns City Could Soon Be Under ‘9 Feet Of Water’” On May 20, 2020, CNN reported: “A rain-swollen river has breached two dams and flooded fields and streets in parts of mid-Michigan, forcing evacuation orders for thousands amid a coronavirus pandemic that’s posing safety challenges Wednesday for officials trying to provide shelter. Parts of the city of Midland and surrounding areas were virtual lakes Wednesday morning, and it could get worse. Downtown in Midland, a city of about 41,000 people downstream of the dams, could eventually be ‘under approximately 9 feet of water’ on Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the prior night.” [CNN, 5/20/2020]

New York Times Headline: “Dam Disaster Threatens Major Dow Chemical Complex and Superfund Project.” On May 20, 2020, the New York Times reported: “Floodwaters from two breached dams in Michigan on Wednesday surged toward a sprawling Dow chemical complex and a vast Superfund toxic-cleanup site downriver, raising concerns of wider environmental fallout from the dam disaster and historic flooding. The compound, which also houses the chemical giant’s world headquarters, lies on the banks of the Tittabawassee River in Midland, a city that emergency officials say could soon be under as much as nine feet of water. Kyle Bandlow, a Dow spokesman, confirmed that floodwaters had reached the site’s outer boundaries and were entering ponds designed to hold runoff of water used on the site.” [New York Times, 5/20/2020]

Twenty Toxic Sites In Michigan Are At Risk Of Flooding And Releasing Contaminants Due To Climate Change. In November of 2019, the Lansing State Journal reported: “Twenty toxic sites in Michigan are at high risk of releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment during floods, which are expected to become more intense and frequent as the climate changes, a federal report states. The Government Accountability Office’s October report to Congress identified over 1,500 toxic sites in the U.S. at risk of releasing contaminants during floods, wildfires, storm surges and sea level rise. That means 60% of toxic hot-spots in America are at risk, according to the Associated Press. The Michigan sites include Parsons Chemical Works in Grand Ledge, the Shiawassee River in Howell and the Verona Well Field in Battle Creek. All 20 are considered risky, as high flood hazards with a 1% chance of flooding every year.” [Lansing State Journal, 11/24/2019]

2019 Damages

Flooding On The Missouri River And Upper Midwest In March Of 2019 Cost $10.8 Billion And Caused 3 Deaths. According to data tracked by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, flooding on the Missouri River and North Central US in March of 2019 had an estimated cost of $10.8 billion in damages and 3 deaths. The NOAA’s summary of the disaster said:  “Historic Midwest flooding inundated millions of acres of agriculture, numerous cities and towns, and caused widespread damage to roads, bridges, levees, and dams. The states most affected were Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan. This flood was triggered by a powerful storm with heavy precipitation that intensified snow melt and flooding. Of note, the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska was also severely flooded the third U.S. military base to be damaged by a billion-dollar disaster event over a 6-month period (Sept 2018-Feb 2019). This historic flooding was one of the costliest U.S. inland flooding events on record.” [NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information]

Flooding On The Arkansas River In June Of 2019 Cost $3 Billion And Caused 5 Deaths. According to data tracked by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, flooding on the Arkansas River in June of 2019 had an estimated cost of $3.0 billion in damages and 5 deaths. The NOAA’s summary of the disaster said:  “Historic flooding impacts the Arkansas River Basin with damage to homes, agriculture, roads, bridges and levees focused across eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. Thousands of homes, cars and businesses were flooded due a combination of high rivers, levee failure and persistently heavy rainfall from May 20 through June.” [NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information]

Flooding On The Mississippi River And Southern States In July Of 2019 Cost $6.2 Billion And Caused 4 Deaths. According to data tracked by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, flooding on the Mississippi River, Midwest, and South in July of 2019 had an estimated cost of $6.2 billion in damages and 4 deaths. The NOAA’s summary of the disaster said:  “Additional major flooding impacted many Southern Plains states significantly affecting agriculture, roads, bridges, levees, dams and other assets across many cities and towns. The states most affected were Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Very high water levels also disrupted barge traffic along the Mississippi River, which negatively impacted a variety of dependent industries. Indiana and Ohio were also affected by persistent heavy rainfall that flooded farmland, which prevented and reduced crop planting by millions of acres.” [NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information]

