States Graded ‘A’ to ‘F’ for Extreme Weather Preparedness

By | November 20, 2015

Many states across the country are unprepared to face the risks posed extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding, coastal flooding and other extreme weather events, according to a new report card.

Only a small number of states – Alaska, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania – have taken strong action to prepare for future risks across the threats they face, according to the report card.

States receiving an overall A or A-grade include California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

States getting an overall F grade include: Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada and Texas.

The report, “States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card,” grades each of the 50 states based on the threats the state faces. Grades are based on both the magnitude of the current and future threat and the action states have taken to prepare for them relative to other states.

America's Preparedness report Card This report card explores the preparedness actions that each of the 50 states are taking in relation to their current and future changes in climate threats. Sources: ICF, Climate Central, States at Risk Project
America’s Preparedness Report Card
This report card explores the preparedness actions that each of the 50 states are taking in relation to their current and future changes in climate threats. Sources: ICF, Climate Central, States at Risk Project.

The report was prepared by the States at Risk Project, a collaboration of ICF International, a Virginia management consulting firm, and Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization, is designed to provide a benchmark for states to assess risks and increase their preparedness levels.

Key findings include:

  • States are least prepared for extreme heat risk. All states in the continental U.S. face this threat, but only 14 percent are taking strong action to prepare.
  • States are more prepared for coastal flooding than any other risk, but still only half of all coastal states are taking strong action to prepare for this risk.
  • More than half of all states assessed have taken no action to plan for future climate-related inland flooding risks or taken action to address them.

“This report card lays it out plain and simple: very few states have taken sufficient action to prepare for future changes in weather patterns that are already impacting us -and if we don’t take action now it will only get worse,” said former Alaska Senator Mark Begich.

Begich said his own state has already felt the effects of climate change firsthand and has taken steps to address coastal erosion and ocean acidification. But Alaska is not alone in facing threats, he said, citing coastal flooding that threatens property and lives in Florida and extreme heat decimating crops and endangering vulnerable people in Ohio.

Taxpayers for Common Sense Vice President Steve Ellis said extreme weather poses a “significant risk to the U.S. economy, infrastructure and lives” and recovery costs are putting stress on federal, state and local budgets. “Since the 1980s, the annual number of disasters with a price tag exceeding $1 billion has nearly tripled, from less than three to more than eight a year,” Ellis said. “Planning and taking steps to address these inevitable disasters cuts long-term costs, reduces impacts and ensures states and communities can more quickly rebound from losses. Rather than continue to write big checks post-disaster, we as a nation must invest in ourselves to become less vulnerable.”

Key findings from the report related to the risks states face include:

  • Florida, Texas, and California are the most at risk states. Florida ranks first for both inland and coastal flooding threats and second in terms of extreme heat. Texas faces four threats and is first in extreme heat, drought, and wildfire. California faces all five threats. It ranks second in wildfire and inland flooding and third in extreme heat.
  • The most pervasive threat to the 48 states in the continental U.S. is that of extreme heat – heat wave days are projected to more than triple by 2050 in every state except Oregon. This is particularly true in the southeast and Gulf Coast, where the annual number of days of dangerous heat are projected to skyrocket by 2050: nearly doubling in Texas, more than tripling in Louisiana and Mississippi and quintupling in Florida to a grueling 130 days a year, up from the current 26.
  • A growing wildfire threat is concentrated in four states: Texas, California, Arizona, and Nevada, where more than 35 million people live in the high threat zone where wildlands and development converge. Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia combine for another 15 million people at risk. And, the threat of wildfire is growing in the Southeast: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi are all projected to face above average increases in threat level.
  • Today, Texas faces the greatest summer drought threat. By 2050, however, nine states – Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin – are projected to have greater drought threat levels than Texas has today.

“Responding after a natural catastrophe occurs is extraordinarily expensive, not least of all, in the number of lives that may be lost,” said Carl Hedde, senior vice president, head of Risk Accumulation at Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. “It is unquestionable that investing before disaster strikes, to both mitigate and prevent loss, is good public policy. This report card is an important step in helping each state assess its strengths and weaknesses, and then focus its limited resources on strategies and actions that will reduce current risks and measurably improve disaster resilience for the long term.”

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