Climate & Environment

Previously reported – January 2022
2021 Was Earth’s Fifth-Hottest Year, Scientists Say

The finding, by European researchers, fits a clear warming trend: The seven hottest years on record have been the past seven.
Last year was Earth’s fifth hottest on record, European scientists announced on Monday. But the fact that the worldwide average temperature didn’t beat the record is hardly reason to stop worrying about global warming’s grip on the planet, they said. Not when both the United States and Europe had their warmest summers on the books. Not when higher temperatures around the Arctic caused it to rain for the first time at the Greenland ice sheet’s normally frigid summit. And certainly not when the seven hottest years ever recorded were, by a clear margin, the past seven. The events of 2021 “are a stark reminder of the need to change our ways, take decisive and effective steps toward a sustainable society and work toward reducing net carbon emissions,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European Union program that conducted the analysis made public on Monday. The mean temperature globally last year was 1.1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius (2 to 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than it was before industrialization led humans to begin pumping large quantities of carbon dioxide into the air. The year was fifth warmest by a slight margin over 2015 and 2018, by Copernicus’s ranking. The hottest years on record are 2016 and 2020, in a virtual tie. “If you look at all the last seven years, they’re not super close, but they’re quite close together,” said Freja Vamborg, a senior climate scientist at Copernicus. “And they stand well off from the ones that came before that.” Copernicus’s temperature records start in 1950, but in its analyses, the group combines these with other records that go back about another century. The steady warming corresponds with the scientific consensus that increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing long-lasting changes in the global climate. Copernicus said its preliminary analysis of satellite measurements had found that concentrations of heat-trapping gases continued to rise last year, helped by 1,850 megatons of carbon emissions from wildfires worldwide. The rate of increase in carbon dioxide levels appears to have been down somewhat from a few years earlier, the Copernicus analysis found. However, concentrations of methane, the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas, grew at their fastest pace in two decades, and Copernicus scientists said they were still trying to understand why. One big reason for 2021’s lower mean temperature was the presence during the early part of the year of La Niña conditions, a recurring climate pattern characterized by lower surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. (La Niña has returned in recent months, which could presage a drier winter in the Southern United States but wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest.) Those effects were offset in the 2021 average, however, by higher temperatures in many parts of the world between June and October, Copernicus said. “When we think about climate change, it’s not just a single progression, year after year after year being the warmest,” said Robert Rohde, the lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, an independent environmental research group. “The preponderance of evidence — which comes from looking at ocean temperatures, land temperatures, upper atmospheric temperatures, glaciers melting, sea ice changes — are telling us a coherent story about changes in the earth system which points to warming overall,” Dr. Rohde said. “Slight variations up or down, a year or two at a time, don’t change that picture.” Berkeley Earth is expected to issue its own analysis of 2021 temperatures this month, as are two U.S. government agencies: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Unlike those groups, Copernicus uses a method called re-analysis, which produces a portrait of global weather conditions using a computer model that fills in the gaps between temperature measurements. Even so, the different groups’ conclusions usually line up quite closely. As ever, higher average temperatures were not observed uniformly across the planet last year. Most of Australia and parts of Antarctica experienced below-normal temperatures in 2021, as did areas in western Siberia. Europe’s summer last year was the warmest on record, though 2010 and 2018 were not far behind, according to Copernicus. Severe rainfall and flooding caused destruction and death in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Heat and dryness set the stage for wildfires that ravaged Greece and other places around the Mediterranean. The western side of North America experienced off-the-charts heat, drought, and wildfires last summer. Canada’s maximum temperature record was broken in June when the mercury in a small town in British Columbia hit 121.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 49.6 Celsius. Scientists have concluded that the Pacific Coast heat wave would have been practically impossible in a world without human-induced warming. The question is whether the event fits into the present meteorological understanding, even if it is without precedent, or is a sign that the climate is changing in ways that scientists do not fully grasp. “From where I sit right now, I would tend to think that this was probably still a very rare event, even in the modern climate,” Dr. Rohde said. “But there’s a degree of ‘wait and see’ involved.” If the planet does not experience heat events of similar intensity in the coming decades, scientists are likely to look back and regard 2021 as an extreme fluke, he said. “If we do, it’s telling us that something is changed in a more fundamental way.”
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Previously reported – February 2022
UN climate report urges world to adapt now, or suffer later


    • U.C. climate report says drastic action needed
    • ‘Delay means death’ says U.N. secretary general Guterres
    • Change impacting world faster than anticipated – report
    • Breaching 1.5C threshold will cause irreparable damage
    • ‘Brief and rapidly closing window’ for action

Climate change is upon us, and humanity is far from ready, the United Nations climate panel warned in a major report on Monday. Noting that nearly half the world’s population was already vulnerable to increasingly dangerous climate impacts, the report calls for drastic action on a huge scale: A third to a half of the planet needs to be conserved and protected to ensure future food and freshwater supplies. Coastal cities need plans to keep people safe from storms and rising seas. And more. read more

“Adaptation saves lives,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said with the report’s release. “As climate impacts worsen – and they will – scaling up investments will be essential for survival… Delay means death.”

The report is the latest in a series by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) detailing the latest global consensus on climate science. This report, however, focuses on how nature and societies are being affected and what they can do to adapt. read more

On nearly all counts, the report makes clear that climate change is impacting the world far faster than scientists had anticipated. Meanwhile, countries have failed to rein in planet-warming carbon emissions, which continue to rise. “Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction,” Guterres said in a video address Monday. “The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal.”

While governments need to drastically curb their emissions to prevent runaway global warming, they can also work to limit suffering by adapting to the conditions of a warmer world, the report says. That will take a lot of money – to finance new technologies and institutional support. Cities can invest in cooling areas to help people through heatwaves. Coastal communities may need new infrastructure or to relocate altogether. “In terms of transformational adaptation, we can plan it and implement it now, or it’ll be thrust upon us by climate change,” said Kristina Dahl, a climate expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who was not involved in writing the report. But in some cases, the report acknowledges, the costs of adapting will be too high. The report’s release three months after global leaders met at a climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, highlighted the urgency of efforts to contain global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial temperatures. Breaching that threshold will deliver irreversible damage to the planet, it says. And every increment of warming will cause more pain. read more

“Adaptation is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. There are limits to adaptation,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and a report co-author. “We should reduce greenhouse gas emissions because if we don’t, it’s going to get really bad.” Limiting global warming to close to 1.5C may not prevent losses to nature, societies, or economies, but will substantially reduce them, the report says. Having already warmed 1.1C, the planet is expected to hit the 1.5C threshold within two decades.

Societies will fail to adjust well to a warming world if they aren’t socially inclusive in tackling the task, the report warns. Solutions need to consider social justice and include Indigenous populations, minorities, and the poor, it says. “It’s the poor and most marginalized who are most vulnerable,” said Timon McPhearson, an urban ecologist at The New School in New York and one of the report’s 270 authors. That includes people living in developing countries in Africa, South Asia, and small island nations, as well as marginalized communities in wealthy nations such as the United States. Without inclusive economic development in Africa, for example, climate change is expected to push 40 million more people into extreme poverty by 2030. Providing social welfare or jobs that also protect the environment – for example uprooting invasive trees that deplete water supplies – can go a long way towards helping vulnerable populations, said report co-author Christopher Trisos, a climate risk researcher at the University of Cape Town. read more

But time is running out to make the society-wide transformations needed, the authors warn. The decisions society makes in the next decade will set the climate path to come. “There is a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future on the planet,” said Hans-Otto Portner, co-chair of the IPCC working group that generated the report. “We need to live up to this challenge.”
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Previously reported – February 2022
5 takeaways from the latest United Nations climate change report
Monday’s IPCC report is a warning letter to the world. Here’s what you need to know from the more than 3,500-page document.
The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a warning letter to a world on the brink. A sweeping survey of the most advanced climate science on the planet, it recounts the effects rising temperatures are already having and projects the catastrophes that loom if humans fail to make swift and significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The more than 3,500-page document is rife with devastating details about the toll of rising sea levels, scorching heat and escalating natural disasters. Here are five key points from the report about what the world stands to lose and all that can still be salvaged.

1) A certain amount of suffering is inevitable, though adaptation can help

2) Every incremental increase in temperature will lead to dramatically more disease, death, and frequent, costly disasters

3) Climate change is battering the places and populations least able to adapt, and that is all but certain to continue

4) Global warming is wreaking havoc on plants and wildlife

5) For many locations on Earth, the capacity for adaptation is already significantly limited, even as it becomes more critical

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World must act now to slow global warming: report
Global temperatures will continue to rise unless the world takes action, stresses a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. Released Monday, “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” is the contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC. IPCC is the United Nations body that looks at climate change science. IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said in a statement that the report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social, and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments. The report emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. “Half measures are no longer an option.” Hoesung Lee explained during a press conference Monday that Working Group I’s report released last August shows that human activities have warmed the climate at a rate not seen in at least the past 2,000 years. “We are on course to reaching global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades. And temperature will continue to increase unless the world takes much bolder action,” Hoesung Lee said. “The report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our well-being and a healthy planet. It also shows that our actions today will shape how people adapt to climate change and how nature responds to increasing climate risks.” Human-induced climate change impacts noted throughout the report include increases in temperature, rainfall, and extreme weather, lengthening wildfire season, severe water shortages due to climate change and extreme events such as flooding and droughts, altered food webs and interruption of the supply chain. The report analyzes the effects of climate change by looking at ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels. “It also reviews vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change,” according to IPCC. “The focus of our new report is on solutions. It highlights the importance of fundamental changes in society at the same time as conserving, restoring and safeguarding nature in order to meet the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals,” IPCC states. “Successful adaptation requires urgent, more ambitious and accelerated action and, at the same time, rapid and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The quicker and further emissions fall, the more scope there is for people and nature to adapt.” A section in the report details risks and options for action for cities and settlements. An atlas to present data and findings on observed and projected climate change impacts and risks is also new in this report. IPCC notes in the report that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development. “Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts. This report also reviews regional information to help areas with Climate Resilient Development, a solutions framework that combines strategies to adapt to climate change with actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to support sustainable development, according to IPCC. A fact sheet on North America states that “Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, human life, safety, and livelihoods across North America, especially in coastal areas will be placed at risk from sea level rise (SLR), severe storms, and hurricanes (very high confidence).” Daniel Bresette, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute said in a statement that the report released Monday is clear in its findings. “Climate change presents a grave threat to the health and wellbeing of everything on this planet and will require accelerated action to avoid the loss of life, biodiversity, and infrastructure.” President Kathleen Rogers said in a statement that the latest IPCC report comes as no surprise. “While the fossil fuel economy and technologies of centuries past have created in many cases irreversible damage, new innovations, heightened regulations, and increased civic actions can bring about a sustainable future,” Rogers said. “Solving the climate crisis requires individuals, businesses, and governments to act boldly, innovate broadly, and implement equitably.”
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5 Takeaways From the U.N. Report on Limiting Global Warming
Current pledges to cut emissions, even if nations follow through on them, won’t stop temperatures from rising to risky new levels.
Nations are not doing nearly enough to prevent global warming from increasing to dangerous levels within the lifetimes of most people on Earth today, according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of researchers convened by the United Nations. Limiting the devastation won’t be easy, but it also isn’t impossible if countries act now, the report says. The panel produces a comprehensive overview of climate science once every six to eight years. It splits its findings into three reports. The first, on what’s driving global warming, came out last August. The second, on climate change’s effects on our world and our ability to adapt to them, was released in February. This is No. 3, on how we can cut emissions and limit further warming.

Without swift action, we’re headed for trouble.
The report makes it clear: Nations’ current pledges to curb greenhouse-gas emissions most likely will not stop global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, within the next few decades. And that’s assuming countries follow through. If they don’t, even more warming is in store. That target — to prevent the average global temperature from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels — is one many world governments have agreed to pursue. It sounds modest. But that number represents a host of sweeping changes that occur as greenhouse gases trap more heat on the planet’s surface, including deadlier storms, more intense heat waves, rising seas and extra strain on crops. Earth has already warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius on average since the 19th century.

Emissions are tied to economic growth and income.
So far, the world isn’t becoming more energy-efficient quickly enough to balance out continued growth in global economic activity, the report says. Carbon dioxide emissions from factories, cities, buildings, farms and vehicles increased in the 2010s, outweighing the benefits from power plants’ switching to natural gas from coal and using more renewable sources such as wind and solar. On the whole, it is the richest people and wealthiest nations that are heating up the planet. Worldwide, the richest 10 percent of households are responsible for between a third to nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report. The poorest 50 percent of households contribute around 15 percent of emissions.

Clean energy has become more affordable.
The prices of solar and wind energy, and electric vehicle batteries, have dropped significantly since 2010, the report finds. The result is that it may now be “more expensive” in some cases to maintain highly polluting energy systems than to switch to clean sources, the report says. In 2020, solar and wind provided close to 10 percent of the world’s electricity. Average worldwide emissions grew much more slowly in the 2010s than they did in the 2000s, partly because of greater use of green energy. It wasn’t obvious to scientists that this would happen so swiftly. In a 2011 report on renewables, the same panel noted that technological advances would probably make green energy cheaper, though it said it was hard to predict how much.

Still, altering the climate path won’t be easy or cheap.
The world needs to invest three to six times what it’s currently spending on mitigating climate change if it wants to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, the report says. Money is particularly short in poorer countries, which need trillions of dollars of investment each year this decade. As nations drop fossil fuels, some economic disruption is inevitable, the report notes. Resources will be left in the ground unburned; mines and power plants will become financially unviable. The economic impact could be in the trillions of dollars, the report says. Even so, simply keeping planned and existing fossil-fuel infrastructure up and running will pump enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to make it impossible to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, the report says.

