Providence, Rhode Island – Every Rhode Islander lives in a county recently affected by weather-related disasters, according to a new interactive mapdeveloped using data from the federal government. These disasters included Hurricane Sandy, Tropical Storm Irene, winter storm Nemo in February 2013 and the historic blizzard of January 2015.
Scientists say global warming is already exacerbating some extreme weather events and their impacts. Without action, scientists predict that global warming will increase the frequency, severity and the catastrophic impacts of storms like those that have impacted Rhode Island in the last 5 years.
“We used to think of climate change as a problem that would happen someday, somewhere,” said Travis Madsen, Climate Campaign Director for Environment Rhode Island. “But as this map helps demonstrate, global warming is happening now, and it’s already hitting close to home.”
Environment Rhode Island researchers, who created the online map, found that the Northeast in particular has been impacted by a large increase in the frequency and severity of heavy downpours and snowstorms. Since the middle of the last century, major storms have nearly doubled in frequency in Rhode Island.
Major storms can have disruptive impacts. For example, 2 feet of snow fell on Rhode Island this past January, grinding the state to a halt for three days. And this August, a major rainstorm knocked out power to a quarter of the homes across the state. Many residents also remember the major rainstorm that hit Warwick in March 2010, causing the Pawtuxet River to overflow at more than 11 feet higher than flood stage – leading to widespread damage to homes, property and critical infrastructure.
Katie, from Norwalk Connecticut, added her story about Hurricane Sandy to the map. “Entire fronts of homes were ripped off and porches strewn down the street. […] there was three feet of standing water in the first floor of my house. […] my family and most of my neighbors were forced to live elsewhere for 6 months. It has been three years, and in homes where the destruction was worst, my neighbors are yet to come home.”
The map reveals that nationwide, more than 40 million Americans live in counties that were affected by more than five weather disasters over the last five years, while counties housing 96 percent of the population experienced declared disasters at least once.
The analysis comes as Rhode Island and eight other Northeastern states are preparing to discuss improvements to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a successful program that has helped to cut global warming pollution from power plants in Rhode Island and across the region over the last 5 years. It also comes just weeks before world leaders convene in Paris to reach an international agreement to slash global warming emissions.
Simultaneously, some members of Congress are lobbying to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of President Obama’s plan to tackle global warming.
Since the pre-industrial era, average global temperature has increased by nearly a degree Celsius, and climate scientists view another degree increase as untenable, leading to increasingly extreme weather events that would make parts of the world uninhabitable.
“To avoid even more dangerous climate impacts,” said Madsen, “we need our leaders to act boldly to slash carbon pollution and transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy.”
Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentRhodeIslandCenter.org