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EIA mapping tool shows which U.S. energy facilities are at risk from flooding

August 8, 2014 Comments off

EIA mapping tool shows which U.S. energy facilities are at risk from flooding
Source: Energy Information Administration

The public now has a new online tool to help inform them about energy facilities’ exposure to flooding caused by hurricanes, overflowing rivers, flash floods, and other wet-weather events. Developed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the Flood Vulnerability Assessment Map, shows which power plants, oil refineries, crude oil rail terminals, and other critical energy infrastructure are vulnerable to coastal and inland flooding.

The mapping tool combines EIA’s existing U.S. Energy Mapping System with flood hazard information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and represents EIA’s latest step in making energy data more accessible, understandable, relevant, and responsive to users’ needs.

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Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters

August 8, 2014 Comments off

Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters
Source: NOAA

On August 6, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center released updated information on 2013 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters and several new tools to assist users in analyzing the data. These new features allow users to better explore the type, frequency and cost of U.S. billion-dollar events by state and year, from 1980 to 2013.

Based on updated financial information, NOAA is adding two new disasters to the 2013 total to include an Illinois Flooding and Severe Weather that occurred April 16-19, 2013, and a Midwest Severe Weather event that occurred August 6-7, 2013. This brings the total number of 2013 billion-dollar weather and climate events to nine. The estimated cost of damages from these events is $23 billion dollars.

NOAA also reanalyzed the entire period of record to examine events that were close to $1 billion threshold. Based on this reanalysis, 17 were added events to the entire period of record dating back to 1980, including several drought in the early part of the record.

The Causal Effect of Environmental Catastrophe on Long-Run Economic Growth: Evidence From 6,700 Cyclones

August 8, 2014 Comments off

The Causal Effect of Environmental Catastrophe on Long-Run Economic Growth: Evidence From 6,700 Cyclones (PDF)
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

Does the environment have a causal effect on economic development? Using meteorological data, we reconstruct every country’s exposure to the universe of tropical cyclones during 1950-2008. We exploit random within-country year-to-year variation in cyclone strikes to identify the causal effect of environmental disasters on long-run growth. We compare each country’s growth rate to itself in the years immediately before and after exposure, accounting for the distribution of cyclones in preceding years. The data reject hypotheses that disasters stimulate growth or that short-run losses disappear following migrations or transfers of wealth. Instead, we find robust evidence that national incomes decline, relative to their pre-disaster trend, and do not recover within twenty years. Both rich and poor countries exhibit this response, with losses magnified in countries with less historical cyclone experience. Income losses arise from a small but persistent suppression of annual growth rates spread across the fifteen years following disaster, generating large and significant cumulative effects: a 90th percentile event reduces per capita incomes by 7.4% two decades later, effectively undoing 3.7 years of average development. The gradual nature of these losses render them inconspicuous to a casual observer, however simulations indicate that they have dramatic influence over the long-run development of countries that are endowed with regular or continuous exposure to disaster. Linking these results to projections of future cyclone activity, we estimate that under conservative discounting assumptions the present discounted cost of “business as usual” climate change is roughly $9.7 trillion larger than previously thought.

NOAA’s updated Atlantic hurricane season outlook calls for an increased chance of a below-normal season

August 7, 2014 Comments off

NOAA’s updated Atlantic hurricane season outlook calls for an increased chance of a below-normal season
Source: NOAA

Forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center raised the likelihood for a below-normal season in today’s update to the Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. The update predicts a 70 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season and only a five percent chance of an above-normal season. The probabilities in the initial outlook issued on May 22 were 50 percent, 40 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Debt, Growth and Natural Disasters: A Caribbean Trilogy

August 4, 2014 Comments off

Debt, Growth and Natural Disasters: A Caribbean Trilogy
Source: International Monetary Fund

This paper seeks to determine the effects that natural disasters have on per capita GDP and on the debt to GDP ratio in the Caribbean. Two types of natural disasters are studied –storms and floods– given their prevalence in the region, while considering the effects of both moderate and severe disasters. I use a vector autoregressive model with exogenous natural disasters shocks, in a panel of 12 Caribbean countries over a period of 40 years. The results show that both storms and floods have a negative effect on growth, and that debt increases with floods but not with storms. However, in a subsample I find that storms significantly increase debt in the short and long run. I also find weak evidence that debt relief contributes to ease the negative effects of storms on debt.

Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States (PDF)
Source: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) water level (tide) gauges have been measuring water levels around the U.S. for over a century, providing clear evidence of sea level rise relative to land (SLR rel ) around most of the continental United States and Hawaii. As SLR rel increases mean sea level (MSL), there is naturally an increase in tidal datum elevations, which are typically used to delineate inundation thresholds. Direct consequences of rising sea level against fixed elevations such as today’s built infrastructure also include increased inundation during extreme events both spatially and temporally. Not only are extreme flooding events reaching high er grounds and covering larger areas due to SLR rel , the frequency and duration of these extreme flood events are increasing.