There are other steps that could help and wouldn’t break the bank.
The report looks at a host of other changes to societies that could reduce emissions, including more energy-efficient buildings, more recycling and more white-collar work going remote and virtual. These changes do not have to be economy-dampening chores, the report emphasizes. Some, like better public transit and more walkable urban areas, have benefits for air pollution and overall well-being, said Joyashree Roy, an economist at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok who contributed to the report. “People are demanding more healthy cities and greener cities,” she said. In all, steps that would cost less than $100 per ton of carbon dioxide saved could lower global emissions to about half the 2019 level by 2030, the report says. Other steps remain pricier, such as capturing more of the carbon dioxide from the gases that pour from smokestacks at power plants, the report says. The world also needs to remove carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere. Planting more trees is pretty much the only way this is being done at large scale right now, the report says. Other methods, like using chemicals to extract atmospheric carbon or adding nutrients to the oceans to stimulate photosynthesis in tiny marine plants, are still in early development. “We cannot ignore how much technology can help,” said Joni Jupesta, an author of the report with the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth in Kyoto, Japan. “Not every country has a lot of natural resources.”
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Previously reported – January 2023
The Last 8 Years Were the Hottest on Record
The world remained firmly in warming’s grip last year, with extreme summer temperatures in Europe, China and elsewhere contributing to 2022 being the fifth-hottest year on record, European climate researchers said on Tuesday. The eight warmest years on record have now occurred since 2014, the scientists, from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, reported, and 2016 remains the hottest year ever. Overall, the world is now 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.1 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than it was in the second half of the 19th century, when emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels became widespread. Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus service, said the underlying warming trend since the pre-industrial age made 2022’s ranking in the top five “neither unexpected nor unsurprising.” “The rare event now would be to see a really cold year,” he said. Last year was among the warmest despite the persistence of La Niña for the third consecutive year. La Niña is a climate pattern marked by colder-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that tend to suppress global temperatures. “We are continuing the long-term warming trend of the planet,” said Zeke Hausfather, a researcher at Berkeley Earth, an independent organization that analyzes environmental data. “If you draw a straight line through temperatures since 1970, 2022 lands almost exactly on where you’d expect temperatures to be.” Berkeley Earth will issue its own analysis of 2022 data later this week, as will NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Copernicus scientists said Europe had its hottest summer ever in 2022, with several heat waves rolling across the continent that set temperature records in many cities. Separate research has shown that heat waves in Europe are increasing in frequency and intensity at a faster rate than almost anywhere else, fueled by warming but also, most likely, by shifts in atmospheric and oceanic circulation. The effects of such a warm year were felt elsewhere around the world as well. Eastern and Central China, Pakistan and India all experienced lengthy and extreme heat waves in 2022, and monsoon floods in Pakistan ravaged much of the country. The heat and accompanying dryness also contributed to extensive wildfires in the Western United States.
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The last eight years have been the warmest on record, researchers say
Concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane have continued to rise despite an urgent need to reduce them
Last year was the fifth hottest ever recorded on the planet, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service announced Tuesday. It was part of an unabated broader warming trend as humans continue to pump massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Extreme heat waves in Europe, Asia and the United States — which stemmed in part from more than a century of burning fossil fuels — helped drive 2022’s unusual warmth, researchers found. Europe sweltered through its hottest summer on record and its second-hottest year overall, researchers said. Pakistan experienced catastrophic flooding as a result of extreme rainfall. In February, Antarctic Sea ice reached its lowest minimum in 44 years of satellite records. The year “2022 was yet another … of climate extremes across Europe and globally. These events highlight that we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of our warming world,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of Copernicus, said in a statement announcing the annual findings. She said data from 2022 provides “clear evidence that avoiding the worst consequences will require society to both urgently reduce carbon emissions and swiftly adapt to a changing climate.” The records show that the last eight years have been the hottest recorded in human history. Despite the urgency to halt such warming, the world’s output of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming emissions continues to rise. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions ticked up by 1.3 percent in 2022 over the previous year, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm. President Biden has pledged to cut U.S. emissions 50 to 52 percent by the end of the decade compared with 2005 levels, and while Congress recently passed far-reaching legislation to fund a shift toward cleaner energy, the nation is not yet on a trajectory to meet those lofty goals. Neither is the world. A U.N. report last fall found that despite high-profile promises to boost climate targets, nations have shaved just 1 percent off their projected greenhouse gas emissions for 2030. Scientists have said the world needs to cut planet-warming emissions roughly in half by the end of the decade to be on track to meet its most ambitious promises. The U.N. report found that the ongoing “emissions gap” — the gulf between national plans to reduce carbon pollution and the actual cuts needed to avert catastrophic warming currently leaves the Earth on a path to warm by a dangerous 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. And few nations have implemented the policies necessary to meet even these inadequate targets, the report said. “Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said at the time. “We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.” Tuesday’s report from European researchers documents how humans are continuing to heat the planet. Researchers found that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are at the highest levels in more than 2 million years. Levels of methane, a short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas, have also continued to increase and are at the highest levels in 800,000 years, according to Copernicus. “Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, are the main drivers of climate change, and we can see from our monitoring activities that atmospheric concentrations are continuing to rise with no signs of slowing,” Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, said in Tuesday’s announcement. That continued warming has led to an increase in suffering around the globe. Scientists have detailed how a warmer atmosphere is supercharging storms, intensifying droughts and leaving places less time to prepare before the next weather-related disaster strikes. European researchers on Tuesday noted that polar regions experienced episodes of record temperatures during 2022. That includes places like Greenland, where in September virtually all of the country experienced higher temperatures than in any year since at least 1979. They noted how Pakistan and northern India endured prolonged spring heat waves, and how central and eastern China faced long-lasting heat wave conditions and subsequent drought in the summer. There was the biblical flooding that displaced millions in Pakistan, along with torrential rains that led to deadly and costly floods from Australia to South Africa to the United States. And all indications are that as long as human-caused emissions continue to warm the globe, more disasters are likely to follow. “The frequency and severity of extreme climate disasters continue to increase,” Rick Spinrad, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told reporters Tuesday in recounting the U.S. weather-related disasters over the past year. “We must adapt and become resilient to climate threats we cannot avoid.”
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Previously reported – April  2023
World Has Less Than a Decade to Stop Catastrophic Warming, U.N. Panel Says
A new report says it is still possible to hold global warming to relatively safe levels, but doing so will require global cooperation, billions of dollars and big changes.
Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a major new report released on Monday. The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, offers the most comprehensive understanding to date of ways in which the planet is changing. It says that global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels sometime around “the first half of the 2030s,” as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas. That number holds a special significance in global climate politics: Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, virtually every nation agreed to “pursue efforts” to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that point, scientists say, the impacts of catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures and species extinction become significantly harder for humanity to handle. But Earth has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial age, and, with global fossil-fuel emissions setting records last year, that goal is quickly slipping out of reach. There is still one last chance to shift course, the new report says. But it would require industrialized nations to join together immediately to slash greenhouse gases roughly in half by 2030 and then stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by the early 2050s. If those two steps were taken, the world would have about a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Delays of even a few years would most likely make that goal unattainable, guaranteeing a hotter, more perilous future. “The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change,” said Hoesung Lee, the chair of the climate panel. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.” The report comes as the world’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States, continue to approve new fossil fuel projects. Last year, China issued permits for 168 coal-fired power plants of various sizes, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Finland. Last week, the Biden administration approved an enormous oil drilling project known as Willow that will take place on pristine federal land in Alaska. The report, which was approved by 195 governments, says that existing and currently planned fossil fuel infrastructure — coal-fired power plants, oil wells, factories, cars and trucks across the globe — will already produce enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet roughly 2 degrees Celsius this century. To keep warming below that level, many of those projects would need to be canceled, retired early or otherwise cleaned up. “The 1.5 degree limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action,” António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said. In response to the report, Mr. Guterres called on countries to stop building new coal plants and to stop approving new oil and gas projects.  Many scientists have pointed out that surpassing the 1.5 degree threshold will not mean humanity is doomed. But every fraction of a degree of additional warming is expected to increase the severity of dangers that people around the world face, such as water scarcity, malnutrition and deadly heat waves. The difference between 1.5 degrees of warming and 2 degrees might mean that tens of millions more people worldwide experience life-threatening heat waves, water shortages and coastal flooding. A 1.5-degree world might still have coral reefs and summer Arctic sea ice, while a 2-degree world most likely would not. “It’s not that if we go past 1.5 degrees everything is lost,” said Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London. “But there’s clear evidence that 1.5 is better than 1.6, which is better than 1.7, and so on. The point is we need to do everything we can to keep warming as low as possible.” Scientists say that warming will largely halt once humans stop adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, a concept known as “net zero” emissions. How quickly nations reach net zero will determine how hot the planet ultimately becomes. Under the current policies of national governments, Earth is on pace to heat up by 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius this century, analysts have estimated. Both the United States and European Union have set goals of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while China has set a 2060 goal and India is aiming for 2070. But in light of the report’s findings, Mr. Guterres said all countries should move faster and wealthy countries should aim to reach net zero by 2040. The new report is a synthesis of six previous landmark reports on climate change issued by the U.N. panel since 2018, each one compiled by hundreds of experts across the globe, approved by 195 countries and based on thousands of scientific studies. Taken together, the reports represent the most comprehensive look to date at the causes of global warming, the impacts that rising temperatures are having on people and ecosystems across the world and the strategies that countries can pursue to halt global warming. The report makes clear that humanity’s actions today have the potential to fundamentally reshape the planet for thousands of years. Many of the most dire climate scenarios once feared by scientists, such as those forecasting warming of 4 degrees Celsius or more, now look unlikely, as nations have invested more heavily in clean energy. At least 18 countries, including the United States, have managed to reduce their emissions for more than a decade, the report finds, while the costs of solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles have plummeted. At the same time, even relatively modest increases in global temperature are now expected to be more disruptive than previously thought, the report concludes. At current levels of warming, for instance, food production is starting to come under strain. The world is still producing more food each year, thanks to improvements in farming and crop technology, but climate change has slowed the rate of growth, the report says. It’s an ominous trend that puts food security at risk as the world’s population soars past eight billion people. Today, the world is seeing record-shattering storms in California and catastrophic drought in places like East Africa. But by the 2030s, as temperatures rise, climate hazards are expected to increase all over the globe as different countries face more crippling heat waves, worsening coastal flooding and crop failures, the report says. At the same time, mosquitoes carrying diseases like malaria and dengue will spread into new areas, it adds. Nations have made some strides in preparing for the dangers of global warming, the report says, for instance by building coastal barriers against rising oceans or establishing early-warning systems for future storms. But many of those adaptation efforts are “incremental” and lack sufficient funding, particularly in poorer countries, the report finds. And if temperatures keep rising, many parts of the world may soon face limits in how much they can adapt. Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, low-lying island nations and communities that depend on glaciers may face severe freshwater shortages. To stave off a chaotic future, the report recommends that nations move away from the fossil fuels that have underpinned economies for more than 180 years. Governments and companies would need to invest three to six times the roughly $600 billion they now spend annually on encouraging clean energy in order to hold global warming at 1.5 or 2 degrees, the report says. While there is currently enough global capital to do so, much of it is difficult for developing countries to acquire. The question of what wealthy, industrialized nations owe to poor, developing countries has been divisive at global climate negotiations. A wide array of strategies are available for reducing fossil-fuel emissions, such as scaling up wind and solar power, shifting to electric vehicles and electric heat pumps in buildings, curbing methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and protecting forests. But that may not be enough: Countries may also have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, relying on technology that barely exists today. The report acknowledges the enormous challenges ahead. Winding down coal, oil and gas projects would mean job losses and economic dislocation. Some climate solutions come with difficult trade-offs: Protecting forests, for instance, means less land for agriculture; manufacturing electric vehicles requires mining metals for use in their batteries. And because nations have waited so long to cut emissions, they will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to adapt to climate risks that are now unavoidable. The new report is expected to inform the next round of United Nations climate talks this December in Dubai, where world leaders will gather to assess their progress in tackling global warming. At last year’s climate talks in Sharm el Sheik, language calling for an end to fossil fuels was struck from the final agreement after pressure from several oil-producing nations. “Without a radical shift away from fossil fuels over the next few years, the world is certain to blow past the 1.5 C goal.” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. “The I.P.C.C. makes plain that continuing to build new unabated fossil fuel power plants would seal that fate,” he added, using the abbreviation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, responded by saying that oil and gas companies were working on technologies to curb emissions such as carbon capture, but that policymakers “must also consider the importance of adequate, affordable and reliable energy to meet growing global needs,” said Christina Noel, a spokesperson for the institute. While the next decade is almost certain to be hotter, scientists said the main takeaway from the report should be that nations still have enormous influence over the climate for the rest of the century. The report “is quite clear that whatever future we end up with is within our control,” said Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds who helped write one of the panel’s earlier reports. “It is up to humanity,” he added, “to determine what we end up with.”
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 Scientists issued another dire warning about climate change.

    • The takeaway: It’s all but inevitable that the world will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels within the next decade, according to a new U.N. report.
    • Why that matters: Beyond that threshold, climate disasters will become so extreme that people can’t adapt and basic components of Earth’s system will be irreversibly changed.
    • There is still hope: Drastic action to cut emissions could make a difference. But few countries are on track to meet even their existing climate goals.

World is on brink of catastrophic warming, U.N. climate change report says
A dangerous climate threshold is near, but ‘it does not mean we are doomed’ if swift action is taken, scientists say
The world is likely to pass a dangerous temperature threshold within the next 10 years, pushing the planet past the point of catastrophic warming — unless nations drastically transform their economies and immediately transition away from fossil fuels, according to one of the most definitive reports ever published about climate change. The report released Monday by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that the world is likely to surpass its most ambitious climate target — limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures — by the early 2030s. Beyond that threshold, scientists have found, climate disasters will become so extreme that people will not be able to adapt. Basic components of the Earth system will be fundamentally, irrevocably altered. Heat waves, famines and infectious diseases could claim millions of additional lives by century’s end. Human activities have already transformed the planet at a pace and scale unmatched in recorded history, the IPCC said, causing irreversible damage to communities and ecosystems. Yet global emissions continue to rise, and current carbon-cutting efforts are wildly insufficient to ward off climate catastrophe. Monday’s assessment synthesizes years of studies on the causes and consequences of rising temperatures, leading U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to demand that developed countries such as the United States eliminate carbon emissions by 2040 — a decade earlier than the rest of the world. With few nations on track to fulfill their climate commitments and with the developing world already suffering disproportionately from climate disasters, he said, rich countries have a responsibility to act faster than their low-income counterparts. The IPCC report shows humanity has reached a “critical moment in history,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said. The world has all the knowledge, tools and financial resources needed to achieve its climate goals, but after decades of disregarding scientific warnings and delaying climate efforts, the window for action is rapidly closing. Calling the report, a “how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb,” Guterres announced on Monday an “acceleration agenda” that would speed up global actions on climate. Emerging economies including China and India — which plan to reach net zero in 2060 and 2070, respectively — must hasten their emissions-cutting efforts alongside developed nations, Guterres said. Both the U.N. chief and the IPCC also called for the world to phase out coal, oil and gas, which are responsible for more than three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions. “This report offers hope, and it provides a warning,” Lee told reporters Monday. “The choices we make now and in the next few years will reverberate around the world for hundreds, even thousands, of years.”
A stark scientific outlook
Already, the IPCC’s synthesis report shows, humanity has fundamentally and irreversibly transformed the Earth system. Emissions from burning fossil fuels and other planet-warming activities have increased global average temperatures by at least 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the start of the industrial era. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hasn’t been this high since archaic humans carved the first stone tools. These changes have caused irrevocable damage to communities and ecosystems, evidence shows: Fish populations are dwindling, farms are less productive, infectious diseases have multiplied, and weather disasters are escalating to unheard-of extremes. The risks from this relatively low level of warming are turning out to be greater than scientists anticipated — not because of any flaw in their research, but because human-built infrastructure, social networks and economic systems have proved exceptionally vulnerable to even small amounts of climate change, the report said. The suffering is worst in the world’s poorest countries and low-lying island nations, which are home to roughly 1 billion people yet account for less than 1 percent of humanity’s total planet-warming pollution, the report says. But as climate disruption increases with rising temperatures, not even the wealthiest and most well-protected places will be immune. In 2018, the IPCC found that a 1.5C world would be overwhelmingly safer than one that is 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the preindustrial era. At the time, scientists said humanity would have to zero out carbon emissions by 2050 to meet the 1.5-degree target and by 2070 to avoid warming beyond 2 degrees. Five years later, humanity isn’t anywhere close to reaching either goal. Unless nations adopt new environmental policies — and follow through on the ones already in place — global average temperatures could warm by 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, the synthesis report says. In that scenario, a child born today would live to see several feet of sea level rise, the extinction of hundreds of species and the migration of millions of people from places where they can no longer survive. “We are not doing enough, and the poor and vulnerable are bearing the brunt of our collective failure to act,” said Madeleine Diouf Sarr, Senegal’s top climate official and the chair for a group of least-developed countries that negotiate together at the United Nations. She pointed to the damage wrought by Cyclone Freddy, the longest-lasting and most energetic tropical storm on record, which has killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands more after bombarding southern Africa and Madagascar for more than a month. The report shows that higher temperatures make storms more powerful and sea level rise makes flooding from these storms more intense. Meanwhile, the report says, the death toll from these kinds of disasters is 15 times as high in vulnerable nations as it is in wealthier parts of the world. If the world stays on its current warming track, the IPCC says, global flood damage will be as much as four times as high as it will be if people limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. “The world cannot ignore the human cost of inaction,” Sarr said.
The price of delay
Though much of the synthesis report echoes warnings scientists have issued for decades, the assessment is notable for the blunt certainty of its rhetoric. The phrase “high confidence” appears nearly 200 times in the 36-page summary chapter. Humanity’s responsibility for all of the warming of the global climate system is described as an unassailable “fact.” Yet the report also details how public officials, private investors and other powerful groups have repeatedly failed to heed those warnings. More than 40 percent of cumulative carbon emissions have occurred since 1990 — when the IPCC published its first study on the dangerous consequences of unchecked warming. Governments continue to subsidize fossil fuel use; banks and businesses invest far more in polluting industries than they do in climate solutions. The consumption habits of the wealthiest 10 percent of people generate three times as much pollution as those of the poorest 50 percent, the report said. Decades of delay have denied the world any hope of an easy and gradual transition to a more sustainable economy, the panel says. Now, only “deep, rapid and … immediate” efforts across all aspects of society — combined with still-unproven technologies to pull carbon from the atmosphere — will be able to stave off catastrophe. “It’s not just the way we produce and use energy,” said Christopher Trisos, director of the Climate Risk Lab in the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town and a member of the core writing team for the synthesis report. “It’s the way we consume food, the way we protect nature. It’s kind of like everything, everywhere, all at once.” But few institutions are acting fast enough, the report said. November’s U.N. climate conference in Egypt ended without a resolution to phase down oil, gas and coal — a baseline requirement for curbing climate change. Last year, China approved its largest expansion of coal-fired power plants since 2015. Amid soaring profits, major oil companies are dialing back their clean-energy initiatives and deepening investments in fossil fuels. Humanity is rapidly burning through our “carbon budget” — the amount of pollution the world can afford to emit and still meet its warming targets, the IPCC said, and it projected that emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure will make it impossible to avoid the 1.5-degree threshold. Yet even as environmental ministers met in Switzerland last week to finalize the text of the IPCC report, the U.S. government approved a new Arctic drilling project that is expected to produce oil for the next 30 years, noted Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climatologist at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute and a co-author of a dozen IPCC reports, including the latest one. “These decisions don’t match reality,” he said. “There is no more room for compromises.” Failure to act now won’t only condemn humanity to a hotter planet, the IPCC says. It will also make it impossible for future generations to cope with their changed environment. The report reveals thresholds in how much warming people and ecosystems can adapt to. Some are “soft” limits — determined by shortcomings in political and social systems. For example, a low-income community that can’t afford to build flood controls faces soft limits to dealing with sea level rise. But beyond 1.5 degrees of warming, the IPCC says, humanity will run up against “hard limits” to adaptation. Temperatures will get too high to grow many staple crops. Droughts will become so severe that even the strongest water conservation measures can’t compensate. In a world that has warmed roughly 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) — where humanity appears to be headed — the harsh physical realities of climate change will be deadly for countless plants, animals and people. “It’s as if we’re traveling on a carbon-intensive superhighway and we’re in the fast lane,” Trisos said. Unless people immediately pump the brakes on carbon emissions, we will zoom past the off exit for 1.5 degrees of warming — and there will be no turning back. Yet just like drivers who have missed their exit, humanity must strive to stay as close as possible to the 1.5-degree target, Trisos said. “We can still take the 1.6 exit, which will be better than 1.7.” “With every increment of global warming, the danger will increase,” he added. “As we leave it later and take hotter and hotter exits, the fewer options we have to thrive.”
‘It does not mean we are doomed’
Despite its stark language and dire warnings, the IPCC report sends a message of possibility, said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London and a member of the core writing team for the report. “It’s not that we are depending on something that still needs to be invented,” she said. “We actually have all the knowledge we need. All the tools we need. We just need to implement it.” In many regions, the report says, electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind is now cheaper than power from fossil fuels. Several countries have significantly reduced their emissions in the past decade, even as their economies grew. New analyses show how efforts to fight climate change can benefit society in countless other ways, from improving air quality to enhancing ecosystems to boosting public health. These “co-benefits” well outweigh the costs of near-term emissions reductions, even without accounting for the long-term advantages of avoiding dangerous warming. The IPCC also underscored that tackling climate change can help address global inequities — and vice versa. Stronger safety nets and policies that aid the poor can help foster support for the massive changes needed to help curb carbon emissions, the report says. Helping developing nations build renewable energy infrastructure will both avert emissions and alleviate the energy poverty that afflicts more than 700 million people worldwide, it said. “It gives a goal to work toward, to a world that looks different,” Otto said of the report.
“It does not mean we are doomed.”
Report authors say the IPCC’s assessment comes at a pivotal moment. Beginning this year, nations are required to start updating the emissions-cutting pledges they made in Paris in 2015. Diplomats are also hashing out the details of a “loss and damage” fund established at least year’s climate talks, which would provide compensation to vulnerable countries suffering irreversible climate harms. By the end of the COP28 climate conference in Dubai in December, Guterres said, the world’s leading economies should adopt climate plans in line with the IPCC’s findings. The steep political stakes of the IPCC’s findings were evident during the report’s marathon approval session, with representatives from nearly 200 countries haggling over the document’s discussion of climate justice. The science is indisputable, Lee said Monday: The world will not avoid catastrophic warming unless rich nations speed up their own carbon cuts and help poorer countries do the same. What’s not yet clear is whether world leaders will follow through. When asked about Guterres’s call for developed countries to move faster toward net-zero emissions, a State Department spokesperson instead directed attention toward China, which is now the world’s largest annual producer of greenhouse gases. But the planet can’t afford further delays or finger-pointing, the U.N. chief said. “Demanding others move first only ensures humanity comes last,” he said. “We don’t have a moment to lose.”
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Previously reported – May  2023
Heat Will Likely Soar to Record Levels in Next 5 Years, New Analysis Says
The News
Global temperatures are likely to soar to record highs over the next five years, driven by human-caused warming and a climate pattern known as El Niño, forecasters at the World Meteorological Organization said on Wednesday. The record for Earth’s hottest year was set in 2016. There is a 98 percent chance that at least one of the next five years will exceed that, the forecasters said, while the average from 2023 to ’27 will almost certainly be the warmest for a five-year period ever recorded. “This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management and the environment,” said Petteri Taalas, the secretary general of the meteorological organization. “We need to be prepared.”
Why It Matters: Every fraction of a degree brings new risks.
Even small increases in warming can exacerbate the dangers from heat waves, wildfires, drought and other calamities, scientists say. Elevated global temperatures in 2021 helped fuel a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest that shattered local records and killed hundreds of people. El Niño conditions can cause further turmoil by shifting global precipitation patterns. The meteorological organization said it expected increased summer rainfall over the next five years in places like Northern Europe and the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa and reduced rainfall in the Amazon and parts of Australia. The organization reported that there is also a two thirds chance that one of the next five years could be 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than the 19th-century average. That does not mean that the world will have officially breached the aspirational goal in the Paris climate agreement of holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. When scientists talk about that temperature goal, they generally mean a longer-term average over, say, two decades in order to root out the influence of natural variability. Many world leaders have insisted on the 1.5-degree limit to keep the risks of climate change to tolerable levels. But nations have delayed so long in making the monumental changes necessary to achieve this goal, such as drastically cutting fossil-fuel emissions, that scientists now think the world will probably exceed that threshold around the early 2030s.
Background: La Niña, a cooling influence, is on the way out.
Global average temperatures have already increased roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century, largely because humans keep burning fossil fuels and pumping heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But while that overall upward trend is clear, global temperatures can bounce up and down a bit from year to year because of natural variability. For instance, a cyclical phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, causes year-to-year fluctuations by shifting heat in and out of deeper ocean layers. Global surface temperatures tend to be somewhat cooler during La Niña years and somewhat hotter during El Niño years. The last record hot year, 2016, was an El Niño year. By contrast, La Niña conditions have dominated for much of the past three years: while they’ve been unusually warm, they were still slightly below 2016 levels. Now, scientists are expecting El Niño conditions to return later this summer. When combined with steadily rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that will most likely cause temperatures to accelerate to new highs.
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Global temperatures could soon briefly breach climate threshold, scientists warn
The World Meteorological Organization virtually guarantees that one of the next five years will be the warmest on record, announcing Wednesday that a developing El Niño pattern will overlap with worsening human-caused climate change to push Earth’s temperatures into uncharted territory. While Earth’s temperatures have fluctuated wildly over its 4.5 billion year history, it’s well established that human emissions are accelerating warming at a breakneck pace, the rapidity of which is distinct from natural processes. Experts at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) anticipate that global temperatures at some point in the next five years will, at least temporarily, spike above the 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degree Fahrenheit) benchmark outlined in the Paris Climate Accords, an agreement signed by 196 countries at the United Nations Climate Change Conference on Dec. 12, 2015. That 1.5 degree Celsius number is compared to preindustrial levels. “WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5 [degree Celsius] level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency,” said WMO secretary general Prof. Peter Taalas in a news release. Although the WMO suggests the global temperature could temporarily reach that level, separate analyses have previously suggested a more permanent arrival above the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold is more likely to arrive in the 2030s. The WMO suggests there’s a 1 in 3 chance that it will occur in the next five years.
What the WMO is predicting
The World Meteorological Organization is warning of the following:

    • A 66 percent chance, or roughly 2 out of 3 odds, that Earth’s global temperature exceeds the 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degree Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels benchmark at least once in the next five years.
    • A 98 percent likelihood, or essentially a guarantee, that at least one of the next five years will go down as Earth’s warmest on record. Records date back to around 1850.
    • There is also a 98 percent chance that the upcoming five-year block, 2023 to 2027, could average as the hottest five-year window on record. (The past eight years were the eight warmest on record.)
    • Heating of the Arctic is predicted to triple average warming globally. Some peer-reviewed research indicates that a disproportionate warming of the poles can increase the amplitude, or waviness, of the jet stream, leading to more extreme weather patterns. There is also research to suggest reduced periodicity of the jet stream, or a slowing of its west-to-east propagation. That allows weather patterns to become “stuck” for longer.

Climate change and El Niño overlap
The past three years have featured a “triple dip” La Niña, or a global weather pattern born from a cooling of the waters in the eastern tropical Pacific. That fostered sinking motion in the air over the Pacific, in turn allowing rising motion and enhanced hurricane seasons in the Atlantic. Now meteorologists are anticipating a flip-flop, with an abrupt warm-up of waters in the eastern Pacific. The Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service predicts an 80 percent chance of a moderate El Niño developing in the coming months, with a 55 percent likelihood it will be “strong.” There’s also a 90 percent shot it sticks around into the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months. Earth’s temperature is known to warm during an El Niño. That’s why scientists are concerned about it exacerbating the effects of climate change, which continue to grow. For six of the past seven decades, the warmest year of each of said decades was an El Niño year. That’s why it’s highly probable that at least one of the next several years, which will inevitably feature an El Niño, will be catapulted above the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.
Fitting into a larger pattern
Since 1850, or before the Industrial Revolution, global temperatures have warmed about 1.1 degree Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. That may seem inconsequential, but subtle changes in temperature can have cascading ripple effects on the fundamental behaviors of the atmosphere and the innumerable land, water, ice and ecological cycles that interact with it. For each degree Fahrenheit the air temperature warms, the air can hold 4 percent more water. (For each degree Celsius, it can hold 7 percent more water.) That means temperature rises are accompanied by an exponential increase in the atmosphere’s moisture-storing capacity. Where moisture is available, flooding rains are becoming increasingly common. Where and when it’s not, drought is becoming more severe and more deeply entrenched. The warming climate has also been tied to more extreme wildfire behavior and increased areal coverage of land burned, stronger and more rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones/hurricanes, cold-season tornado outbreaks and a litany of other hazards. While 2016, an El Niño year, still holds the record for the warmest year catalogued by WMO data sets, the past eight years are the eight warmest on record. While it’s impossible to say with certainty where 2023 will end up, the year is already off to an alarming start. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said there’s a greater than 1 in 4 chance that 2023 becomes the new warmest year on record, and a 9 out of 10 chance of it being a top-five year. After setting a record in 2022, for example, global ocean temperatures are running 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius higher than ever observed by satellites this time of year. That’s mirrored by record global ocean heat content — a known fuel for strong hurricanes. In just the past few weeks, air temperature records have abounded worldwide. That’s been especially true in Southeast Asia, one of the most densely populated places in the world. On May 6, Luang Prabang in Laos made it to 110.3 degrees, beating out its 108.9-degree all-time record set just last month. Vietnam also broke a national heat record, hitting 111.6 degrees in Tuong Duong. Bangkok got to 104.9 degrees, its all-time record, and Cambodia, as well as parts of China, set records for the month of May. Heat records have been smashed in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and historic wildfires are burning unusually early in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, suffocating the city of Calgary in a toxic orange shroud. And on Wednesday, 35 weather stations in Japan logged their hottest May day on record. Each of the events is made more likely and intense by the effects of human influence.
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Previously reported – June  2023
The Earth Keeps Breaking Temperature Records
It’s not your imagination. In addition to the unprecedented wildfires, tropical storms and flooding, it is indeed much hotter than you remember as a child. And yes, it’s because of global warming. Global temperatures have smashed through records this week, underscoring the dangers of  ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions generated from the burning of fossil fuels. The average worldwide temperature reached 17C (63F) on Monday, just above the previous record of 16.9C in August 2016, according to  data from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction. “It’s a death sentence for people and ecosystems,” said Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment. And it’s about to get worse.

Earth entering ‘uncharted territory’ as heat records quickly shatter
Scientists say to brace for more extreme weather and probably a record-warm 2023 amid unprecedented temperatures
A remarkable spate of historic heat is hitting the planet, raising alarm over looming extreme weather dangers — and an increasing likelihood this year will be Earth’s warmest on record. New precedents have been set in recent weeks and months, surprising some scientists with their swift evolution: Historically warm oceans, with North Atlantic temperatures already nearing their typical annual peak; unparalleled low sea ice levels around Antarctica, where global warming impacts had, until now, been slower to appear; and the planet experiencing its warmest June ever charted, according to new data. And then, on Monday came Earth’s hottest day in at least 125,000 years. Tuesday was hotter. “We have never seen anything like this before,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. He said any number of charts and graphs on Earth’s climate are showing, quite literally, that “we are in uncharted territory.” It is no shock that global warming is accelerating — scientists were anticipating that would come with the onset of El Niño, the infamous climate pattern that reemerged last month. It is known for unleashing surges of heat and moisture that trigger extreme floods and storms in some places, and droughts and fires in others. But the hot conditions are developing too quickly, and across more of the planet, to be explained solely by El Niño. Records are falling around the globe many months ahead of the El Niño’s peak impact, which typically hits in December and sends global temperatures soaring for months to follow. “We have been seeing unprecedented extremes in the recent past even without being in this phase,” said Claudia Tebaldi, an earth scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. With El Niño’s influence, “the likelihood of seeing something unprecedented is even higher,” she said. In recent weeks, weather extremes have included record-breaking heat waves in China, where Beijing surpassed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time, and in Mexico and Texas, where officials were once again struggling to keep the electricity grid up and running. Wildfire smoke that has repeatedly choked parts of the United States this summer is a visible reminder of abnormal spring heat and unusually dry weather that have fueled an unprecedented wildfire season in Canada, which saw both its hottest May and June. Ocean heat is to be expected during El Niño — it is marked by unusually warm sea surface temperatures along the equatorial Pacific. But shocking warmth has developed far beyond that zone, including in the North Pacific, around New Zealand and across most of the Atlantic. Marine heat wave conditions covered about 40 percent of the world’s oceans in June, the greatest area on record, NOAA reported. That footprint is only expected to grow, forecast to reach 50 percent of ocean waters by September.

