Fri, December 03, 2021

international

As hurricane season looms, Biden doubles funding to prepare for extreme weather


WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden will announce Monday afternoon that hes doubling the amount of money the U.S. government will spend helping communities prepare for extreme weather events, while launching a new effort at NASA to collect more sophisticated climate data.

While the $1 billion in funding is a fraction of what taxpayers spend each year on disasters, it underscores a broader effort to account for the damage wrought by climate change, and curb it. Last week the president signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to identify and disclose the perils a warming world poses to federal programs, assets and liabilities, while also requiring federal suppliers to reveal their own climate-related risks.

The president will make the announcement during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's headquarters Monday afternoon, where he will receive a briefing on this year's outlook for the Atlantic hurricane season.

The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program helps communities prepare in advance for hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. The administration will target roughly 40% of the additional money to disadvantaged areas.

In a phone interview Monday, White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said that Biden's actions will help convey to Americans how the climate has already changed and what the United States must do to respond to it.

"That's really going to make this climate issue real and relevant to people," she said. "We just have to prepare for this, and the president is a realist. This is the world we're living in."

Monday's hurricane briefing, McCarthy said, marked a sharp departure from how President Donald Trump approached extreme weather events. In a 2019 incident known as "Sharpiegate," Trump and his deputies pressured the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to contradict its own experts and say the path of Hurricane Dorian would severely impact Alabama. He also repeatedly questioned the link between rising temperatures and more frequent and intense wildfires.

"This meeting is not just sitting around talking about policies. It's all about listening to what science tells us, and how we can be prepared for those real-world impacts," McCarthy said. "It's telling people what they need to hear about what's happening in their world, but also responding with a robust whole-of-government approach."

Last week, NOAA said it expects another hectic season - one that will come on the heels of the busiest such season on record in 2020.

The past year saw a startling 30 named storms, including a half-dozen major hurricanes, surpassing a record set in 2005. A dozen tropical storms and hurricanes made landfall in the United States during the past year. Five of those made landfall in Louisiana, leaving multibillion dollar disasters and plenty of heartache in their wake.

But emergency officials will probably have little time to catch their breath. NOAA's outlook last week said a 60% chance exists for an above-average storm season this year, with a 70% probability of 13 to 20 named storms.

The administration will also start developing a new NASA mission concept for an Earth System Observatory, which will deploy advanced technology in space so scientists and policymakers can better understand the interactions between Earth's atmosphere, land, ocean and ice.

McCarthy said the initiative "brings together a lot of streams of evidence that will allow better predictions and ones that are more localized."

"In the big picture, I think understanding and preparing for extremes is the core of the climate challenge," said Stanford University Professor Chris Field, who chairs the school's Woods Institute for the Environment, in an email. "Extreme events are always the sharp end of the climate spear. But they are also super challenging to understand and forecast."

Field, who has co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group on managing the risks of extreme weather events, noted that current climate models are better at predicting average conditions than extreme events.

"If we want to understand where things are headed with climate-change impacts, understanding and forecasting extreme events is where we need to go," he said, adding that one of the complications is that some climate-related events, such as wildfires, have multiple causes.

2020 not only marked a record hurricane season, it also saw a startling number of billion-dollar disasters, according to a NOAA report released early this year. That research found that such catastrophes in the United States alone amounted to $95 billion from 22 separate billion-dollar events. The previous record for billion-dollar disasters was 16 in 2011 and in 2017.

Severe wildfires raged in the West, burning millions of acres and entire neighborhoods.

The year marked the most severe wildfire season across the West to date, with California logging five of its six biggest wildfires in state history. Hurricanes and tropical storms battered parts of the Gulf Coast.

In addition, 2020 essentially tied 2016 as the hottest year on record, according to scientists. It also capped the hottest decade in recorded history.

Published : May 25, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis