Global Warming to Make Hurricanes More Severe, Report Says

For immediate release

Raleigh, NC—Hurricanes like Irene –which killed six last year and caused up to 20 inches of rainfall in parts of the state—could be more severe in the future because of global warming, according to a new Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center report.  Nearly half the state’s population has been hit by an extreme weather event since 2006, according to the county-by-county data examined in the study. 

“Too many communities have yet to fully recover from Irene,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, Environment North Carolina Director.  “Since global warming is likely to make hurricanes like Irene even worse, 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 North Carolinians live in counties hit by recent weather disasters.

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 include:

  • Since 2006, federally declared weather-related disasters affected 59 counties in North Carolina and 4.5 million people –nearly half the state’s population.
  • In 2011 alone, federally declared weather related disasters affected 45 counties in North Carolina.  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.
  • 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. 
  • The report reflects the spate of tornadoes that hit North Carolina last spring, but also notes that the research shows little scientific consensus about the impact of global warming on tornadoes.

The report was released as the Obama administration is finalizing historic new carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, and as the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to develop carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants—the largest single source of the carbon pollution that is fueling global warming. At the same time, some polluting industries and their allies in Congress are working to block these and other clean air standards.

“We applaud the Obama administration for the clean car standards they are finalizing, and urge EPA to move ahead with strong carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants,” said Ouzts.  “The extreme weather we suffered through in 2011 is a frightening reminder of why we must do everything we can to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that is fueling global warming, and lessen the threat of even worse extreme weather in the future.”

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