Records broken by wide margins
It’s not just that records are being broken — but the massive margins with which conditions are surpassing previous extremes, scientists note. In parts of the North Atlantic, temperatures are running as high as 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal, the warmest observed there in more than 170 years. The warm waters helped northwestern Europe, including the United Kingdom, clinch its warmest June on record. New data the Copernicus center published Thursday showed global surface air temperatures were 0.53 degrees Celsius (0.95 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1991-2020 average in June. That was more than a tenth of a degree Celsius above the previous record, “a substantial margin,” the center said. Antarctic sea ice, meanwhile, reached its lowest June extent since the dawn of the satellite era, at 17 percent below the 1991-2020 average, Copernicus said. The previous record, set a year earlier, was about 9 percent below average. The planet is increasingly flirting with a global warming benchmark that policymakers have sought to avoid — 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. It has, at times, been surpassed already this year, including in early June, though the concern is when long-term averages creep closer to that threshold, Buontempo said. “The average will get there at some point,” he said. “It will become easier and easier, given the warming of the climate system, to exceed that threshold.” Halfway through 2023, the year to date ranks as third-warmest on record, according to Copernicus.

Odds of a record-warm year, once considered slim, are rising
At the start of 2023, it appeared possible, if only narrowly, that the year would end up Earth’s warmest on record. For now, 2016 holds that benchmark, heavily influenced by a major El Niño episode that arrived the previous year. But as El Niño has rapidly developed — and as signs of extreme warmth have spread across the planet — the odds of a new global temperature record have increased. Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, estimates the probability has climbed to at least 54 percent — more likely than not. “The warmth thus far in 2023 and the development of El Niño has definitely progressed faster than initially expected,” Rohde said in a message. Climate scientists diverge over whether a new global temperature record should be a focus of concern. Flavio Lehner, an assistant professor at Cornell University, likened it to tracking sports scores. “It’s not necessarily meaningful,” Lehner said. What matters, he said, is that “we have a long-term trend that is a warming climate.” For others, though, records are a sign of trouble, nearly as hard for people to ignore as the incessant waves of wildfire smoke. “It just raises everybody’s awareness that this is not getting better; it’s getting worse,” said Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. “My hope is that we’ll raise alarm bells by breaking a new record and that will help motivate people to do the right thing and stop ignoring this crisis.” For Tebaldi, the significance is this: A glimpse of a not-so-distant future where conditions that are now considered extreme become the norm.
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Previously reported – August  2023
U.S., European heat waves ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change, new study finds
The life-threatening heat waves that have baked U.S. cities and inflamed European wildfires in recent weeks would be “virtually impossible” without the influence of human-caused climate change, a team of international researchers said Tuesday. Global warming, they said, also made China’s recent record-setting heat wave 50 times more likely. Soaring temperatures are punishing the Northern Hemisphere this summer. In the U.S., more than 2,000 high temperature records have been broken in the past 30 days, according to federal data. In Southern Europe, an observatory in Palermo, Sicily, which has kept temperature records on the Mediterranean coast since 1791, hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit, Monday, shattering its previous recorded high. And in China, a small northwest town recently recorded the hottest temperature in the country’s history. July is likely to be the hottest month on Earth since records have been kept. “Without climate change we wouldn’t see this at all or it would be so rare that it would basically be not happening,” said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, who helped lead the new research as part of a collaborative group called World Weather Attribution. El Niño, a natural weather pattern, is likely contributing to some of the heat, the researchers said, “but the burning of fossil fuels is the main reason the heatwaves are so severe.” Global temperatures have increased nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the start of the Industrial Revolution, when humans started burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas in earnest. To determine what role that warming has played on the current heat waves, the researchers looked at weather data from the three continents and used peer-reviewed computer model simulations to compare the climate as it is today with what it was in the past. The study is a so-called rapid attribution report, which aims to explain the role of climate change in ongoing or recent extreme weather events. It has not yet been peer-reviewed. The researchers found that greenhouse gas emissions are not only making extreme heat waves — the world’s deadliest weather events — more common, but that they’ve made the current heat waves hotter than they would have otherwise been by multiple degrees Fahrenheit — a finding, Otto said, that wasn’t surprising. Bernadette Woods Placky, chief meteorologist at Climate Central, who wasn’t involved in the research but had reviewed its findings, agreed with that assessment. “It is not surprising that there’s a climate connection with the extreme heat that we’re seeing around the world right now,” Placky said. “We know we’re adding more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, and we continue to add more of them through the burning of fossil fuels. And the more heat that we put into our atmosphere, it will translate into bigger heat events.” Even a small rise in temperatures can lead to increased illness and death, according to the World Health Organization. Hot temperatures can cause heat exhaustion, severe dehydration and raise the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Those risks are even higher in low-income neighborhoods and in communities of color, where research has found temperatures are often hotter than in white neighborhoods. Heat waves in Europe last summer killed an estimated 61,000 people — most of them women — according to a recent study published in the journal Nature. A stifling heat dome in the Pacific Northwest in 2021 is believed to have killed hundreds in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. “Dangerous climate change is here now,” said Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who studies how climate change influences extreme weather and has published work on the 2021 heat dome. “I’ve been saying that for 10 years, so now my saying is, ‘dangerous climate change is here now and if you don’t know that, you’re not paying attention.'”
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It’s official: Scientists confirm July was the hottest month ever recorded

    • Global air and ocean temperatures soared to a record high in July, according to the EU’s climate change service Copernicus.
    • “These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.
    • C3S and the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization recently recognized the first three weeks of July as hottest three-week period on record.

 Global air and ocean temperatures soared to a record high in July, according to the EU’s climate change service Copernicus, deepening concern among climate scientists at a time when a spate of heat records suggest the planet has entered uncharted territory. The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said Tuesday that the global average surface air temperature in July was confirmed to be the highest on record for any month. July was found to be a whopping 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the average for the 1850-1900 period and 0.33 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous warmest month of July 2019. Meanwhile, global average sea surface temperatures continued to rise in July, the EU’s climate monitor said, after a long period of unusually high temperatures stretching back to April. For the month as a whole, the planet’s average sea surface temperature was 0.51 degrees Celsius above the 1991 to 2020 average. The data, which is collated from the measurement of satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations around the world, follows a flurry of record-breaking heat waves across multiple regions. Vast parts of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia have suffered from scorching heat in recent weeks, while South American countries have been gripped by record-breaking temperatures in the middle of winter. “These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S, said in a statement. “Even if this is only temporary, it shows the urgency for ambitious efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main driver behind these records,” she added. C3S and the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization recently recognized the first three weeks of July as hottest three-week period on record. The record heat affecting communities across the globe is fueled by the climate emergency. Scientists say the extreme weather events underscore the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and deeply as possible.

‘Just the beginning’
C3S said 2023 was the third-hottest on record in the year to date at 0.43 degrees Celsius above the recent average. The gap between this year and 2016 — the hottest year on record — is expected to narrow in the coming months. That’s because the latter months of 2016 were relatively cool, C3S said, while the remainder of 2023 is poised to be comparatively warm as the current El Niño event develops. El Niño is a naturally occurring climate pattern that contributes to higher temperatures across the globe. The U.N. weather agency declared the onset of El Niño on July 4, warning its return could pave the way for extreme weather conditions. Speaking at the U.N. headquarters in New York City late last month, Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “the era of global boiling” has arrived. “For scientists, it is unequivocal — humans are to blame,” Guterres said on July 27. “All this is entirely consistent with predictions and repeated warnings. The only surprise is the speed of the change. Climate change is here. It is terrifying, and it is just the beginning.”
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Previously reported – August  2023
Summer 2023: the hottest on record
According to Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S): “Global temperature records continue to tumble in 2023, with the warmest August following on from the warmest July and June leading to the warmest boreal summer in our data record going back to 1940. 2023 is currently ranked as the second warmest, at only 0.01ºC behind 2016 with four months of the year remaining. Meanwhile, the global ocean saw in August both the warmest daily surface temperature on record, and it’s the warmest month on record. The scientific evidence is overwhelming – we will continue to see more climate records and more intense and frequent extreme weather events impacting society and ecosystems, until we stop emitting greenhouse gases.” 
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Odds that 2023 will be Earth’s hottest year have doubled, NOAA reports
There’s now a greater than 93 percent chance 2023 will surpass 2016 as the planet’s warmest year
After a record-hot stretch around the globe this summer, it appears all but certain: 2023 will surpass 2016 as Earth’s warmest year on record. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculate that there’s a 93.42 percent chance that 2023 will become the hottest year according to a monthly climate report released Thursday. That percentage is nearly double what was estimated a month earlier (46.82 percent) and a whopping 86 percentage points higher than the beginning of the year projection (6.9 percent). The calculation — with four months remaining in the year — underscores how dramatically observations of global air and ocean temperatures and ice extent have diverged from anything scientists have previously witnessed, or that they would have predicted at the start of the year. Signs of unusual warmth began to appear in early spring, and the trend has not wavered since. July was the planet’s hottest single month on record, with possibly its most extreme sustained warmth in 125,000 years. The three months from June through August were the globe’s hottest in 174 years of record keeping, 0.43 degrees (0.24 degrees Celsius) above the previous record and 2.07 degrees (1.15 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average for Northern Hemisphere summer, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. That affirms estimates European Union scientists released last week, declaring a record-warm summer “by a large margin.” Deke Arndt, the NOAA centers’ director, shared the report on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) with an unusual declaration. “I’m rarely stunned by our findings,” he wrote. “Yesterday when the climate monitoring team briefed this, it took me five minutes just to process the magnitude.” A new global temperature record began to appear possible when the climate pattern El Niño emerged in June — but scientists thought it would come in 2024. El Niño is associated with warmer-than-normal surface waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean and is known for heating up the planet and fueling extreme weather. A strong El Niño pattern that formed in 2015 and lasted into 2016 helped push the planet to record average warmth in 2016. But this year’s warming pattern has differed from the heat of 2016, said Robert Rohde, lead scientist for Berkeley Earth. “Most of the time when you are building towards a new record, the weather is warm from the very start,” Rohde said in an email. ” But this year, extreme temperatures did not emerge until June. “That path towards record warmth is quite unusual,” Rohde said. Rohde and Berkeley Earth calculate there’s greater than a 99 percent chance that 2023 will be the warmest, a huge leap since the beginning of the year when they placed the odds at just 14 percent. While El Niño may to some degree be responsible for the onset of this year’s warming, oceans are record-hot far beyond the epicenter of the El Niño pattern in the Pacific. Heat in the Atlantic basin caused disastrous bleaching of Florida coral reefs and has aided the rapid intensification of hurricanes. Around Antarctica, during Southern Hemisphere winter, sea ice cover reached a maximum far smaller than any scientists have observed before. Arndt noted that while some might seek to dismiss new extremes in a record book that goes back 174 years as “a blip in geological time,” he stressed they are nonetheless exceptional. “Fact is, they are the most important, vital 174 yrs. in the history of humanity’s relationship with the Earth system, when almost everything we know about agriculture and infrastructure was found or refined,” he wrote on X.
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Previously reported – August  2023
Earth is on track for its hottest year yet, according to a European climate agency
After a summer of record-smashing heat, warming somehow got even worse in September as Earth set a new mark for how far above normal temperatures were, the European climate agency reported Thursday. Last month’s average temperature was 0.93 degrees Celsius (1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1991-2020 average for September. That’s the warmest margin above average for a month in 83 years of records kept by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. “It’s just mind-blowing really,” said Copernicus Director Carlo Buontempo. “Never seen anything like that in any month in our records.” While July and August had hotter raw temperatures because they are warmer months on the calendar, September had what scientists call the biggest anomaly, or departure from normal. Temperature anomalies are crucial pieces of data in a warming world.

