Durbin: Federal Government Unprepared for Growing Number of Extreme Weather Events

With $28 billion in damages caused this year alone, economic impact of severe weather projected to grow dramatically in future years

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today chaired a hearing of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee to examine the federal government’s preparedness for the economic impact of weather events which are growing in frequency and severity.  Traditionally, disaster relief funding has been largely unplanned for – being provided only on an as-need basis rather than through the regular annual funding cycle.


After hearing testimony from the President of the Reinsurance Association of America, Franklin Nutter, Durbin argued that the federal government should follow the lead of the private sector and begin to focus strategically on the long-term budgetary impacts of increasingly severe weather events. 


“We are not prepared.  Our weather events are getting worse, catastrophic in fact,” said Durbin. “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.”


Professor Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explained that there is strong evidence of an increasing trend over recent decades for severe weather, especially very heavy rain events.  He further explained that U.S. is seeing more extreme weather related events in recent decades compared to years past and used scientific analysis to suggest a likelihood that these events will increase in the future.


“After a record setting 2010, the U.S. has already experienced eight natural disasters this year – the previous record was nine,” said Durbin.  “Chicago, in my home state of Illinois, has seen some of the worst weather in history.  In February, the city was shutdown as two feet of snow and twenty mile per hour winds hammered the city killing thirty-six people and causing $3.9 billion in damages.  Last weekend, the city was hit again with the largest recorded single-day rainfall in history.  Combined with last night’s severe rainstorms, July 2011 is now the wettest month in the 122 years of Chicago’s recorded history.” 


According to testimony from Dr. Kathryn Sullivan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2011 alone, almost $28 billion in damages have already been caused by catastrophic events.  2011 is tied for fifth as the deadliest tornado year for the United States since modern record-keeping began in 1950, with 537 casualties.  Prime wildfire conditions in the Southern Plains and Southwestern States have led to a record breaking 1.79 million acres burned.  Record setting rain has caused historic flooding throughout the Midwest that is forecasted to rival the Great Flood of 1993. 


Today’s hearing also featured testimony from the Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the Government Accountability Office, David Trimble and the Deputy Associate Administrator of the Office of Disaster Assistance at the Small Business Administration, James Rivera.