AUSTIN – No county in Texas has been hit by more weather-related disasters than Travis County, according to a new interactive map using data from the federal government. Weather-related disasters have been declared nine times in Travis County over the last five years and every county in Texas has been struck by at least one federally declared disaster. Scientists say global warming is already exacerbating some extreme weather events and their impacts.
“We used to think of climate change as a problem that would happen someday, somewhere,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “But as this map helps demonstrate, global warming is happening now, and it’s already hitting close to home.”
Environment Texas researchers, who created the online map, found 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. Scientists predict unchecked global warming will increase the frequency, severity and the catastrophic impacts of the flooding, wildfires and drought which has plagued Texas in recent years.
Torrential downpours and flooding caused disasters in 117 Texas counties and cost the lives of dozens of Texans. Wimberley resident Scott Price’s home was flooded when the Blanco River rose 44.5 feet above normal amid the wettest May in Texas history. “On the night of the flood we were awoken by the screaming of folks floating downstream,” said Mr. Price. “I'm not a scientist but I can tell you that this event was not just another flood on the Blanco. What we experienced was an extreme weather event. It was the result of climate change.”
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 40 million Americans live in counties that were affected by more than five weather disasters over the last five years, while counties housing 96 percent of the population experienced declared disasters at least once. Bexar County was impacted by four, Harris County by five, and Tarrant and Dallas counties by seven disasters.
The analysis comes as the state of Texas is deciding whether to develop a plan to the implement the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution. It also comes just weeks before world leaders convene in Paris to reach an international agreement to slash global warming emissions.
Since the pre-industrial era, average global temperature has increased by nearly a degree Celsius, and climate scientists view another degree increase as untenable, leading to increasingly extreme weather events that will make parts of the world uninhabitable.
“To avoid even more dangerous climate impacts,” said Metzger, “we need our leaders to act boldly to slash carbon pollution and transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy.”
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentTexasCenter.org