“This is not a fancy weather statistic,” Imperial College of London climate scientist Friederike Otto said in an email. “It’s a death sentence for people and ecosystems. It destroys assets, infrastructure, harvest.” Copernicus calculated that the average temperature for September was 16.38 degrees Celsius (61.48 degrees Fahrenheit), which broke the old record set in September 2020 by a whopping half-degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s a huge margin in climate records. The hot temperatures stretched across the globe, but they were chiefly driven by persistent and unusual warmth in the world’s oceans, which didn’t cool off as much in September as normal and have been record hot since spring, said Buontempo. Earth is on track for its hottest year on record, about 1.4 degrees Celsius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial times, according to Samantha Burgess, Copernicus’ deputy director. This past September was 1.75 degrees Celsius (3.15 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the mid-1800s, Copernicus reported. The world agreed in 2015 to try to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warming since pre-industrial times. The global threshold goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius is for long-term temperature averages, not a single month or year. But scientists still expressed grave concern at the records being set. “What we’re seeing right now is the backdrop of rapid global warming at a pace that the Earth has not seen in eons coupled with El Nino, natural climate cycle” that’s a temporary warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide, said U.S. climate scientist Jessica Moerman, who is also president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “This double whammy together is where things get dangerous.” Though El Nino is playing a part, climate change has a bigger footprint in this warmth, Buontempo said. “There really is no end in sight given new oil and gas reserves are still being opened for exploitation,” Otto said. “If you have more record hot events, there is no respite for humans and nature, no time to recover.” Buontempo said El Nino is likely to get warmer and cause even higher temperatures next year. “This month was, in my professional opinion as a climate scientist – absolutely gobsmackingly bananas,” climate scientist Zeke Hausfather said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
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Previously reported – October  2023
2023 Virtually Certain to Be the Hottest Year on Record, Scientists Say
Analyzing data from October, European climate scientists found another record-breaking month for temperatures around the world.
October 2023 was the warmest October on record globally, according to data from European climate scientists released on Wednesday. It comes on the heels of the hottest September on record and the hottest summer months globally, rounding out a year of record temperatures around the planet. “We can say with near certainty that 2023 will be the warmest year on record and is currently 1.43 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement. The analysis, which relies heavily on computer modeling, uses billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations around the world. The difference in global temperature compared with the long-term average for October 2023 was the second highest across all months in the Copernicus data set, behind only September 2023. The analysis includes data from January 1940 to the present. About September’s data, Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth, writes: “As global temperatures shattered records and reached dangerous new highs over and over the past few months, my climate scientist colleagues and I have just about run out of adjectives to describe what we have seen.” The United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, is scheduled to begin in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates at the end of the month. “The sense of urgency for ambitious climate action going into COP28 has never been higher,” Dr. Burgess said.
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Previously reported – January  2024
It’s official: 2023 was Earth’s warmest year in a century and a half, with temperatures breaking records month after month.
The numbers are in, and scientists can now confirm what month after month of extraordinary heat worldwide began signaling long ago. Last year was Earth’s warmest by far in a century and a half. Global temperatures started blowing past records midyear and didn’t stop. First, June was the planet’s warmest June on record. Then, July was the warmest July. And so on, all the way through December. Averaged across last year, temperatures worldwide were 1.48 degrees Celsius, or 2.66 Fahrenheit, higher than they were in the second half of the 19th century, the European Union climate monitor announced on Tuesday. That is warmer by a sizable margin than 2016, the previous hottest year. To climate scientists, it comes as no surprise that unabated emissions of greenhouse gases caused global warming to reach new highs. What researchers are still trying to understand is whether 2023 foretells many more years in which heat records are not merely broken but smashed. In other words, they are asking whether the numbers are a sign that the planet’s warming is accelerating. “The extremes we have observed over the last few months provide a dramatic testimony of how far we now are from the climate in which our civilization developed,” Carlo Buontempo, the director of the E.U.’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement. Every tenth of a degree of global warming represents extra thermodynamic fuel that intensifies heat waves and storms, adds to rising seas and hastens the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Those effects were on display last year. Hot weather baked Iran and China, Greece and Spain, Texas and the American South. Canada had its most destructive wildfire season on record by far, with more than 45 million acres burned. Less sea ice formed around the coasts of Antarctica, in both summer and winter, than ever measured. NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the research group Berkeley Earth are scheduled to release their own estimates of 2023 temperatures later this week. Each organization’s data sources, and analytical methods are somewhat different, though their results rarely diverge by much. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations agreed to limit long-term global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and, if possible, 1.5 degrees. At present rates of greenhouse gas emissions, it will only be a few years before the 1.5-degree goal is a lost cause, researchers say.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the main driver of global warming. But last year several other natural and human-linked factors also helped boost temperatures. The 2022 eruption of an underwater volcano off the Pacific island nation of Tonga spewed vast amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere, helping trap more heat near Earth’s surface. Recent limits on sulfur pollution from ships brought down levels of aerosols, or tiny airborne particles that reflect solar radiation and help cool the planet. Another factor was El Niño, the recurrent shift in tropical Pacific weather patterns that began last year and is often linked with record-setting heat worldwide. And that contains a warning of potentially worse to come this year. The reason: In recent decades, very warm years have typically been ones that started in an El Niño state. But last year, the El Niño didn’t start until midyear — which suggests that El Niño wasn’t the main driver of the abnormal warmth at that point, said Emily J. Becker, a climate scientist at the University of Miami. It is also a strong sign that this year could be hotter than last. “It’s very, very likely to be top three, if not the record,” Dr. Becker said, referring to 2024. Scientists caution that a single year, even one as exceptional as 2023, can tell us only so much about how the planet’s long-term warming might be changing. But other signs suggest the world is heating up more quickly than before. About 90 percent of the energy trapped by greenhouse gases accumulates in the oceans, and scientists have found that the oceans’ uptake of heat has accelerated significantly since the 1990s. “If you look at that curve, it’s clearly not linear,” said Sarah Purkey, an oceanographer with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. A group of researchers in France recently found that the Earth’s total heating — across oceans, land, air and ice — had been speeding up for even longer, since 1960. This broadly matches up with increases in carbon emissions and reductions in aerosols over the past few decades. But scientists will need to continue studying the data to understand whether other factors might be at work, too, said one of the researchers, Karina von Schuckmann, an oceanographer at Mercator Ocean International in Toulouse, France. “Something unusual is happening that we don’t understand,” Dr. von Schuckmann said.
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Scientists knew 2023’s heat would be historic — but not by this much
The year 2023 was the hottest in recorded human history, Europe’s top climate agency announced Tuesday, with blistering surface temperatures and torrid ocean conditions pushing the planet dangerously close to a long-feared warming threshold. According to new data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, Earth’s average temperature last year was 1.48 degrees Celsius (2.66 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the preindustrial average, before humans began to warm the planet through fossil fuel burning and other polluting activities. Last year shattered the previous global temperature record by almost two-tenths of a degree — the largest jump scientists have ever observed. This year is predicted to be even hotter. By the end of January or February, the agency warned, the planet’s 12-month average temperature is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial level — blasting past the world’s most ambitious climate goal. The announcement of a new temperature record comes as little surprise to scientists who have witnessed the past 12 months of raging wildfires, deadly ocean heat waves, cataclysmic flooding and a worrisome Antarctic thaw. A scorching summer and “gobsmacking” autumn temperature anomalies had all but guaranteed that 2023 would be a year for the history books. But the amount by which the previous record was broken shocked even climate experts. “I don’t think anybody was expecting anomalies as large as we have seen,” Copernicus director Carlo Buontempo said. “It was on the edge of what was plausible.” The staggering new statistics underscore how human-caused climate change has allowed regular planetary fluctuations to push temperatures into uncharted territory. Each of the past eight years was already among the eight warmest ever observed. Then, a complex and still somewhat mysterious host of climatic influences combined with human activities to push 2023 even hotter — ushering in an age of “global boiling,” in the words of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres. Unless nations transform their economies and rapidly transition away from polluting fuels, experts warn, this level of warming will unravel ecological webs and cause human-built systems to collapse.

A year that ‘doesn’t have an equivalent’
When ominous warmth first appeared in Earth’s oceans last spring, scientists said it was a likely sign that record global heat was imminent — but not until 2024. But as the planet transitioned into an El Niño climate pattern — characterized by warm Pacific Ocean waters — temperatures took a steeper jump. July and August were the two warmest months in the 173-year record Copernicus examined. As Antarctic sea ice dwindled and the planet’s hottest places flirted with conditions too extreme for people to survive, scientists speculated that 2023 would not only be the warmest on record — it might well exceed anything seen in the last 100,000 years. Analyses of fossils, ice cores and ocean sediments suggest that global temperatures haven’t been this high since before the last ice age, when Homo sapiens had just begun to migrate out of Africa and hippos roamed in what is now Germany. Autumn brought even greater departures from the norm. Temperatures in September were almost a full degree Celsius hotter than the average over the past 30 years, making it the most unusually warm month in Copernicus’s data set. And two days in November were, for the first time ever, more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the preindustrial average for those dates. “What we have seen in 2023 doesn’t have an equivalent,” Buontempo said. The record-setting conditions in 2023 were driven in part by unprecedented warmth in the oceans’ surface waters, Copernicus said. The agency measured marine heat waves from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Parts of the Atlantic Ocean experienced temperatures 4 to 5 degrees Celsius (7.2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average — a level that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies as “beyond extreme.” While researchers have not yet determined the impacts on sea life, similar heat waves have caused massive harms to microorganisms at the base of the food web, bleached corals and fueled toxic algae blooms, she added. Though the oceans cover about two-thirds of Earth’s surface, scientists estimate they have absorbed about 90 percent of the extra warming from humans’ burning of fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect those emissions have in the atmosphere. “The ocean is our sentinel,” said Karina von Schuckmann, an oceanographer at the nonprofit Mercator Ocean International. The dramatic warming in the ocean is a clear signal of “how much the Earth is out of energy balance,” she added — with heat continuing to build faster than it can be released from the planet.

What drove the record warmth
Scientists are still disentangling the factors that made 2023 so unusual. The largest and most obvious is El Niño, the infamous global climate pattern that emerges a few times a decade and is known to boost average planetary temperatures by a few tenths of a degree Celsius, or as much as half a degree Fahrenheit. El Niño’s signature is a zone of warmer-than-normal waters in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, which release vast amounts of heat and water vapor and trigger extreme weather patterns around the world. But El Niño alone cannot explain the extraordinary heat of the past 12 months, according to Copernicus. Because it wasn’t just the Pacific that exhibited dramatic warmth in 2023. Scientists also believe the Atlantic may have warmed as a result of weakened westerly winds, which tend to churn up waters and send surface warmth into deeper ocean layers. It could also have been the product of below-normal Saharan dust in the air; the particles normally act to block some sunlight from reaching the ocean surface. Around the world, in fact, there has been a decline in sun-blocking particles known as aerosols, in large part because of efforts to reduce air pollution. In recent years, shipping freighters have taken measures to reduce their emissions. Scientists have speculated the decline in aerosols may have allowed more sun to reach the oceans. And then there is the potential impact of a massive underwater volcanic eruption. When Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai blasted a plume 36 miles high in January 2022, scientists warned it released so much water vapor into the atmosphere, it could have a lingering effect for months, if not years, to come. NASA satellite data showed the volcano sent an unprecedented amount of water into the stratosphere — equal to 10 percent of the amount of water that was already contained in the second layer of Earth’s atmosphere. In the stratosphere, water vapor — like human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide — acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat like a blanket around the Earth. But it won’t be clear how much of a role each of those factors played until scientists can test each of those hypotheses. What is clear, scientists stress, is that the year’s extremes were only possible because they unfolded against the backdrop of human-caused climate change. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit a record high of 419 parts per million in 2023, Copernicus said. And despite global pledges to cut down on methane — which traps 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a short time scales — levels of that gas also reached new peaks. Only by reaching “net zero” — the point at which people stop adding additional greenhouse to the atmosphere — can humanity reverse Earth’s long-term warming trend, said Paulo Ceppi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London. “That is what the physical science tells us that we need to do,” Ceppi said.

What comes next
Almost half of all days in 2023 were 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the preindustrial average for that date, Copernicus said — giving the world a dangerous taste of a climate it had pledged to avoid. At the Paris climate conference in 2015, nations agreed to a stretch goal of “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.” Three years later, a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that staying within this ambitious threshold could avoid many of the most disastrous consequences of warming — but it would require the world to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions in just over a decade. But emissions have continued to rise, and now the world appears poised on the brink of surpassing the Paris target. At least one climate science organization believes the barrier has already been crossed. Berkeley Earth said in December that 2023 is virtually certain to eclipse it, though its estimates of 19th century temperatures are slightly lower than those other climate scientists use. This doesn’t necessarily mean the world has officially surpassed the limit set in the Paris climate agreement in 2015. That benchmark will only be reached when temperatures remain 1.5 degrees Celsius above average over a period of at least 20 years. But scientists are already speculating that the planet could set another average temperature record in 2024. Some also say the latest spike in global temperatures is a sign the rate of climate change has accelerated. Whether or not 2023 surpasses the 1.5 degree limit, the year “has given us a glimpse of what 1.5 may look like,” Buontempo said. He hoped that the latest record allows that reality to set in — and spurs action. “As a society, we have to be better at using this knowledge,” Buontempo added, “because the future will not be like our past.”
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Previously reported – February  2024
World surpasses key warming threshold across an entire year for the first time

    • Scientists on Thursday said the world surpassed a key warming threshold across an entire year for the first time on record.
    • The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said the global mean temperature for the 12-month period through to January was 1.52 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.
    • “Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S, said in a statement.

Scientists on Thursday said the world surpassed a key warming threshold across an entire year for the first time on record, calling to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said the global mean temperature for the 12-month period through to January was 1.52 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, and 0.64 degrees above the 1991-2020 average. The findings do not represent a break of the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels” over the long term. But the EU’s climate monitor said the data reinforces the need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst of what the climate crisis has in store. C3S also confirmed that the first month of 2024 was the warmest January on record, with an average surface temperature of 13.14 degrees Celsius — some 0.7 degrees Celsius above the 1991-2020 average and 0.12 degrees Celsius higher than the previous warmest January, logged in 2020. Each of the seven months prior to January also broke heat records for their respective time of the year. Scientists recently confirmed 2023 as the hottest year on record. “2024 starts with another record-breaking month — not only is it the warmest January on record but we have also just experienced a 12-month period of more than 1.5°C above the pre-industrial reference period,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S, said in a statement. “Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing.”