Another consequence of SLR rel is the increase in lesser extremes such as occasional minor coastal flooding experienced during high tide. These events are becoming more noticeable and widespread along many U.S. coastal regions and are today becoming more of a nuisance . As sea levels continue to rise and with an anticipated acceleration in the rate of rise from ocean warming and land-ice melt, concern exists as to when more substantive impacts from tidal flooding of greater frequency and duration will regularly occur. Information quantifying these occurrences to inform mitigation and adaptation efforts and decision makers is not widely available.

In this report, we show that water level exceedances above the elevation threshold for “minor” coastal flooding (nuisance level ) impacts established locally by the National Weather Service (NWS) have been increasing in time. More importantly, we document that event frequencies are accelerating at many U.S. East and Gulf Coast gauges, and many other locations will soon follow regardless of whether there is an acceleration of SLR rel . Lastly, we show a regional pattern of increasingly greater event-rate acceleration as the height between MSL and a location’s nuisance flood threshold elevation decreases.

Do Coastal Building Codes Make Stronger Houses?

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Do Coastal Building Codes Make Stronger Houses? (PDF)
Source: Cato Institute

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides federal flood insurance to property owners in participating communities, is currently $24 billion in debt. The shortfall has long been foreseen by policymakers because the insurance is underpriced, effectively subsidizing property owners of coastal properties. Congress attempted to curtail that subsidy with the 2012 Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was intended to put the burden of flood risk squarely on property owners rather than taxpayers. However, beneficiaries of the subsidies rallied against the legislation, and earlier this year both houses of Congress passed, and President Obama signed, legislation delaying the 2012 subsidy reform.

Communities that participate in the NFIP must adopt the program’s building code, which incorporates minimum building standards set forth by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Economists have theorized that building codes associated with the provision of subsidized insurance may create moral hazard by inducing risk taking. That is, the acquisition of insurance against some contingency is associated with a decreased incentive to avoid or prevent the insured loss because policyholders do not bear the full consequences of their actions. Independent of any insurance provision, moral hazard can also result from a false perception of safety if building codes are not effective.

This article examines the effectiveness of the NFIP’s building code in reducing damages to barrier island property in a hurricane. We determine whether similarly located properties fare better or worse in a hurricane based on the code regime under which they were constructed. We use data from Lee County, Fla., where 2004’s Hurricane Charley made landfall. Our findings raise questions about the optimal scale of code design, and about unintended consequences from building code changes.

2014 CoreLogic Storm Surge Analysis Identifies More Than 6.5 Million US Homes with Total Reconstruction Value of Nearly 1.5 Trillion Dollars at Risk of Hurricane Storm Surge Damage

July 14, 2014 Comments off

2014 CoreLogic Storm Surge Analysis Identifies More Than 6.5 Million US Homes with Total Reconstruction Value of Nearly 1.5 Trillion Dollars at Risk of Hurricane Storm Surge Damage
Source: CoreLogic

CoreLogic® (NYSE: CLGX), a leading global property information, analytics and data-enabled services provider, today released its 2014 storm surge analysis featuring estimates on both the number and reconstruction value of single-family homes exposed to hurricane-driven storm surge risk within the United States. According to the findings, more than 6.5 million homes along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of storm surge inundation, representing nearly $1.5 trillion in total potential reconstruction costs. More than $986 billion of that risk is concentrated within 15 major metro areas. This exposure could constitute significant risk for homeowners and financial services companies, as many at-risk homes lack protection from insurance coverage.

The analysis examined homes along the coastlines of 19 states and the District of Columbia in the Gulf and Atlantic regions, extending as far west as Texas and as far north as Maine. Florida ranks number one for the highest number of homes at risk of storm surge damage, with nearly 2.5 million homes at various risk levels and $490 billion in total potential exposure to damage. At the local level, the New York metropolitan area, which encompasses northern New Jersey and Long Island as well, contains not only the highest number of homes at risk for potential storm surge damage (687,412), but also the highest total reconstruction value of homes exposed, at more than $251 billion.

Free registration required to download report.

