Climate Cast: Shutdown stalls climate research, Insurance rates skyrocket as coastal losses mount

MPR meteorologist Paul Huttner joins Kerri Miller Thursdays at 9:50 a.m. on The Daily Circuit for “Climate Cast” on MPR News Stations to talk about the latest research on our changing climate and the consequences that we’re seeing here in Minnesota and worldwide.

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These days it seems like we are witnessing climate changes unfold right before our very eyes.

It’s not our imagination.

The nature of our seasons is changing. Spring blooms come earlier. Summers are more humid with a documented increase in extreme localized flash flood events – and more frequent droughts. Fall lingers longer. Lakes freeze up later. Winters are trending shorter and noticeably, measurably milder. Plants and animals struggle to adapt new climate zones. National treasures like Yellowstone and the Black Hills are facing extreme climate changes.

We’re all living witnesses to these rapid climate changes in our lifetime. This is no longer your grandparents’ Minnesota or planet Earth.

1 in 1,000 year flood causes major damage in Big Thompson Canyon near Boulder, Colorado. Image: Colorado National Guard

Climate Cast for October 3, 2013.

The shutdown of the federal government, now in its third day, is having an effect on research into climate change. According to the website Climate Central, more than half of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff has been sent home without pay. Those who remain are assigned to “mission critical” work, which does not include educational or most research duties.

Paul Huttner, senior meteorologist for MPR News, talks about the impact the shutdown is having on climate research on this week’s Climate Cast.

Image: NOAA

Shutdown hampers climate data gathering and research

55% of NOAA and 97% of NASA employees furloughed? That’s not good news for keeping track of changes rapidly accelerating climate on our planet. Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman has some good insight on how the shutdown is affecting our ability to develop models and track climate.

At NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) in Maryland, employees who provide most operational climate forecasts have stayed on the job, but those who monitor climate conditions have been furloughed. This is problematic, according to a CPC meteorologist, because the climate monitoring work is used to help make predictions. Products focused on short-term climate, such as weekly climate anomalies and storm track analyses may not be updated during the shutdown, the meteorologist said. The CPC meteorologist spoke to Climate Central on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press about the shutdown.

According to a spokesperson for the Commerce Department, which houses NOAA, the missions of “weather, water, and climate observing, prediction, forecast, warning, and support” will all continue despite a lapse in fiscal year 2014 appropriations.

However, much of NOAA’s research activities have stopped or been slowed. For example, Harold Brooks, a top tornado researcher who works at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., reported his furlough notice on Facebook on Tuesday. Much of the staff at NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, except for positions related to maintaining computing resources, have also been furloughed. Those two labs are heavily involved in NOAA’s climate research programs. 

Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge breaches barrier island in New Jersey. Image: New Jersey National Guard

Climate change ‘sticker shock?’ Insurance rates skyrocket in wake of extreme weather losses

Think climate change is an abstract concept that won’t hit your wallet? Ask residents of New Jersey.

Insurance rates are soaring in the wake of Sandy and other massive extreme weather losses. For some New Jersey residents who lost homes to Hurricane Sandy the choice is now a brutal one. Pay up to $150,000 now to raise the foundation of your home above future storm surges, or pay up to $20,000 to $30,000 a year for flood insurance. Faced with those two choices some have no choice but to simply walk away. We may already be witnessing a form of ‘forced relocation’ by climate change.

Terrell Johnson has more in this eye opening piece from The Weather Channel.

When Superstorm Sandy slammed into New York and New Jersey last fall, it sent massive floods through the streets of coastal towns and cities across the Northeast, turning areas like Toms River, N.J., into something like a war zone.

But nearly a year later, residents there and in many other coastal communities across the U.S. face a potentially far more devastating menace: a nationwide revamp of flood insurance rates, forcing premiums that were once around $500 per year into the $5,000-, $10,000- and even $20,000-a-year range and higher.

“The adverse effect of [this] would be more devastating than Hurricane Katrina,” Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said in an interview with, noting the crippling economic damage the historic 2005 storm left behind on the Gulf coast. “Because it will render literally thousands of properties in my state worthless.”

Biggert-Waters does that by phasing out subsidies for flood insurance in the most high-risk areas. Before the act’s passage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had sold more than a million policies at subsidized rates. After it passed, more than 430,000 policyholders had their subsidies immediately cut off; another 715,000 remained, but are expected to be gradually phased out.

Those changes were seen as urgent last summer by Congress — which passed the bill with overwhelming bipartisan support, including a vote of 406 to 22 in the U.S. House of Representatives — because the NFIP was reportedly more than $18 billion in debt, with about $15 billion of that coming from the damage caused by 2005’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Minnesota Insurance Rates Rising Too

Think you’re not paying for the well documented climate change induced increase in extreme weather in Minnesota?

Think again.

Storm damage from June 21st derecho in the Twin Cities. Image: MPR News

We imagine California, Texas and Florida as the top drivers of insurance losses from extreme weather events. Lately, an increase in extreme weather events in Minnesota are taking a toll on insurance companies. Minnesota has ranked as high as 3rd in states with the highest insured losses from extreme weather in recent years. Hail damage is on the rise,  and ice dams and wind damage are costly and widespread in Minnesota.

Insurance rates in Minnesota are on the rise. Now, insurance companies are pushing for a so called “cosmetic damage exclusion” that would allow your insurance company not to pay for hail, wind or other damage to your home if it did not allow the “weather” to get inside.

Golf ball sized hail dents in your siding on the front of your home? Too bad. Live with it or pay for repairs yourself.

Here’s a comprehensive report from insurance industry group Cerus on how extreme weather is putting the insurance industry in an increasingly vulnerable position.

Extreme Weather Risks to the Property and Casualty Sector are Growing

More frequent and severe extreme weather events, along with increasing populations in coastal areas and other exposed regions, are having profound impacts on the property/casualty insurance sector. The value of insured losses due to weather perils has been trending upward over the past 30 years, with 2011 exacting an especially heavy toll.

Overall, the estimated $44 billion of insured catastrophe and extreme weather losses in 2011 was second only to 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma hit the Gulf Coast (with insured losses totaling approximately $60 billion).

In early 2011, insurers watched as severe weather including tornadoes in Missouri, wildfires in Texas, hailstorms in Arizona and flooding along the Mississippi River drained their capital reserves. For many insurers, these spring storm events substantially eroded or exceeded their 2011 budgets for catastrophe losses, making last year’s relatively quiet hurricane season a blessing. It is notable that while the property/casualty industry remains strongly capitalized, shock events can push more vulnerable companies into the red and even insolvency.


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Climate Change Mitigation: What you can do

Let’s fact it, Climate Change can seem like an overwhelming problem with few easy solutions.

Many of you have asked what you can do in your lives to combat and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Here are some great resources from NASA and EPA.

NASA: Resources on Climate Change mitigation

EPA: What you can do about Climate Change

EPA: Regional impacts of Climate Change

Climate Cast resources:

Want to know more about climate change? Here are few quick links to credible climate change sources.

-Read the Minnesota Public Radio primer on Climate Change

-NOAA NCDC’s “State of the Climate” report

-AMS Statement on Climate Change

-NASA key evidence of climate change

-Great summary of Modern Day Climate Change from SUNY-Suffolk

-Minnesota Climate Working Group climate change resources

-Mark Seeley’s Weather Talk

-Common climate change myths

-Climate change in the news from Climate Central

-More coverage from The Yale Forum on Climate Change and Media