‘A rapidly shrinking window’
The data comes after repeated warnings that the world remains “massively off track” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold is recognized as a crucial long-term target because so-called tipping points become more likely beyond this level. If passed, tipping points can lead to dramatic shifts or potentially irreversible changes to some of Earth’s largest systems. Matt Patterson, a postdoctoral research assistant in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, described the findings of C3S as a “significant milestone,” but cautioned that they do not mean the Paris Agreement has failed. “A single year above the 1.5C threshold is not enough to breach the Paris climate agreement as the agreement concerns temperatures averaged over 20 to 30 years,” Patterson said. “However, exceeding 1.5C in one year underlines the rapidly shrinking window of time humanity has to make deep emissions cuts and avoid dangerous climate change.” The U.N. notes that the world has already warmed by around 1.1 degrees Celsius, fueling a series of extreme weather events around the world. Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said the C3S findings were a “stark warning of the urgency for the action that is required to limit climate change at anything like the Paris targets.”
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Previously reported – March  2024
Weirdly Warm Winter Has Climate Fingerprints All Over It, Study Says
Recent heat waves in cities worldwide have the hallmarks of global warming, researchers said. And last month was the hottest February on record.
Winter was weirdly warm for half the world’s population, driven in many places by the burning of fossil fuels, according to an analysis of temperature data from hundreds of locations worldwide. That aligns with the findings published late Wednesday by the European Union’s climate monitoring organization, Copernicus: The world as a whole experienced the hottest February on record, making it the ninth consecutive month of record temperatures. Even more startling, global ocean temperatures in February were at an all-time high for any time of year, according to Copernicus. Taken together, the two sets of figures offer a portrait of an unequivocally warming world that, combined with a natural El Niño weather pattern this year, has made winter unrecognizable in some places. The first analysis, conducted by Climate Central, an independent research group based in New Jersey, found that in several cities in North America, Europe and Asia, not only was winter unusually warm, but climate change played a distinctly recognizable role. Climate Central looked at anomalies in December and January temperature data in 678 cities worldwide and asked: How important are the fingerprints of climate change for these unusual temperatures? That is to say, its researchers tried to isolate the usual variability of the weather from the influence of climate change. “There’s the temperature,” said Andrew Pershing, Climate Central’s vice-president for science, “and then there’s our ability to really detect that climate signal in the data.” Cities in the Midwestern United States jumped out for experiencing an extraordinarily warm winter and for the influence of climate change, which is caused mainly by the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. “Really off the charts,” Dr. Pershing said. “No ice on most of the great lakes. That’s remarkable.” Minneapolis, for instance, was nearly 5.6 degrees Celsius warmer than average between December and February. The fingerprints of climate change could be detected for 33 days, essentially a third of the winter season. Tehran was 4.2 degrees Celsius warmer on average during the same three-month period. The effects of human-made climate change could be detected over 68 days of winter. Milan’s winter average temperature was roughly 2 degrees Celsius higher, but there was a strong climate change signal over 55 days. Elsewhere, even though there were a few significantly hot days, winter average temperatures didn’t vary wildly, and the climate signal was less pronounced. The Climate Central report, also published Wednesday, concluded that 4.8 billion people worldwide “experienced at least one day of temperatures that would be virtually impossible without the influence of carbon pollution.” In some parts of the world, the unusually warm winter weather was overshadowed by other crises, such as war. Several cities in Ukraine were significantly warmer than usual, and there, too, were the fingerprints of climate change. Kyiv, for instance, was nearly 3 degrees Celsius warmer on average this winter, and climate change was seen to have played a role for 33 days. Likewise, in several cities of Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. In the tropical belt, where it’s usually much hotter on average, climate signals are easier to detect, though temperature increases can be smaller. Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur for instance were barely 1 degree Celsius warmer on average. But the effects of climate change could be detected for nearly the entire three-month period. It’s not just individual cities that set records this winter. Globally, February 2024 was the warmest February on record, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. It was 1.77 degrees Celsius above the average February temperature in the recent preindustrial era from 1850-1900. This is the ninth month in a row to break the temperature record for that respective month. Taken together, the past 12 months have been the hottest 12 consecutive months on record: 1.56 degrees Celsius above the average from 1850-1900. “A year ago, the fact that the global temperature for a particular month would reach 1.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial level would have been considered exceptional,” said Julien Nicolas, a senior scientist at Copernicus, via email. Now, it’s happened repeatedly. This doesn’t mean we have exceeded the international Paris Agreement goal of stopping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial temperature. For that to happen, the planet would need to be 1.5 degrees warmer for several years, long enough to reflect a more permanent change. For now, in the short term, the ocean has been particularly hot. The average global sea-surface temperature in February was the warmest recorded for any month, surpassing the previous record set in August 2023.
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The planet just shattered heat records for the ninth month in a row
Last month was the planet’s hottest February on record, marking the ninth month in a row that global records tumbled, according to new data from Copernicus, the European Union’s climate monitoring service. February was 1.77 degrees Celsius warmer than the average February in pre-industrial times, Copernicus found, and it capped off the hottest 12-month period in recorded history, at 1.56 degrees above pre-industrial levels. It’s yet another grim climate change milestone, as the long-term impacts of human-caused global warming are given a boost by El Niño, a natural climate fluctuation. “February joins the long streak of records of the last few months. As remarkable as this might appear, it is not really surprising as the continuous warming of the climate system inevitably leads to new temperature extremes,” Carlo Buontempo, director of Copernicus, said in a statement. Even in the context of back-to-back months of unprecedented temperatures, February has been extreme. Global temperatures in the first half of the month in particular were “exceptionally high,” according to the analysis. Four consecutive days, from February 8 to 11, were 2 degrees warmer than those same days pre-industrial times. Restricting global heating to well below 2 degrees was a centerpiece of the Paris Agreement that almost every country signed up to in 2015. While scientists are much more concerned with longer-term warming, these temporary breaches are a clear and alarming sign of accelerating heating. Global ocean temperatures were also off the charts last month, hitting 21.06 degrees — the highest average for any month on record, according to the Copernicus data, beating the previous record of 20.98 degrees set in August 2023. Experts have expressed shock at just how hot the oceans have been, especially the North Atlantic, which has set a new daily temperature record every day since March 5 last year, according to Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School. “At times, the records have been broken by margins that are virtually statistically impossible,” McNoldy told CNN. Record ocean heat has significant global impacts. Not only is it dangerous for marine life but it also fuels extreme weather, including scorching heat waves, intense rainfall and ferocious hurricanes. The Copernicus data “tells a familiar story of warming temperatures and shifting patterns of weather,” said Hannah Cloke, a climate scientist and professor at the University of Reading in the UK. It is entirely consistent with what scientists have predicted would happen “as greenhouse gases continue to build up in our thin, life-giving atmosphere,” she told CNN. It provides yet more evidence that the world needs to reduce emissions drastically and immediately, Cloke said. If this evidence is ignored, Cloke added, “our children’s generation, and all those that follow, will be justified in pointing to the people who lived in 2024 and cursing our reckless stupidity.”
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Previously reported – April  2024
Earth sees hottest-ever March, the 10th record-breaking month in a row
The Earth just recorded its hottest March on record, the 10th month in a row to reach that feat, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Fueled by a mix of human-caused warming and the El Niño climate pattern, the all-time monthly highs were observed both in the air and in the ocean’s waters, the Copernicus report said. The heat over the past 12 months has pushed global average temperatures to an unprecedented 1.58 degrees Celsius (2.84 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than preindustrial levels, and the hotter air over the Atlantic Ocean in particular could lead to an especially intense hurricane season, scientists warned. “It should be eye-catching — we are going toward uncharted territory,” said Gillian Galford, the lead of the Vermont Climate Assessment and a professor at the University of Vermont who reviewed the report. “It’s rather unusual we see such an increased temperature over months and seasons.” She added that the warmer waters in the Atlantic in particular can lead to larger storms and a more intense hurricane season. It could also lead, she said, to more storms dumping more water in places like Vermont in the northeastern United States, which saw intense flooding last summer. March’s average surface air temperature of 14.14 degrees Celsius (57.45 degrees Fahrenheit) was .1 degrees (.18 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the previous high set in March 2016. Copernicus found that the Antarctic sea ice extent was 20 percent below average after the planet experienced its warmest winter, defined as December through February. While experts say the 10 consecutive months reflect a broader trend that is likely to continue, they said it doesn’t suggest that every month will be record-breaking indefinitely. “But historic highs will probably continue in the months ahead,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of Copernicus. “Seasonal forecasts suggest spring and summer are likely to be warmer than average,” Burgess told The Washington Post. “The reality is unless we change our emissions dramatically, we’ll look back at 2023 and consider it a cool year, 10 to 20 years in the future.” The report comes two months after scientists found Earth’s 12-month average temperature for the first time breached 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, defined as the average temperatures between 1850 and 1900. Climate experts fear that catastrophic changes, like the collapse of critical ocean circulations, could occur should the Earth’s temperatures remain near or above that threshold for multiple years. In the 2016 Paris climate agreement, nations around the world agreed to keep global average temperatures from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The nearly 200 participating countries also agreed to “pursue efforts” to keep the multiyear averages below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which could allow for the survival of coral reefs and less deadly heat waves. But to do so, activists have noted that emissions need to be sharply cut by 2030. It’s unclear exactly what influence El Niño — the warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern Pacific that tends to lead to warmer weather around the world — had in the record heat. But scientists say that 10 consecutive months of record temperatures suggest human-caused climate change played a role, noting that March’s broken record took place after El Niño peaked. Peter Huybers, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University, said the records are not a “huge surprise” given the continued global greenhouse gas emissions. “It’s a bellwether whenever you break a record,” he said. “And we’re seeing those records in spades this year. But we’re exactly where we expected to be given those fundamentals.” He added that the Earth’s natural fluctuation, which results in some warmer years and some cooler years, could mean the streak eventually ends as El Niño weakens and is potentially replaced by La Niña, its opposite. But the long-term trends of unprecedented heat are likely to continue, which Burgess said could make it more difficult to predict how the climate will behave in the future — especially if a “tipping point” is reached. “Then we’ll need a lot more science and data to predict what could happen next,” she said.
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  • There’s something happening here

    What it is ain’t exactly clear

Flood Insurance Program

The National Flood Insurance Program

The National Flood Insurance Program aims to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures. It does so by providing affordable insurance to property owners and by encouraging communities to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations. These efforts help mitigate the effects of flooding on new and improved structures. Overall, the program reduces the socio-economic impact of disasters by promoting the purchase and retention of general risk insurance, but also of flood insurance, specifically.
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Previously reported – February 2022
The NFIP: Solving Congress’s Samaritan’s Dilemma
Lawmakers’ commitment to a subsidy‐​free system has been imperfect from the beginning, and they have backslid in recent years.

Federal flood insurance arose as a policy device with two purposes: to reduce the use of post‐​disaster congressional appropriations for disaster relief and to impose the cost of rebuilding on the owners through premiums. This has been partially successful. The percentage of pre‐​FIRM structures receiving subsidized coverage has fallen from 75 percent in 1978 to 13 percent in 2018. But some degree of taxpayer subsidy remains and has recently grown. After Hurricane Sandy and subsequent FEMA flood map updating, Congress protected owners from rate increases by grandfathering structures so that they now pay rates that are below actuarially fair levels in relation to the specifics of their flood zones and the degree to which they are elevated above the floodplain. Moreover, enforcement of the elevation requirement is spotty at best. The appearance in recent years of private flood insurance may seem to be a hopeful sign that federal flood policy is moving toward something more consistent with the nation’s ethos. However, these insurers’ entry into the market appears to be the product of cross subsidies within the federal program, not an overall move to replace government protection with private insurance coverage. Once the overcharged properties have largely been moved out of the NFIP and in to private coverage, the remaining policies will likely be explicitly subsidized—either with direct aid following a disaster or with government subsidies to purchase private insurance. It is unclear whether that would be better than the current system. The existence of private flood reinsurance suggests that claims about the impossibility of private provision of flood insurance are incorrect. But even if that’s true, there is still the question of whether property owners who currently receive cross subsidies for their waterfront properties are willing to pay actuarially fair rates—and what happens if they do not and then are struck by floodwaters. The NFIP raises other important policy questions. Is the 50 percent “substantially damaged and substantially improved” trigger the right threshold to require property owners to elevate their buildings above BFE? What should be done about the poor enforcement of the BFE requirement? There is also the question of what—if anything—to do about structures that predate federal flood insurance, do not have mortgages, and do not purchase federal flood insurance. Ideally, these structures should present no policy problems at all: their owners are neither asking for nor receiving subsidy and are bearing the cost of their risk taking; moreover, the emergence of a private flood insurance market may provide them with products that they do find attractive. If neither they nor policymakers are time‐​inconsistent on this arrangement, these property owners should be allowed to continue to choose and bear flood risks. But even they receive indirect subsidy through federal grants for local infrastructure following disasters. In short, the NFIP was an important decision by Congress to move away from providing ad hoc disaster aid to flood victims at taxpayer expense. But lawmakers’ commitment to a subsidy‐​free system has been imperfect from the beginning, and they have backslid further from that in recent years. The NFIP needs to reembrace the goal of insureds paying actuarially fair premiums. Hopefully, the recent appearance of private flood insurers in the marketplace will help with this and not merely cherry‐​pick cross subsidies in the current system. More hopefully, these private insurers will not suffer the financial wipeout that felled their predecessors a century ago.
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Previously reported – May 2023
FEMA Releases New Flood Insurance Rates by ZIP Code. Brace for Impact.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency unveiled its new Risk Rating 2.0 methodology for calculating flood insurance, advocates and critics alike warned that it would mean higher premiums for thousands of property owners, especially in low-elevation coastal areas. Now, the full impact of the sticker shock is becoming clear, thanks to new data released by FEMA that shows price increases – and decreases – by county and by ZIP codes. But some spots will see decreases under RR 2.0, which is based less on FEMA’s much-criticized flood maps and more on a multitude of factors, including rainfall levels, elevation, a home’s distance from water, and rebuilding costs. Existing property owners won’t feel the pain all at once. Federal law limits the rate increases to no more than 18% annually on renewals. For people buying new policies, though, the full impact will be painfully obvious. For the past year, FEMA has required new policies to be rated under RR 2.0. He also noted that some prospective home buyers may not be aware of the soaring premiums. If the seller doesn’t explain about the new rating system, which grandfathers in existing owners, buyers could easily assume that their rates will remain the same.
The FEMA spreadsheet with all U.S. ZIP codes can be downloaded
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Previously reported – August 2023


FEMA’s New Rate-Setting Methodology Improves Actuarial Soundness but Highlights Need for Broader Program Reform
FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program is charged with keeping flood insurance affordable and staying financially solvent. But a historical focus on affordability has led to insurance premiums being lower than they should be. The program hasn’t collected enough revenue to pay claims and has had to borrow billions from the Treasury. FEMA revamped how it sets premiums in 2021—more closely aligning them with the flood risk of individual properties. But affordability concerns accompany the premium increases some will experience. We recommended that Congress consider creating a means-based assistance program that’s reflected in the federal budget.

What GAO Found
In October 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began implementing Risk Rating 2.0, a new methodology for setting premiums for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The new methodology substantially improves ratemaking by aligning premiums with the flood risk of individual properties, but some other aspects of NFIP still limit actuarial soundness. For example, in addition to the premium, policyholders pay two charges that are not risk based. Unless Congress authorizes FEMA to align these charges with a property’s risk, the total amounts paid by policyholders may not be actuarially justified, and some policyholders could be over- or underpaying. Further, Congress does not have certain information on the actuarial soundness of NFIP, such as the risk that the new premiums are designed to cover and projections of fiscal outlook under a variety of scenarios. By producing an annual actuarial report that includes these items, FEMA could improve understanding of Risk Rating 2.0 and facilitate congressional oversight of NFIP.

Risk Rating 2.0 is aligning premiums with risk, but affordability concerns accompany the premium increases. FEMA had been increasing premiums for a number of years prior to implementing Risk Rating 2.0. By December 2022, the median annual premium was $689, but this will need to increase to $1,288 to reach full risk. Under Risk Rating 2.0, about one-third of policyholders are already paying full-risk premiums. Many of these policyholders had their premiums reduced upon implementation of Risk Rating 2.0. All others will require higher premiums, including 9 percent who will eventually require increases of more than 300 percent. Further, Gulf Coast states are among those experiencing the largest premium increases. Policies in these states have been among the most underpriced, despite having some of the highest flood risks.

Annual premium increases for most policyholders are limited to 18 percent by statute. These caps help address some affordability concerns in the near term but have several limitations.

    • First, the caps perpetuate an unfunded premium shortfall. GAO estimated it would take until 2037 for 95 percent of current policies to reach full-risk premiums, resulting in a $27 billion premium shortfall (see figure below). The costs of shortfalls are not transparent to Congress or the public because they are not recognized in the federal budget and become evident only when NFIP must borrow from the Department of the Treasury after a catastrophic flood event.
    • Second, the caps address affordability poorly. For example, they are not cost-effective because some policyholders who do not need assistance likely are still receiving it. Concurrently, some policyholders needing assistance likely are not receiving it, and the discounts will gradually disappear as premiums transition to full risk.
    • Third, the caps keep NFIP premiums artificially low, which undercuts private-market premiums and hinders private-market growth.

An alternative to caps on annual premium increases is a means-based assistance program that would provide financial assistance to policyholders based on their ability to pay and be reflected in the federal budget. Such a program would make NFIP’s costs transparent and avoid undercutting the private market. If affordability needs are not addressed effectively, more policyholders could drop coverage, leaving them unprotected from flood risk and more reliant on federal disaster assistance. Addressing affordability needs is especially important as actions to better align premiums with a property’s risk could result in additional premium increases.

FEMA has had to borrow from Treasury to pay claims in previous years and would have to use revenue from current and future policyholders to repay the debt. NFIP’s debt largely is a result of discounted premiums that FEMA has been statutorily required to provide. In addition, a statutorily required assessment has the effect of charging current and future policyholders for previously incurred losses, which violates actuarial principles and exacerbates affordability concerns. Even with this assessment, it is unlikely that FEMA will ever be able to repay the debt as currently structured. For example, with the estimated premium shortfalls, repaying the debt in 30 years at 2.5 percent interest would require an annual payment of about $1.9 billion, equivalent to a 60 percent surcharge for each policyholder in the first year. Such a surcharge could cause some policyholders to drop coverage, leaving them unprotected from flood risk and leaving NFIP with fewer policyholders to repay the debt. Unless Congress addresses this debt—for example, by canceling it or modifying repayment terms—and the potential for future debt, NFIP’s debt will continue to grow, actuarial soundness will be delayed, and affordability concerns will increase.

Risk Rating 2.0 does not yet appear to have significantly changed conditions in the private flood insurance market because NFIP premiums generally remain lower than what a private insurer would need to charge to be profitable. Further, certain program rules continue to impede private-market growth. Specifically, NFIP policyholders are discouraged from seeking private coverage because statute requires them to maintain continuous coverage with NFIP to have access to discounted premiums, and they do not receive refunds for early cancellations if they switch to a private policy. By authorizing FEMA to allow private coverage to satisfy NFIP’s continuous coverage requirements and to offer risk-based partial refunds for midterm cancellations replaced by private policies, Congress could promote private-market growth and help to expand consumer options.

Why GAO Did This Study
NFIP was created with competing policy goals—keeping flood insurance affordable and the program fiscally solvent. A historical focus on affordability has led to premiums that do not fully reflect flood risk, insufficient revenue to pay claims, and, ultimately, $36.5 billion in borrowing from Treasury since 2005. FEMA’s new Risk Rating 2.0 methodology is intended to better align premiums with underlying flood risk at the individual property level. This report examines several objectives, including (1) the actuarial soundness of Risk Rating 2.0, (2) how premiums are changing, (3) efforts to address affordability for policyholders, (4) options for addressing the debt, and (5) implications for the private market. GAO reviewed FEMA documentation and analyzed NFIP, Census Bureau, and private flood insurance data. GAO also interviewed FEMA officials, actuarial organizations, private flood insurers, and insurance agent associations.