Nonlinear permanent migration response to climatic variations but minimal response to disasters

July 3, 2014 Comments off

Nonlinear permanent migration response to climatic variations but minimal response to disasters
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

We present a microlevel study to simultaneously investigate the effects of variations in temperature and precipitation along with sudden natural disasters to infer their relative influence on migration that is likely permanent. The study is made possible by the availability of household panel data from Indonesia with an exceptional tracking rate combined with frequent occurrence of natural disasters and significant climatic variations, thus providing a quasi-experiment to examine the influence of environment on migration. Using data on 7,185 households followed over 15 y, we analyze whole-household, province-to-province migration, which allows us to understand the effects of environmental factors on permanent moves that may differ from temporary migration. The results suggest that permanent migration is influenced by climatic variations, whereas episodic disasters tend to have much smaller or no impact on such migration. In particular, temperature has a nonlinear effect on migration such that above 25 °C, a rise in temperature is related to an increase in outmigration, potentially through its impact on economic conditions. We use these results to estimate the impact of projected temperature increases on future permanent migration. Though precipitation also has a similar nonlinear effect on migration, the effect is smaller than that of temperature, underscoring the importance of using an expanded set of climatic factors as predictors of migration. These findings on the minimal influence of natural disasters and precipitation on permanent moves supplement previous findings on the significant role of these variables in promoting temporary migration.

See: With climate change, heat more than natural disasters will drive people away (EurekAlert!)

Short-Term Energy Outlook Supplement: 2014 Outlook for Gulf of Mexico Hurricane-Related Production Outages

June 18, 2014 Comments off

Short-Term Energy Outlook Supplement: 2014 Outlook for Gulf of Mexico Hurricane-Related Production Outages (PDF)
Source: Energy Information Administration

Highlights
• EIA’s mean estimate of storm-related production disruptions in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico during the 2014 hurricane season are 11.6 million barrels (bbl) of crude oil and 29.7 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas.
• The EIA estimates are based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, which was released May 22. NOAA predicted that the Atlantic Basin likely will experience near-normal or below-normal tropical weather during the 2014 hurricane season, which began June 1 and runs through November 30.
• NOAA expects that 8 to 13 named storms are likely to form within the Atlantic Basin1 over the next 6 months, including 3 to 6 hurricanes, of which 1 to 2 will be intense.2 Last season, the Atlantic Basin experienced 11 tropical storms and 2 hurricanes, neither of which was considered major. Four of the tropical storms and one of the hurricanes passed through the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA does not attempt to predict the location of any hurricane activity within the Atlantic Basin.
• The share of total U.S. oil and natural gas production originating in the federally-administered Gulf of Mexico has declined sharply. In 1997, 26% of the nation’s natural gas was produced in the Gulf of Mexico; by 2013, that share had declined to 5%. The share of crude oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico also has declined in recent years, from 27% in 2003 to 17% last year. The declining share of total production from offshore areas has reduced the vulnerability of overall U.S. oil and natural gas supply to hurricanes.
• EIA’s analysis estimates a 69% probability of production shut-in volumes being equal to or larger than the production shut in during the 2013 hurricane season, which totaled 3.1 million bbl of crude oil and 6.7 Bcf of natural gas.

DHS OIG — FEMA Could Realize Millions in Savings by Strengthening Policies and Internal Controls Over Grant Funding for Permanently Relocated Damaged Facilities

June 14, 2014 Comments off

FEMA Could Realize Millions in Savings by Strengthening Policies and Internal Controls Over Grant Funding for Permanently Relocated Damaged Facilities (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General
From Spotlight (PDF):

FEMA could realize millions of dollars in cost savings by strengthening its policies, procedures, and internal controls over Public Assistance grant funding provided for permanently relocated damaged facilities. FEMA’s present policies and procedures do not effectively address how FEMA should use program income to offset permanently relocated facility costs. For example, such a revised policy could have saved an estimated $17.8 million in project costs. Also, internal controls were not in place to determine when applicants received program income to offset permanently relocated facility costs.

New Report Shows Climate Change Putting Landmark U.S. Historic Sites at Risk

June 13, 2014 Comments off

New Report Shows Climate Change Putting Landmark U.S. Historic Sites at Risk
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Sea level rise, worsening wildfires and floods are putting at risk landmark historic sites around the United States, according to “National Landmarks at Risk,” a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The report lists 30 at-risk sites, including places where the “first Americans” lived, the Spaniards ruled, English colonists landed, slavery rose and fell, and gold prospectors struck it rich. Some of the sites also commemorate more modern “firsts,” such as the race to put the first man on the moon.

Water level response in back-barrier bays unchanged following Hurricane Sandy

May 31, 2014 Comments off

Water level response in back-barrier bays unchanged following Hurricane Sandy
Source: Geophysical Research Letters

On 28–30 October 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused severe flooding along portions of the northeast coast of the United States and cut new inlets across barrier islands in New Jersey and New York. About 30% of the 20 highest daily maximum water levels observed between 2007 and 2013 in Barnegat and Great South Bay occurred in 5 months following Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy provided a rare opportunity to determine whether extreme events alter systems protected by barrier islands, leaving the mainland more vulnerable to flooding. Comparisons between water levels before and after Hurricane Sandy at bay stations and an offshore station show no significant differences in the transfer of sea level fluctuations from offshore to either bay following Sandy. The post-Hurricane Sandy bay high water levels reflected offshore sea levels caused by winter storms, not by barrier island breaching or geomorphic changes within the bays.

