SAN ANTONIO – Comal, Guadalupe, and Hays counties are among the Texas counties hit hardest by weather-related disasters, according to an interactive, online map released today that compiles data from the federal government. Scientists say global warming is already exacerbating some extreme weather events and their impacts.
“From massive floods to severe droughts, dangerous weather is already hitting close to home,” said Luke Metzger, Director at Environment Texas. “And without action to stop climate change, scientists say these extremes—and their impact on Texans—will only get worse.”
Environment Texas researchers, who helped create the online map, Hitting Close to Home, found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared drought disasters in all 254 Texas counties between 2010 and 2015, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared disasters in other counties for floods, wildfires, tornadoes, and severe storms. Bexar County has had 4 disaster declarations since 2010, Comal and Guadalupe counties 10, Hays and Caldwell counties 12, and Travis County leads the state with 13.
Scientists project that extreme precipitation events are likely to increase in both intensity and frequency in the coming years. These concerns are especially piqued for Texans living in flash flood alley, which was just last year devastated in floods that stretched from Dallas to Houston and San Antonio and severely affecting those living in San Marcos and Wimberley.
Torrential downpours and flooding caused disasters in 117 Texas counties and cost the lives of dozens of Texans. Wimberley resident Renee Boschert’s home was flooded when the Blanco River rose 44.5 feet above normal amid the wettest May in Texas history last year. ““This was not a normal flood,” said Ms. Boschert. “The scale of damage was unprecedented and climate change clearly played a role.”
“Children are at a higher risk for the negative health effects of our changing climate, including respiratory illness and asthma attacks,” said Texas Moms Clean Air Force Organizer, Krystal Henagan. “As the nation’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, there is a tremendous opportunity in Texas to curb emissions and make an impact – especially when it comes to reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and in 2014 oil and gas producers in Texas reported leaking into the atmosphere more than 800,000 metric tons of methane. Other energy producing states have taken action to stop the leaks, Texas should do the same.”
187 Texas counties experienced wildfire disasters, burning millions of acres and destroying thousands of homes. According to scientists, 1 degree of extra heat is enough to cause a 350 percent increase in acres burned during a wildfire. The Associated Press reported in October that the Texas Forest Service “responded to just one wildfire of at least 5,000 acres from 1985 to 2000, but in the last 15 years there have been fires of that size nearly every year. There were 27 fires at least that size in 2008 and 76 in 2011.”
The map reveals that nationwide, more than 57 million Americans live in counties that were affected by more than five weather disasters over the last five years, while counties housing 97 percent of the population experienced declared disasters at least once.
The analysis comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants that also incentivize the development of wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy. Texas leaders have refused to implement the Clean Power Plan that would check the state’s worst polluters.
“Ultimately, we’re confident that the Clean Power Plan will survive polluter attacks in the courts,” said Metzger. “But in the mean time, states should be moving forward with clean energy solutions – for the sake our climate, our air, and our health – not obstructing climate progress as Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Paxton have.”
Since the pre-industrial era, average global temperature has increased by nearly a degree Celsius. In December, nearly 200 nations reached a global accord to limit warming to no more than another degree – a benchmark scientists say is critical to avert even more severe and frequent weather disasters.
“To meet our commitment in Paris and avoid the most dangerous climate impacts,” concluded Metzger, “ultimately we need to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”