GAO recommends six matters for congressional consideration. Specifically, Congress should consider the following:

    • Authorizing and requiring FEMA to replace two policyholder charges with risk-based premium charges
    • Replacing discounted premiums with a means-based assistance program that is reflected in the federal budget
    • Addressing NFIP’s current debt—for example, by canceling it or modifying repayment terms—and potential for future debt
    • Authorizing and requiring FEMA to revise NFIP rules hindering the private market related to (1) continuous coverage and (2) partial refunds for midterm cancellations

GAO is also making five recommendations to FEMA, including that it publish an annual report on NFIP’s actuarial soundness and fiscal outlook. The Department of Homeland Security agreed with the recommendations.
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Previously reported – October 2023
Flood-Insurance Program Faces a Backlash—and a Deadline
Home-purchase closings could be derailed if it lapses
A federal program that provides critical flood insurance is set to lapse unless renewed by the end of the month, potentially stranding new home buyers in need of coverage. The National Flood Insurance Program provides a safety net for the increasing number of communities that are vulnerable to flooding and might not have access to any other coverage. Now lawmakers are deadlocked over extending the program, which is facing a backlash over a new pricing model intended to make premiums better reflect a home’s risk. “The only thing worse than what we have is nothing,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.), whose bill to extend the program by one year was blocked last week. Congress may find a way to renew the program before it lapses on Oct. 1 or shortly after, as in years past, through legislation that is either separate from or part of the budget fight to prevent a government shutdown. The deadline comes at a critical juncture for the 55-year-old program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is being sued by 10 states that want to block the program’s revamped pricing, which was intended to help address its decadelong funding shortfalls and to prevent homeowners in relatively low-risk areas from continuing to subsidize those in flood-prone ones. The new pricing will take several years to be fully implemented and result in rate hikes for two-thirds of the program’s 4.7 million policyholders, according to the Government Accountability Office. The states suing FEMA say the new rates could drive people out of flood zones, slam property values and even lead to people losing their homes because they can no longer afford insurance that is a condition of their mortgages. Average annual premiums will eventually more than double in 12 coastal and landlocked states under the revamp, according to a report this week by First Street Foundation, a research firm. The county with the steepest increase is in Louisiana, where the average premium in Plaquemines Parish will surge more than sixfold to $5,431 from $842 in coming years once the new premiums are in full effect, according to First Street. “Flood insurance policies have become their own natural disaster,” said Jeff Landry, the attorney general for Louisiana who is leading the states’ lawsuit. Other states where average premiums more than doubled include hurricane-prone Florida and Mississippi, as well as Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia. David Maurstad of the National Flood Insurance Program said that FEMA doesn’t have the authority to consider affordability when setting premiums but that the agency “continues to work with Congress to examine flood insurance affordability options.” Previously, premiums were based on an outdated model that FEMA said no longer accurately reflected a home’s risk of flooding. Critics said the cheap insurance encouraged people to buy pricey homes in flood-prone areas, in part by repeatedly bailing them out. More than 3,000 properties had 10 or more claims from 1978 through 2022, according to FEMA. Nearly two-thirds of those were in five states: Louisiana, Texas, New Jersey, Missouri and New York. To help shore up its funding, FEMA last year asked Congress to consider letting it drop coverage on properties that received four or more claim payments of at least $10,000. Congress has yet to take any action. Since the program caps rate increases at 18% a year, it will take until 2037 before the new premiums are being charged for 95% of current policies, the GAO estimated. That delays the full impact of rate increases for several years for policyholders but leaves the program with $27 billion less in premium revenue than it otherwise would have. Already, the program’s failure to charge adequate rates for years has dug it deep into debt. It is paying $1.7 million in interest a day to the Treasury on $20.5 billion in loans, even after Congress forgave it $16 billion of debt in 2017. Meanwhile, the program has lost almost a million policyholders since 2009, despite floods becoming more frequent and costly. In counties affected by Hurricane Idalia last month, fewer than one in five homes on average had federal flood insurance, according to an analysis for The Wall Street Journal by private insurer Neptune Flood. A failure by Congress to renew the program wouldn’t stop claims from being paid. But it could affect home purchases in high-risk flood zones and derail thousands of closings in the peak of hurricane season, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group. In the last six years, lawmakers have allowed the program to lapse briefly three times, according to FEMA. It isn’t yet clear how lawmakers will try to extend the program. A renewal could be included as a provision in any temporary funding legislation to keep the government running. Sen. Kennedy of Louisiana is also expected to again try and pass his legislation for an extension. His attempt last week was blocked by Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), who said he wasn’t willing to agree to “yet another hollow promise” of reforms. “It’s a broken subsidy program,” Lee said.
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Previously reported – November 2023
National Flood Insurance Program: Reauthorization
Congress must periodically renew the NFIP’s statutory authority to operate. On November 17, 2023, the President signed legislation passed by Congress that extends the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP’s) authorization to February 2, 2024.

Congress must now reauthorize the NFIP
by no later than 11:59 pm on February 2, 2024.

The Flood Insurance Program is Sinking:
The actual words of David Maurstad, the federal official in charge of the Nation Flood Insurance Program, were “the NFIP is not fiscally sustainable in its present form” when he spoke with reporters in late October.  That may not be a surprise, but what hasn’t generally been reported is the wholesale reform package that the Biden administration has proposed to Congress.

First, some background.  With more than 4.7 million policies, FEMA has borrowed over $20 billion to stay afloat and nearly ran out of money in September.  Even with the much-maligned Risk Rating 2.0 NFIP premium increases, the program is struggling to deal with hurricanes and fires at a time when those disasters might be fewer in number but are increasing in cost.  Given that background, the Biden administration has sent Congress no less than 17 proposals to overhaul the NFIP.

Here’s a short list of some of the most important points of this package –

    • Requires communities participating in the NFIP risk reduction plan to establish minimum flood-risk reporting requirements for residential sellers and lessors.
    • Allows for the use of replacement cost value in determining premium rates to “more accurately signal policyholders’ true risk.”
    • Creates separate classes for coastal versus inland flood zones in the NFIP’s rate tables.
    • Provides a means-tested assistance program for offering a graduated discount benefit for low- and moderate-income households.
    • Prohibits coverage for new construction in high-risk areas and prohibits [presumably new] coverage for all commercial properties “to promote the growth of the private market….”
    • Prohibits coverage for “excessive loss properties” or properties that flood repetitively and require insurance payouts of at least $10,000 each time.

These are obviously major changes, and there are more we haven’t listed.  Congress has shown little interest in tackling NFIP reform, preferring to kicking the can down the road with two dozen extensions of the existing program.  That means these proposals may be dead in the water.  However, having to forgive over $20 billion in outstanding debt to the Treasury (which will happen next year or very soon after) plus inevitably needing to provide more billions to enable the program to stay afloat may be just the impetus Congress needs to face reality.

To be clear on why the can keeps getting kicked, there is no doubt that members of congress recognize the problem with the program – premiums are too low and do not reflect actual risk exposure carried by the program. Yet these same members are essentially held hostage by their voter bases to ensure NFIP premiums stay low. Because constituents simply do not want to pay more, supporting more expensive premiums (which reflect actual risk) puts members’ re-election on the line.
WATERLOG – November Newsletter 

Previously reported – January 2024

More states deciding home buyers should know about flood risks
‘It’s a recognition that flooding is only going to get worse and that they need to take action now to protect home buyers and renters,’ says one advocate
Hours into a marathon meeting earlier this month, and with little fanfare, the North Carolina Real Estate Commission gave its blessing to a proposal that could have profound impacts in a state where thousands of homes face threats from rising seas, unprecedented rainfall and overflowing rivers. Soon, anyone who sells a home in the state will be required to disclose to prospective buyers far more about a property’s flood risks — and flood history. Rather than merely noting whether a home is in a federally designated flood zone, they will have to share whether a property has flood insurance, whether any past flood-related claims have been filed, or if the owner has ever received any federal assistance in the wake of a hurricane, tidal inundation or other flood-related disaster. With the changes, North Carolina became the fourth state this year to embrace more stringent disclosure requirements, joining South Carolina, New York and New Jersey. Advocates say the shifts, which for the most part encountered little outward opposition, represent an acknowledgment that flood risks are surging throughout the country and that more transparency about those risks is a common-sense measure that could mean more homes have flood insurance and fewer buyers face catastrophic surprises. “It’s a recognition that flooding is only going to get worse and that they need to take action now to protect home buyers and renters,” said Joel Scata, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which tracks flood disclosure laws around the country. “It’s also a recognition of the importance of transparency and fairness.” The changing disclosure policies come at a time when scientists say the nation’s coastlines will experience as much sea level rise in the coming few decades as they have over the past century. They also have documented how the warming atmosphere is creating more powerful storms and more torrential and damaging rainfalls, which already are inundating communities where aging infrastructure was built for a different era and a different climate. The more stringent rules adopted this year also follow a path set by some of the country’s most flood-battered states. Louisiana, facing massive land loss from rising seas and the prospect of stronger storms, has what environmental advocates and even the Federal Emergency Management Administration agree is one of the most robust sets of disclosure laws in the nation. Likewise, in the wake of cataclysmic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Texas adopted new rules that have also made the state a model for flood disclosure. But even as several additional states finalized new disclosure rules in 2023, many others still do not require sellers to divulge to buyers whether a home has previously flooded. That includes places such as Florida, which faces significant and rising risks from hurricanes, climate-fueled rain bombs and inland flooding along rivers. According to NRDC, more than one-third of states have no statutory or regulatory requirement that a seller must disclose a property’s flood risks or past flood damage to potential buyers. Others have varying degrees of requirements — a patchwork that means where people live can greatly influence how much they actually know about the flood risks of a home they buy or rent. “There are still too many states who keep home buyers in the dark,” Scata said. “That needs to change. Flooding is only going to become more severe due to climate change. And people have a right to know whether their dream home could become a nightmare due to flooding.” Earlier this year, FEMA proposed federal legislation that would require states to mandate certain minimum flood risk reporting requirements as a condition for ongoing participation in the National Flood Insurance Program. The agency said having a nationwide requirement would “increase clarity and provide uniformity” in many real estate transactions, but it has not yet become a reality. That lack of action on Capitol Hill has not stopped individual states from moving forward. In June, the South Carolina Real Estate Commission added new questions to the state’s residential disclosure that go into far more detail than before, including whether a homeowner has filed public or private flood insurance claims or made flood-related repairs that weren’t submitted to an insurer. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Nick Kremydas, chief executive of South Carolina Realtors, which publicly supported the enhanced disclosure requirements. Still, he said he hopes Congress will eventually allow buyers to access FEMA’s database of flood claims for individual properties. “That’s the best-case scenario.” Over the summer, New Jersey’s legislature overhauled what NRDC had labeled the state’s “dismal” disclosure requirements, instead putting in place new rules that require sellers to document a wide range of flood-related information. In addition, it requires that purchasers in coastal areas be warned about the potential impacts of sea level rise. “The idea is that the more people understand about the hazards, the more they can incorporate that into their decision-making, and the more they can have ownership of those decisions,” said Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, a nonprofit that advocates smarter growth and resilience policies. In September, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed similar legislation, calling it a monumental step toward protecting residents from the increasing impacts of climate change. In addition to mandating more detailed flood information, it eliminated a previous option that allowed sellers to provide a $500 credit at closing in exchange for waiving the disclosure requirement. The legislation followed a similar measure from late 2022, requiring flood disclosures for renters. “This is a person’s home, and they should be warned,” said New York State Assembly member Robert Carroll (D), a prime sponsor of the disclosure bills. “This is really about knowledge and proper warning.” In large swaths of the country, there is little doubt that more properties are likely to face flooding risks over time. A report last year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and other federal agencies projected that U.S. coastlines will face an additional foot of rising seas by 2050. NOAA has detailed how specific places are likely to see a sharp rise in high-tide, or nuisance, flooding, and that coastal flood warnings will become much more commonplace in coming decades. Likewise, scientists have documented an abnormal and dramatic surge in sea levels along the U.S. gulf and southeastern coastlines since about 2010, and other researchers have warned that the nation’s real estate market has yet to fully account for the expanding threats posed by rising seas, stronger storms and torrential downpours. In a study last year commissioned by NRDC, the independent actuarial consulting firm Milliman found that in New Jersey, New York and North Carolina, 28,826 homes sold in 2021 — 6.6 percent of total sales — were estimated to have been previously flooded. In addition, the firm found that expected future annual losses for a home with previous flood damage are significantly higher in each state than for the average of all homes, regardless of flood damage, in that state. Because one of the best indicators of whether a house will flood is whether it has flooded before, meaningful disclosure requirements are crucial, said Brooks Rainey Pearson, legislative counsel for the North Carolina branch of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which last year petitioned the state’s real estate commission on behalf of multiple environmental and community groups to make the disclosure changes. “People can take steps to protect themselves when you give them the information they need,” she said. “It matters, because with climate change we are seeing more frequent flooding events, including more intense storms and more flooding of houses. It’s a huge investment for a family to make to buy a house. People deserve to know whether the house they are purchasing has flooded or could flood.” Pearson says she hopes the changes coming to North Carolina and other states will help illuminate otherwise unknown risks and ultimately help reduce the number of homeowners who are displaced and devastated financially after storms such as Hurricane Florence, which battered her state in 2018. “What it comes down to,” she said, “is giving the buyer the information they need to make smart decisions.”
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Gen X


Holden Beach Newsletter
Chemours has issued a press release announcing that the company will take measures to eliminate byproduct GenX wastewater emissions from its Fayetteville site.
Click here to view the release.

In order to keep citizens informed, Brunswick County has established a website to share information about GenX as they learn it. You can find this page at The website contains a FAQ section that they update as they learn additional information (or receive additional questions), links to all their press releases and links to other resources like information from NCDEQ. There is also a link where citizens can go to sign up to receive email updates on the topic.

The Public Information Officer for Brunswick County announced that the County has taken legal action against DuPont and Chemours for contaminating the Cape Fear River.