New From the GAO

May 28, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. 2013 Sequestration: Selected Federal Agencies Reduced Some Services and Investments, While Taking Short-Term Actions to Mitigate Effects. GAO-14-452, May 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-452
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663619.pdf

2. 2013 Lobbying Disclosure: Observations on Lobbyists’ Compliance with Disclosure Requirements. GAO-14-485, May 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-485
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663646.pdf

3. Emergency Transportation Relief: Agencies Could Improve Collaboration Begun during Hurricane Sandy Response. GAO-14-512, May 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-512
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663626.pdf

4. Surface Transportation: Actions Needed to Improve Documentation of Key Decisions in the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program. GAO-14-628R, May 28.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-628R

NOAA predicts near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season

May 22, 2014 Comments off

NOAA predicts near-normal or below-normal 2014 Atlantic hurricane season
Source: NOAA

In its 2014 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal season.

The main driver of this year’s outlook is the anticipated development of El Niño this summer. El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Niño can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.

The outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season. For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

These numbers are near or below the seasonal averages of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, based on the average from 1981 to 2010. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

New From the GAO

May 15, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Report and Testimonies
Source: Government Accountability Office

Report

1. Law Enforcement Body Armor: Status of DOJ’s Efforts to Address GAO Recommendations. GAO-14-610R, May 14.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-610R

Testimonies

1. Critical Infrastructure Protection: Observations on DHS Efforts to Implement and Manage its Chemical Security Program, by Stephen L. Caldwell, director, homeland security and justice, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. GAO-14-608T, May 14.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-608T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663171.pdf

2. Disaster Resilience: Actions Are Underway, but Federal Fiscal Exposure Highlights the Need for Continued Attention to Longstanding Challenges, by Chris Currie, acting director, homeland security and justice, before the Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. GAO-14-603T, May 14.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-603T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663180.pdf

CRS — FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund: Overview and Selected Issues

May 14, 2014 Comments off

FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund: Overview and Selected Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Robert T. Stafford Emergency Relief and Disaster Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, as amended) authorizes the President to issue declarations for incidents ranging from destructive, large-scale disasters to more routine, less damaging events. Declarations trigger federal assistance in the forms of various response and recovery programs under the Stafford Act to state, local, and tribal governments. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) is the primary funding source for disaster response and recovery.

Funds from the DRF are used to pay for ongoing recovery projects from disasters occurring in previous fiscal years, meet current emergency requirements, and as a reserve to pay for upcoming incidents. The DRF is funded annually and is a “no-year” account, meaning that unused funds from the previous fiscal year (if available) are carried over to the next fiscal year. In general, when the balance of the DRF becomes low, Congress provides additional funding through both annual and supplemental appropriations to replenish the account.

April 2014 Global Catastrophe Recap

May 9, 2014 Comments off

April 2014 Global Catastrophe Recap (PDF)
Source: Aon

+ Severe weather outbreaks cause billions of dollars of damage in the United States
+ Cyclone Ita makes landfall in Australia’s Queensland; causes nearly USD1.0 billion in agricultural damage
+ Earthquakes cause damage and casualties in Chile, Nicaragua, China and Mexico

New From the GAO

May 9, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Military Training: DOD Met Annual Reporting Requirements for Its 2014 Sustainable Ranges Report. GAO-14-517, May 9.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-517
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663082.pdf

2. Overview of GAO’s Past Work on the National Flood Insurance Program. GAO-14-297R, April 9.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-297R

CRS — Congressional Primer on Responding to Major Disasters and Emergencies

May 8, 2014 Comments off

Congressional Primer on Responding to Major Disasters and Emergencies (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The principles of disaster management assume a leadership role by the local, tribal, and state governments with the federal government providing coordinated supplemental resources and assistance, if requested and approved. The immediate response to a disaster is guided by the National Response Framework (NRF), which details roles and responsibilities at various levels of government, along with cooperation from the private and nonprofit sectors, for differing incidents and support functions. A declaration of a major disaster or emergency under the authority of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, P.L. 93-288, must, in almost all cases, be requested by the governor of a state or the chief executive of an affected Indian tribal government, who at that point has declared that the situation is beyond the capacity of the state or tribe to respond. The governor/chief also determines which parts of the state/tribal territory they will request assistance for and suggests the types of assistance programs that may be needed. The President considers the request, in consultation with officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and makes the initial decisions on the areas to be included as well as the programs that are implemented.

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