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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.

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