The United States government is not ready to deal with “catastrophic” weather and climate incidents, according to a Democratic Senator.
Majority whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said that the federal government needs to focus strategically on the long-term budget consequences of extreme weather events, which are increasing in severity and frequency.
"We are not prepared," Durbin said in a statement.
"Our weather events are getting worse, catastrophic in fact. The private sector is prepared, but the federal government is ignoring the obvious. We need to do more to protect federal assets and respond to growing demands for disaster assistance on an increasing frequency."
At the hearing of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee (which Durbin chaired), Dr. Kathryn Sullivan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) testified that so far in 2011, catastrophic events in the US have led to almost $28 billion in damages. She also indicated that 2011 is tied for fifth place as the worst year ever for tornadoes (since 1950, when such recordkeeping began), with 537 related deaths.
Moreover, 1.8-million acres of land have burned in the southwest and southern plains states due to wildfires.
"Any one such event in a year would be considered quite notable, and we had four in totally different hazard categories in the space of a month," Sullivan told Reuters.
Climate change is expected to accelerate the magnitude of future weather events.
Durbin indicated that after a tumultuous 2010, "the U.S. has already experienced eight natural disasters this year -- the previous record was nine. Chicago, in my home state of Illinois, has seen some of the worst weather in history."
Durbin noted that this past February, Chicago was hit with two feet of snow in a blizzard that killed three dozen people and caused damages estimated at almost $4-billion. Last weekend, the city was hammered by the biggest single-day rainfall in recorded history.
"Combined with last night's severe rainstorms, July 2011 is now the wettest month in the 122 years of Chicago's recorded history," he noted. "The economic impact of severe weather events is only projected to grow."
Donald Wuebble, a scientist at the University of Illinois, told the committee: "Every weather event that happens nowadays takes place in the context of the changes in the background climate system. So nothing is entirely 'natural' anymore.”
Durbin further warned that over the 75 years, weather-disaster damages could cost the federal government $7 trillion.
"In years with catastrophic events, we are left scrambling to fund relief programs," he said. "If we hope to put this country on a sustainable fiscal path, we need to be prepared to manage this increase in natural catastrophes."