US announces $30 million to bolster coasts from flooding, rising seas

Communities are seen surrounded by water and wetlands in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

US announces $30 million to bolster coasts from flooding, rising seas
By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The U.S. government’s oceans and waterways agency will provide $30 million to improve coastal resilience, officials said, aiming to reduce the impacts of worsening storms, flooding and rising seas in nearly half of U.S. states.

Grants through the program are designed to restore or expand coastal wetlands, dunes, reefs, mangroves and barrier islands that are key to coastal protection, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an announcement.

Coastlines worldwide are being damaged or threatened by more extreme and destructive weather, higher temperatures and rising seas that scientists attribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Climate change will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, said a government report late last year that cited the impact on health, infrastructure and industry, as well as water and ocean resources, sometimes called the “blue economy.”

“The Blue Economy drives our nation’s prosperity and growth, and yet our coastal areas remain vulnerable to extreme events like hurricanes and flooding,” said Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, in a statement.

President Donald Trump, who has previously dismissed climate change as a hoax, recently notified the United Nations that the United States will leave the Paris climate accord, under which world nations agreed to cut emissions to slow warming.

The NOAA funding, announced Monday, consists of 44 grants for projects such as rebuilding the shoreline and restoring marshland in the southern state of Louisiana.

One funded project will build up wetlands along a Lake Pontchartrain levee adjacent to New Orleans, said John Lopez, director of the coast and community program for Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a local non-profit group.

Wetlands act as buffers, reducing the energy and surges of powerful storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the area in 2005.

“The levees can protect communities, but we need our wetlands to protect our levees,” Lopez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Grants will go to 23 U.S. states, NOAA said.

Partners in the grants, part of the National Coastal Resilience Fund, are the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), created by Congress to provide conservation grants, along with energy giant Shell Oil Company and TransRe, a global reinsurance company.

NOAA did not disclose how much money was being provided by the private concerns.

A Shell spokeswoman said the company finances seven grants with the NFWF, each for several hundred thousand dollars. She did not provide further specifics.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Laurie Goering

United States sees one of its warmest, wettest and wildest years on record

The continental United States experienced one of its warmest and wettest years in history in 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday.

Temperatures and precipitation totals were well above long-term averages, according to the year-end report published by the NOAA’s National Centers for Climate Information, and the final numbers indicated the nation had its second-warmest and third-wettest year on record.

The nation also was hit by five different types of weather and climate disasters — flooding, droughts, wildfires, extreme cold and severe storms — a variety the NOAA said is not usually seen. There were 10 disasters in total, and each of them caused at least $1 billion in losses.

The NOAA reported the average temperature in the United States last year was 54.4 degrees Fahrenheit, 2.4 degrees above the nation’s 20th-century average, but .88 degrees lower than the record-setting year of 2012. The average precipitation total in the lower 48 states was 34.47 inches, 4.53 inches above the average level, and the influx of rainfall helped reduce the national drought footprint by about 10 percent. The only wetter years on record are 1973 and 1983.

Every single one of the lower 48 states posted above-average yearly temperatures, the NOAA said, and Washington, Florida and Oregon all posted their warmest years on record. The same can be said of southeastern Louisiana and western Montana.

The temperature and precipitation records date to 1895.

The NOAA also said 10 weather and climate disasters occurred across the nation last year, including wildfires and droughts in the west, flooding in South Carolina, Texas and the midwest, a cold wave in the northeast, tornadoes in Oklahoma and Texas, and severe thunderstorms across the Great Plains. Together, the NOAA said the disasters killed 155 people nationwide.

It’s not common, but also not unheard of, for the United States to see that many different kinds of disasters causing $1 billion in losses in a year. According to the NOAA, the nation usually sees three or four kinds of disasters every year, but five have occurred five other times since 1989.

The overall total of 10 billion-dollar disasters was slightly below the nation’s five-year average of 10.8, the report indicates, but it was still nearly double the 35-year average of 5.2.

The NOAA added the United States has now been the victim of 188 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters since 1980, and they have cumulatively caused more than $1 trillion in losses.