Link To Climate Change

National Climate Assessment: “Heavy Downpours Are Increasing Nationally…The Mechanism Driving These Changes Is Well Understood.” According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment: “Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, especially over the last three to five decades. The heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent, and the amount of rain falling on the heaviest rain days has also increased. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling in very heavy precipitation events has been significantly above average. This increase has been greatest in the Northeast, Midwest, and upper Great Plains – more than 30% above the 1901-1960 average. There has also been an increase in flooding events in the Midwest and Northeast, where the largest increases in heavy rain amounts have occurred. The mechanism driving these changes is well understood. Warmer air can contain more water vapor than cooler air. Global analyses show that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has in fact increased due to human-caused warming.,,, This extra moisture is available to storm systems, resulting in heavier rainfalls. Climate change also alters characteristics of the atmosphere that affect weather patterns and storms.” [2014 National Climate Assessment: Extreme Weather]

Scientists Say Climate Change Played A Hand In Deadly 2019 Midwest Floods. In March of 2019, Reuters reported: “Climate change played a hand in the deadly floods in the U.S. upper Midwest that have damaged crops and drowned livestock, scientists said on Thursday, while a Trump administration official said more homework was needed before making that link. The “bomb cyclone” that dumped rain on Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri and killed at least four people now threatens a wider region downstream of swollen rivers and smashed levees. Manmade greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the oceans and making the air above them more humid, scientists said. When a storm picks up and eventually spits out that moisture, it can be devastating for people caught below. ‘The atmosphere is pretty close to fully saturated, it’s got all the water it can take,’ said Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.” [Reuters, 3/21/2019]

Hurricanes

2020 Season Outlook

NOAA Report: “An Above-Normal 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Expected.” According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration: “An above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected, according to forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. The outlook predicts a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30.” [NOAA press release, 5/21/2020]

Accuweather Forecasted 14-20 Tropical Storms For the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season With 7-11 Becoming Hurricanes. Based on the newest forecasting models, AccuWeather forecasters have extended the upper range of hurricanes predicted for the Atlantic hurricane season. The hurricane team, led by Dan Kottlowski, the company’s top hurricane expert, is now predicting 14 to 20 tropical storms, with additions also to the number of storms that become hurricanes: seven to 11 this season.” [Accuweather, 5/7/2020]

CNN Headline: “Experts Agree This Hurricane Season Will Be Above-average, Maybe Even Extremely Active.” On May 8, 2020, CNN reported: “Hurricane season is fast approaching and it is likely to be active — maybe even an extremely active — season. ‘Nearly all seasonal projections that have been issued by various agencies, institutions and private forecasting companies call for this season to be quite busy,’ CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward says. Almost all of which are forecasting an above-average — more than six — hurricanes this season, which begins June 1. Some are even calling for an ‘extremely active’ season — more than nine hurricanes. There are over a dozen forecasts published. And even though the official forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration won’t come until May 21, a strong consensus in the forecasts across the industry indicates the US is in for an active season.” [CNN 5/8/2020]

Link To Climate Change

New York Times Headline: “Climate Change Is Making Hurricanes Stronger, Researchers Find.” On May 18, 2020, the New York Times reported: “Hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades, an analysis of observational data shows, supporting what theory and computer models have long suggested: climate change is making these storms more intense and destructive. The analysis, of satellite images dating to 1979, shows that warming has increased the likelihood of a hurricane developing into a major one of Category 3 or higher, with sustained winds greater than 110 miles an hour, by about 8 percent a decade.” [New York Times, 5/18/2020]

  • James Kossin, NOAA Climate Scientist And Lead Author Claimed Stronger Hurricanes “Will Continue To Happen As Long As We Continue To Warm The Planet.” On May 19, 2020 Politico Morning Energy reported on a study on the impact of climate change on hurricanes: “The effects of a warmer world on cyclones, researchers said, suggest ‘there is a likely human fingerprint’ and that ruling out a man-made role would be ‘considered overly conservative’ given understanding on how a warmer world affects ocean energy. ‘I think at some point you say, yeah, I’m pretty well-convinced that this has happened and it will continue to happen as long as we continue to warm the planet,’ said James Kossin, the lead author and NOAA climate scientist. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” [Politico Morning Energy, 5/19/2020]

Environmental Experts: The Trump Administration’s Moves To Undermine U.S. Action On Climate Change Made Deadly Storms More Likely. “The U.S. government’s most recent report by top climate scientists predicts that seas will rise by at least another few inches in the next 15 years and by 1 to 4 feet by the end of the century. Other research has concluded that sea levels could rise by more than 6 feet by the end of the century because of faster-than-expected melting in Antarctica. Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty, and EPA’s subsequent unwinding of the three major Obama-era regulations aimed at slashing carbon pollution from power plants, vehicles and oil and gas operations, set the country on a path that makes Florence-like storms all the more likely, experts say.” [Politico, 9/19/18]

