PORTLAND, MAINE – 68 percent, or three in five Mainers live in counties affected recently by weather-related disasters, including the late September flooding here in Portland and across the coast, according to new interactive map using data from the federal government. 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,” Laura Dorle, campaign organizer with Environment Maine. “But as this map helps demonstrate, global warming is happening now, and it’s already hitting close to home.”
Environment Maine researchers, who created the online map, found that strikingly, York and Cumberland Counties, the two most populous counties in Maine, experienced the brunt of the weather related disasters in the past five years, with eight and seven federally declared disasters respectively Scientists predict unchecked global warming will increase the frequency, severity and the catastrophic impacts of extreme precipitation events like the extreme flooding of late September of this year that hit Portland and many other coastal Maine towns.
“A lot of people have seen the impacts of extreme weather, particularly in the Bayside neighborhood by Whole Foods where we are starting to see several feet loads of water; it is completely overwhelming our stormwater systems,” said Portland City Councilman David Marshall who chairs the Portland Transportation, Sustainability, and Energy Committee. “The big challenge for the city is that these storms are becoming more and more common. Our infrastructure is not built to handle rainfall of the amount that we have had. We could get even worse flooding than what we have seen already if future storm surges hit high tide.”
Pat Moody of AAA of New England stated that during the most recent flood event, “We estimate that over 200 cars were towed during and after the storm due to being submerged in the greater Portland area.”
It is not just here in Portland that Maine has seen increases in extreme precipitation and storm events.
“Most rain events since 1970 have been above or far above average,” said Ellen Mecray, Regional Climate Services Director with NOAA for the Eastern Region.
And personal anecdotes back this up. Representative Russell Black (R-Wilton) runs Black Acres Farm joined Environment Maine for the map release. “There is no question about how much climate change is affecting my farm. We have had to switch from dry hay to bailage, forcing us to buy whole new equipment. Our maple syrup operation has also been affected. The tapping season has moved three to four weeks earlier than average, and has often been shorter. Maple syrup has to have warm days and cool nights. That is threatened by climate change,” he said.
“We need to consider alternatives to fossil fuels,” Black urged. Black who joined Maine Conservation Voters, Environment Maine, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine in early September to meet with Maine’s federal delegation, has been outspoken about his support for the Clean Power Plan.
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.
The analysis comes as Maine and eight other Northeastern states are preparing to discuss improvements to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a successful program that has helped to cut global warming pollution from power plants in Maine and across the region over the last 5 years. In addition, Maine prepares to implement the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. While this critical plan goes forward some in Congress are lobbying to repeal this critical initiative, and Senator King and Senator Collins remain critical votes to ensuring this historic plan is defended in Congress.
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 Dorle, “we need our leaders like Senators King and Collins to act boldly to slash carbon pollution and transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy.”
Environment Maine Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentMainecenter.org