Noting that the U.S. has experienced $35 billion in economic losses due to disasters already this year, the federal government is embarking upon a national plan it hopes will save lives and protect property from severe weather events.
The goal of the initiative by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its National Weather Service is to make the United States a “weather-ready” nation.
NOAA said the plan is needed as communities across the country become increasingly vulnerable to tornado outbreaks, intense heat waves, flooding, active hurricane seasons, and solar storms that threaten electrical and communication systems.
NOAA said the U.S. has experienced nine separate disasters, each with an economic loss of $1 billion or more, tying the record set in 2008. The latest event to surpass the $1 billion price tag is this summer’s flooding along the Missouri and Souris rivers in the upper Midwest. This year’s losses have so far amounted to $35 billion.
“Severe weather represents a very real threat to public safety that requires additional robust action,” said Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “The increasing impacts of natural disasters, as seen this year, are a stark reminder of the lives and livelihoods at risk.”
In partnership with other government agencies, researchers, and the private sector, the National Weather Service said it is charting a path to a weather-ready nation through:
- Improved precision of weather and water forecasts and effective communication of risk to local authorities;
- Improved weather decision support services with new initiatives such as the development of mobile-ready emergency response specialist teams;
- Innovative science and technological solutions such as the nationwide implementation of Dual Pol radar technology, Integrated Water Resources Science and Services, and the Joint Polar Satellite System;
- Strengthening joint partnerships to enhance community preparedness;
- Working with weather enterprise partners and the emergency management community to enhance safety and economic output and effectively manage environmental resources.
The National Weather Service is also planning to test some community-based projects, ranging from emergency response to ecological forecasting, to enhance the agency’s preparedness efforts. Test projects will initially be launched in the Gulf Coast, South and mid-Atlantic.
“Ultimately, these projects will provide the specific action plans necessary for us to adapt to extreme weather events and represent an important step in building a weather-ready nation,” said Hayes.
In the past 30 years, the U.S. has experienced a total of 108 weather-related disasters that have caused more than $1 billion dollars in damages. Overall, these disasters have resulted in three-quarters of $1 trillion in standardized losses since 1980, according to NOAA records.
According to Munich Reinsurance America, a top provider of property/casualty reinsurance in the U.S., the number of natural disasters has tripled in the last 20 years and 2010 was a record breaker with about 250. Average thunderstorm losses have increased five-fold since 1980. For the first half of 2011 there have been $20 billion in thunderstorm losses, up from the previous three-year average of $10 billion.
NOAA said this jump in weather-related disasters coupled with population growth and density in high-risk areas has increased the need for action.
“Building a Weather-ready nation is everyone’s responsibility,” said Eddie Hicks, president, International Association of Emergency Managers-USA. “It starts with National Weather Service and emergency managers, like the U.S. Council of International Association of Emergency Managers, but it ends with actions by individuals and businesses to reduce their risks. The more prepared communities are for destructive weather, the less of a human and economic toll we’ll experience in the future, and that’s a great thing for the country.”