Reddest States Face Deepest Climate Danger

January 1, 2022

E&E News:

It rarely has hurricanes, tornadoes or wildfires. Its temperatures have increased at a slower rate than elsewhere in the United States.

But West Virginia is deceptively vulnerable to climate change because a huge number of its residents live in flood zones, and global warming is intensifying the kind of rainstorms that have caused deadly river overflows across the state.

Environmentalists are highlighting West Virginia’s surprising climate vulnerability after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he would not support the “Build Back Better Act,” which features ambitious plans to reduce emissions and adapt to global warming. 

A recent state-by-state analysis of flood risk found that West Virginia has the highest percentage of roads, commercial properties and infrastructure in danger of being flooded — ahead of every state in the continental U.S., including Florida and Louisiana. 

Fifty-one percent of West Virginia’s infrastructure facilities face significant flood risk. So do 46 percent of its road miles and 37 percent of its commercial properties, according to the nonprofit First Street Foundation. Each of those figures is roughly twice the national average.

For residential properties, 28 percent in West Virginia is at risk of being flooded — a figure that is behind only Louisiana and Florida, according to First Street.

“We were super surprised to see West Virginia at the top of the list,” First Street research director Jeremy Porter said.

West Virginia’s flood risk results largely from its steep, mountainous terrain, which has forced people to build at the bottom of river valleys. And that risk is growing.

“With the changing climate, in particular with the increase in impacts from heavy precipitation events that fill rivers and river valleys, you’re seeing more and more flooding,” Porter said.

The federal government’s flood maps severely understate West Virginia’s flood risk because the maps don’t account for flooding caused by rainfall or small tributaries — two major flood sources in West Virginia, Porter said.

Parts of West Virginia are still recovering from a cascade of devastating river floods in June 2016 that killed 23 people, wiped out thousands of buildings and caused $1.1 billion in damage. NOAA said the flooding resulted from a “thousand-year” downpour — rainfall so intense that it’s expected to occur only once every 1,000 years.

“Creeks and rivers turned into raging torrents, washing away anything in their paths,” NOAA wrote.

Federal Emergency Management Agency records show that West Virginia has experienced more flooding disasters since the 1950s than any state except for California and Texas, which are roughly 10 times as large and have roughly 20 times as many people.

FEMA records also show that West Virginia has one of the nation’s highest per capita rates of flood insurance claims, according to an E&E News analysis of National Flood Insurance Program data.

Yet West Virginia residents are among the nation’s most skeptical of climate change — an outlook that helps explain Manchin’s opposition to “Build Back Better” and other climate legislation.

“There’s a lot of identity tied to coal and timber,” said West Virginia University geography professor Jamie Shinn, who is an expert in climate adaptation. “That makes it really complicated” to link flooding to climate change.

A 50-state survey in 2018 by Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication showed that West Virginians were the least likely to think that climate change is occurring or that climate change is human-induced. 

They also were the least likely to worry about climate change, to think corporations or individuals should do more to address climate change, to talk about climate change with friends and relatives, to believe there is a scientific consensus about climate change, and to think climate change will harm the U.S.

“There’s a correlation between climate change and anti-fossil fuels in people’s minds,” Shinn said. “It’s scary to think about making an economic transition when what has been the economic foundation for a century is the extractive industry.”

The Hill:

A changing climate poses the greatest economic risks to the red states where voters and the politicians they elect are the least likely to believe in the threat of a warming world, according to a new report.

The report
, from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, found states like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas face potentially catastrophic losses from hotter summers and stronger storms through the end of the century. At the same time, longer summers — and even more carbon in the atmosphere — are likely to lead to higher crop yields in parts of the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest. 

The costs likely to be borne by those cities and regions in the reddest states will come from a variety of factors.  Cities in Florida and along the Atlantic Coast will bear large costs from rising sea levels, which are already leading to regular flooding in cities like Miami and Charleston. Industrial Appalachia and parts of the Deep South are likely to see agricultural yields fall because of hotter summers. Some of the country’s fastest-growing counties in Texas and Florida are likely to see increased mortality rates, according to the Climate Impact Lab, a collaboration of climate scientists and economists from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Rutgers University and the Rhodium Group. 

The worst-hit regions are likely to be in Florida. Of the 10 metropolitan areas likely to experience the steepest drops in gross domestic product (GDP), eight — including Tampa, Orlando and Miami — are in the Sunshine State. GDP in those metro areas is likely to fall by 10 percentage points or more.


3 Responses to “Reddest States Face Deepest Climate Danger”

  1. redskylite Says:

    2021 – It Keeps on Raining Too Much Too Fast – “This was a year of too much rain. It rained too much in the Northeast. It rained too much in the Pacific Northwest, where, after a hazy summer of record wildfires, record rainfall temporarily rendered Vancouver impassable by road or rail. On the Gulf Coast and in the mid-Atlantic, the wettest days keep getting wetter. This is one of climate change’s twisted bits of logic: Where it was dry, it was too dry. But where it was wet, it was way too wet.”

  2. gmrmt Says:

    Apparently one thing driving Republican voters is the fear of losing what you have (relative wealth, the demographic mix of your community, the economy you grew up with, etc.)
    Maybe climate change drives voting red?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      for some, you may be right. They’ll go to “Biden is using weather weapons” against us. Much like the anti-vaxx right, willing to die rather than face reality.
      see today’s post.

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