NOAA: Human Activates May Have Already Made Changes To Atlantic Hurricanes. According to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, “It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity. That said, human activities may have already caused changes that are not yet detectable due to the small magnitude of the changes or observational limitations, or are not yet confidently modeled (e.g., aerosol effects on regional climate).” [NOAA, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, accessed 8/29/17]

Anthropogenic Warming Likely To Increase Intensity Of Hurricanes By As Much As 11%. According to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, “Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average (by 2 to 11% according to model projections for an IPCC A1B scenario). This change would imply an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm, assuming no reduction in storm size.” [NOAA, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, accessed 8/29/17]

Increased Hurricane Activity Linked To Higher Surface Temperatures Caused By Man Made Carbon Emissions. According to the National Climate Assessment, “The recent increases in activity are linked, in part, to higher sea surface temperatures in the region that Atlantic hurricanes form in and move through. Numerous factors have been shown to influence these local sea surface temperatures, including natural variability, human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases, and particulate pollution. Quantifying the relative contributions of natural and human-caused factors is an active focus of research.” [National Climate Assessment, Extreme Weather, 2014]

Warming Water Would Provide Fuel For More Intense Hurricanes. According to NASA, “The one way in which global warming could impact hurricanes is by making them more intense. More heat and water in the atmosphere and warmer sea surface temperatures could provide more fuel to increase the wind speeds of tropical storms.” [NASA, Earth Observatory, accessed 8/28/17]

Wildfires

2020 Season Outlook

National Interagency Fire Center Identified Concerns With Warm And Dry Pattern That May Be Problematic For Oregon And Central Through Eastern Washington. According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s May, 2020 report on significant wildland fire potential outlook: “May is the transitional period into the Western Fire Season. Overall, the entry into the season is expected to be normal; however, there are areas of concern emerging for the summer months. While the Pacific Northwest received beneficial precipitation in late April, the overall pattern has been warm and dry which may be problematic for Oregon and Central through Eastern Washington.” [National Interagency Fire Center, National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook, 5/1/2020]

National Interagency Fire Center Identified Northern California, And The Great Basin Area As Areas To Monitor Closely “As Fuels Continue To Dry And Cure.” According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s May, 2020 report on significant wildland fire potential outlook: “Northern California and the Great Basin area are also areas to monitor closely for Above Normal significant wildland fire potential as fuels continue to dry and cure. Additionally, fine fuel loading is expected to be above average for the third consecutive year in the lower elevations. Those fuels will dry and cure, becoming receptive to fire by mid-June.” [National Interagency Fire Center, National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook, 5/1/2020]

Link To Climate Change

Climate Change Is Increasing The Severity, Frequency, And Extent Of Wildfires. According to a report from the EPA: “Higher temperatures and drought are likely to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires in Colorado, which could harm property, livelihoods, and human health. In 2013, the Black Forest Fire burned 14,000 acres and destroyed over 500 homes. Wildfire smoke can reduce air quality and increase medical visits for chest pains, respiratory problems, and heart problems. The size and number of western forest fires have increased substantially since 1985.” [Environmental Protection Agency, “What Climate Change Means for Colorado” August 2016]

The National Climate Assessment Has Found That The Number Of Wildfires Is Likely To Increase As The Climate Warms And Could Induce “Profound Changes To Certain Ecosystems.” In August of 2018, The Atlantic reported: “As if there wasn’t enough evidence of that. Last year, the National Climate Assessment—written by a panel of scientists in the military, federal civilian agencies, and private universities—reviewed the complete scientific literature on climate change and wildfires. They concluded that the number of large blazes had increased since the early 1980s. They also said the number of wildfires ‘is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate warms.’ They warned this could induce ‘profound changes to certain ecosystems.’” [The Atlantic, 8/10/18]

Acres Burned By Wildfire Doubled In Recent Decades Due To Climate Change. According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment Report: “Wildfire is a natural part of many ecosystems in the Southwest, facilitating germination of new seedlings and killing pests. Although many ecosystems require fire, excessive wildfire can permanently alter ecosystem integrity. Climate change has led to an increase in the area burned by wildfire in the western United States. Analyses estimate that the area burned by wildfire from 1984 to 2015 was twice what would have burned had climate change not occurred. Furthermore, the area burned from 1916 to 2003 was more closely related to climate factors than to fire suppression, local fire management, or other non-climate factors.” [National Climate Assesment, Chapter 25, 2018]

 

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