Statement from Brunswick County
The filing of formal legal action against Chemours and DuPont represents another crucial step in protecting our public drinking water supply. It sends a clear message that Brunswick County will simply not stand for the discharge of emerging or unregulated chemicals into our public drinking water supply. Let us be clear…we will ensure that any company that threatens this vital resource is held responsible. Furthermore, our litigation team is consulting the nation’s leading experts to determine the best long-term water testing and treatment methods for the entire county. As part of that, we will ensure that the costs for doing so do not fall upon the rate payers, but upon those dumping the unregulated chemicals in the water.
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Previously reported – October 2021
State to host PFAS, GenX remediation update
Residents can learn from the state next month the current actions underway to prevent and remediate per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contamination at the Chemours Fayetteville Works Facility. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is hosting a remote community information session 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16. The public is invited to participate by phone or online. During the information session, there will be updates from NCDEQ’s air, water and waste management divisions about emission reduction requirements, upcoming permit actions, drinking water well sampling results and replacement water updates, according to the state. Officials from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will provide an overview of knowledge about potential health effects and how to reduce exposure. To dial in, call 1-415-655-0003 and use access code 2427 524 0753. To view the meeting online through WebEx at
Event password is 1234. After the presentations by state representatives, community members who registered online before the meeting will have an opportunity to ask questions. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions through a chat feature in the web conferencing software. More information about the state’s investigation can be found at Information for residents can be found at
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EPA to list PFAS as hazardous as part of new approach
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday an approach to address pollution nationwide from the types of toxic “forever chemicals” that have been plaguing southeastern North Carolina for decades, a plan that includes listing certain of these substances as hazardous under the Superfund Act. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the three-year “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024” Monday to a handful gathered at North Carolina State University’s Lake Raleigh Fishing Pier in Raleigh. Gov. Roy Cooper, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Elizabeth Biser and Congresswoman Deborah Ross, D-North Carolina, joined Regan for the announcement. The event was streamed live on YouTube, but technical issues frequently interrupted the program for viewers. The strategic roadmap, the result of work by the EPA Council on PFAS that Regan put in place in April, focuses on three strategies: increase investments in research, leverage authorities to act now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released into the environment, and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS contamination, EPA officials said. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, including GenX, are a group of man-made chemicals used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. Research suggests that PFAS breaks down slowly and can accumulate in people, animals and the environment, which can lead to adverse health outcomes, according to the EPA. Regan has long been entrenched in managing PFAS. He was serving as the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality secretary when news broke June 7, 2017, that the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility had for years released PFAS into the Cape Fear River, the drinking water source for the Wilmington area. President Joe Biden selected Regan earlier this year to serve as the EPA administrator. Regan said that moving to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program would allow the agency to clean up contaminated sites and hold the responsible parties accountable by either having them perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. “The Superfund program has successfully protected American communities by requiring polluters to pay to clean up the hazardous waste and pollution that they themselves have released in our environment,” he explained. “This strategy will leverage EPA existing authority to take bold action to restrict chemicals from entering the land, the air, the water, and land at all levels that are harmful to public health and the environment.” Regan said that the EPA will immediately broaden and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS contamination. When the agency becomes aware of a situation where PFAS poses a serious threat to the health of a community, “we will not hesitate to take swift action, strong enforcement to address the threat and hold polluters accountable, all across the country.” This strategy means EPA will work with other agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department to identify facilities where PFAS have been used and are known to be a source of contamination. Other actions include a final toxicity assessment of the substance known as GenX, “which will ensure that no other community has to go through what the Cape Fear River communities had to endure,” Regan said. Biden has called for more than $10 billion in funding to help address PFAS contamination through the Build Back Better Agenda. “These critical resources will enable EPA and other federal agencies to scale up the research and work, so that they’re commiserate with the scale of the challenges that we all face together,” Regan said. Regan highlighted work taking place in North Carolina, noting that Biser, the DEQ secretary, had recently issued a $300,000 fine to Chemours for failing to meet its obligation to protect state residents. “Secretary Biser is setting the standard, this is the kind of accountability that we want to see all over the country, and that we will work with states to achieve,” Regan said. He noted that across the country, lessons have been learned that can be shared and that every level of government will need to step up to protect the public. He also highlighted the need for continued partnerships with advocacy groups and community activists. Regan said that some may question trust in the EPA because “so many communities have been let down before, time and time again,” adding that the public needs to see action. “I believe that the national strategy that we’re laying out shows and demonstrates strong and forceful action from EPA, a willingness to use all of our authority, all of our tools, all of our talent to tackle PFAS.” He said the EPA pledges to “hold the polluters accountable for the decades of unchecked devastation that they’ve caused.”

According to the EPA, the roadmap also includes the following:

    • Aggressive timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure water is safe to drink in every community.
    • A hazardous substance designation under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as Superfund, to strengthen the ability to hold polluters financially accountable.
    • Timelines for action, whether it is data collection or rulemaking, on Effluent Guideline Limitations under the Clean Water Act for nine industrial categories.
    • A review of past actions on PFAS taken under the Toxic Substances Control Act to address those that are insufficiently protective.
    • Increased monitoring, data collection and research so that the agency can identify what actions are needed and when to take them.
    • A final toxicity assessment for GenX, which can be used to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.
    • Continued efforts to build the technical foundation needed on PFAS air emissions to inform future actions under the Clean Air Act.

Cooper introduced Regan Monday afternoon, highlighting North Carolina’s and the nation’s need for the plan. “This roadmap commits the EPA to quickly setting enforceable drinking water limits for these chemicals, as well as giving us stronger tools, and giving them to communities, to protect people’s health and our environment. As we continue partnering with EPA on this and other important efforts. It’s critical that Congress pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal, and the larger budget resolution that includes funding to tackle PFAS contamination,” Cooper said. Biser pledged state cooperation. “We all have a lot of work ahead but with coordination at all levels of government, with our elected officials and our public servants, we can protect the communities and the residents throughout North Carolina, and across the nation,” she said.
Advocates react
The Southern Environmental Law Center has been at the forefront of litigation on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch against Chemours in North Carolina to stop GenX and other PFAS pollution. “SELC’s litigation under existing laws led to a consent order among Cape Fear River Watch, the state and Chemours to stop at least 99% of PFAS pollution that contaminated drinking water supplies for about 300,000 people in communities along the Cape Fear River,” the law center said in a statement. Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney with the law center and leader of its Clean Water Program, said in a statement that the roadmap charts a course to important new protections while using existing authority to protect families and communities plagued by PFAS pollution. “We have seen in North Carolina that when permitting agencies require industrial polluters to comply with existing laws, PFAS water pollution can be stopped at the source. EPA’s Roadmap pairs a plan for the future with the tools it currently has to stop ongoing contamination as the agency develops new standards,” Gisler said. “This roadmap, when fully implemented, could change the landscape in our efforts to protect communities from PFAS pollution. On this anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we’re a step closer to achieving its goals. While the roads to standards identified by EPA are necessarily long; the route to stopping ongoing pollution of our streams and rivers can and should be short.” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del, issued a statement that he was encouraged by the EPA’s urgency in dealing with a public health threat. “This is truly a soup-to-nuts plan — one that commits to cleaning up PFAS in our environment while also putting protections in place to prevent more of these forever chemicals from finding their way into our lives. After the previous administration failed to follow through on its plan to address PFAS contamination, EPA’s new leadership promised action. I look forward to working with them on living up to this commitment.” Ken Cook, president of the national nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said that communities contaminated by PFAS had waited decades for action. “So, it’s good news that Administrator Regan will fulfill President Biden’s pledge to take quick action to reduce PFOA and PFOS in tap water, to restrict industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water, and to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances to hold polluters accountable,” Cook said in a statement. “It’s been more than 20 years since EPA and EWG first learned that these toxic forever chemicals were building up in our blood and increasing our likelihood of cancer and other health harms. It’s time for action, not more plans, and that’s what this Administrator will deliver. As significant as these actions are, they are just the first of many actions needed to protect us from PFAS, as the Administrator has said.” Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber said that no one should have to worry about toxic chemicals in their tap water. “We’re grateful that Administrator Regan will fulfill President Biden’s pledge to address PFOA and PFOS in our tap water and will begin to turn off the tap of industrial PFAS pollution.” The Environmental Protection Network is an organization composed of nearly 550 former EPA career staff and political appointees from across the country. The organization’s Betsy Southerland, former director of the Office of Science and Technology in EPA’s Office of Water, called EPA’s approach to restrict or ban current PFAS uses a critical piece of the plan. “The actions detailed in the roadmap are essential first steps in reducing people’s exposure to these extremely dangerous chemicals, especially in communities already disproportionately impacted by pollution,” Southerland said. “While EPA will identify initial PFAS classes in the National Testing Strategy, the agency set tight deadlines for regulating individual PFAS chemicals in air, water, and waste, which will begin to drive stringent treatment requirements. EPA’s success in turning the roadmap into action will require the swift passage of a robust budget to give the agency adequate funding and staffing to get the job done.”
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EPA to publish toxicity assessment, set health advisories for GenX.
Here’s what it means.
The federal government plans to take steps to help public health officials determine the risks associated with a compound that has contaminated hundreds of wells around a Bladen County chemical plant and drinking water in Wilmington and other communities downstream from the facility. The Environmental Protection Agency will release a toxicity assessment “in the coming days” for GenX, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said Monday at an event in Raleigh. The announcement was part of a broader move by EPA to develop a “strategic roadmap” on how to deal with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). GenX belongs to the PFAS family of compounds, which are sometimes known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily. State officials have been investigating GenX since 2017, when the Wilmington Star-News reported that researchers had found the chemical and similar compounds in the Cape Fear River, downstream from the Chemours plant. The company agreed to a consent order that requires it to drastically reduce the amount of GenX it emits into the air. The Chemours plant in Bladen County makes GenX. The compound also is a byproduct of other processes there. GenX and similar compounds have been found in hundreds of wells around the Chemours facility, which is off N.C. 87 near the Cumberland County line. Lisa Randall, a Chemours spokeswoman, said in a statement that company officials have reviewed the EPA roadmap and commend the agency for “compiling a comprehensive, science-based approach.” “While additional detail is needed for many of the initiatives, Chemours is supportive of the framework approach and looks forward to engaging in the process moving forward,” she said. “We believe the voluntary stewardship program recommended by the agency could help achieve meaningful progress in reducing emissions while several of the initiatives work their way through the regulatory process.” Regan said on Monday that the toxicity assessment will help make sure other communities don’t have to go through what those in North Carolina have gone through.
Assessment intended to help health officials
A statement released by EPA officials said the assessment “can be used to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.” The EPA plan says it will publish assessments on hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and its ammonium salt, which the plan calls “GenX chemicals.” The compounds have been found in surface water, groundwater, drinking water, rainwater, and air emissions, and are known to impact human health and ecosystems, it says. “Scientists have observed liver and kidney toxicity, immune effects, hematological effects, reproductive and developmental effects, and cancer in animals exposed to GenX chemicals,” the EPA plan says. “Completing a toxicity assessment for GenX is essential to better understanding its effects on people and the environment. EPA can use this information to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.” Chemours officials have said that the amount of GenX in wells around the plant is not harmful. Scott Faber is senior vice president for government affairs with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. He said he will be interested to see if the toxicity assessment causes the EPA to set a lifetime health advisory for GenX. The EPA has issued such advisories for two other PFAS compounds. They are perfluorooctanoic acid, which is known as PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS. PFOA, which also is called C8, was made at the Bladen County facility when it was owned by DuPont. Chemours is a spinoff from DuPont. The EPA could go further by setting mandatory drinking water standards for PFAS, Faber said. North Carolina also could set its own standards as some other states have done, he said. “That might be the quickest way to get GenX out of drinking water,” he said. The EPA plan also says toxicity assessments will be issued for five other PFAS compounds — PFBA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, and PFDA. Three of those compounds — PFHxA, PFNA, and PFDA — and PFOS were found in foam in a Cumberland County stream by state regulators this year. A Chemours spokeswoman said none of those compounds are associated with the plant’s processes. The EPA plan said that the agency expects to issue health advisories for GenX and another PFAS compound called PFBS next year. EPA published a toxicity assessment for PFBS in April. The health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory but will help state and local officials determine if they need to take actions to address public health impacts, the plan said. “Health advisories offer a margin of protection by defining a level of drinking water concentration at or below which lifetime exposure is not anticipated to lead to adverse health effects,” it said. “They include information on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies and are designed to protect all life stages.”
EPA roadmap sets timelines
The EPA plan also sets up timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act, strengthens the ability to hold polluters accountable, and reviews previous actions by the agency regarding PFAS, according to the statement. The plan also calls for increased monitoring, data collection and research, it said. Faber said the plan represents the first time the administration of a president of either political party has set up timelines for which it can be held accountable. U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 8th District, released a statement about the EPA roadmap. “I’m glad to see the EPA give these toxic forever chemicals the attention they deserve,” he said. “We need a comprehensive and reasonable approach to combat PFAS and I look forward to reviewing the EPA’s Roadmap.” Hudson thanked Regan for developing the initiative. “I will continue to work with the Administrator and my colleagues in Congress to make sure citizens near the Cape Fear River and throughout our region have access to safe drinking water,” he said. State Sen. Kirk deViere represents Cumberland County, which he called “ground zero for GenX contamination.” He said in a statement released Monday that he applauds the EPA action, but more must be done. “While this announcement provides a roadmap, we need timely action to provide clean water now to the thousands of residents of Cumberland County who have contaminated wells,” he said. “The ultimate solution cannot be simply offering bottles of water to residents or installing under-the-sink filters.” Bold leadership is needed by state officials and Chemours to be sure residents get clean water, deViere said. “This is a public health crisis and the time for drastic immediate improvement is now,” he said.
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How Chemical Companies Avoid Paying for Pollution
DuPont factories pumped dangerous substances into the environment. The company and its offspring have gone to great lengths to dodge responsibility.
One humid day this summer, Brian Long, a senior executive at the chemical company Chemours, took a reporter on a tour of the Fayetteville Works factory. Mr. Long showed off the plant’s new antipollution technologies, designed to stop a chemical called GenX from pouring into the Cape Fear River, escaping into the air and seeping into the ground water. There was a new high-tech filtration system. And a new thermal oxidizer, which heats waste to 2,000 degrees. And an underground wall — still under construction — to keep the chemicals out of the river. And more. “They’re not Band-Aids,” Mr. Long said. “They’re long-term, robust solutions.” Yet weeks later, North Carolina officials announced that Chemours had exceeded limits on how much GenX its Fayetteville factory was emitting. This month, the state fined the company $300,000 for the violations — the second time this year the company has been penalized by the state’s environmental regulator. GenX is part of a family of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. They allow everyday items — frying pans, rain jackets, face masks, pizza boxes — to repel water, grease and stains. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to cancer and other serious health problems. To avoid responsibility for what many experts believe is a public health crisis, leading chemical companies like Chemours, DuPont and 3M have deployed a potent mix of tactics. They have used public charm offensives to persuade regulators and lawmakers to back off. They have engineered complex corporate transactions to shield themselves from legal liability. And they have rolled out a conveyor belt of scantly tested substitute chemicals that sometimes turn out to be just as dangerous as their predecessors. “You don’t have to live near Chemours or DuPont or 3M to have exposure to these things,” said Linda S. Birnbaum, the former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “It is in the water. It is in our food. It’s in our homes and in our house dust. And depending on where you live, it may be in our air.” PFAS substances are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and can accumulate in the environment and in the blood and organs of people and animals. When the compounds get into water supplies, the effects can be devastating. Around Madison, Wis., residents are advised not to eat the fish from nearby lakes. In Wayland, Mass., residents are drinking bottled water because the tap water is contaminated. In northern Michigan, scientists found unsafe levels of PFAS in the rain. Most Americans have been exposed to at least trace amounts of the chemicals and have them in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research by chemical companies and academics has shown that exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancer, liver damage, birth defects and other health problems. GenX was supposed to be a safer alternative to earlier generations of the chemicals, but new studies are discovering similar health hazards. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was going to start requiring companies to test and publicly report the amount of PFAS in the products they make. It is an early step toward regulating the chemicals, though the E.P.A. has not set limits on their production or discharge. The E.P.A. administrator, Michael S. Regan, who announced the new rules, previously was the top environmental regulator in North Carolina, where he clashed with Chemours over its GenX pollution. “PFAS contamination has been devastating communities for decades,” Mr. Regan said. “I saw this firsthand in North Carolina.” The situation in Fayetteville is in many ways emblematic of the battles being waged in communities nationwide. Pollution from Fayetteville Works has shown up in drinking water as far as 90 miles away from the plant. Chemours argues that most of the pollution in North Carolina occurred long before it owned Fayetteville Works. DuPont, which built the factory in the 1960s, claims it can’t be held liable because of a corporate reorganization that took place several years ago. DuPont “does not produce” the chemicals in question, “and we are not in a position to comment on products that are owned by other independent, publicly traded companies,” said a DuPont spokesman, Daniel A. Turner. Both companies have downplayed the dangers of their chemicals and opted for occasional piecemeal fixes rather than comprehensive but costly solutions that would have protected the environment, according to interviews with scientists, lawyers, regulators, company officials and residents and a review of previously unreported documents detailing the industry’s tactics.
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Previously reported – November 2021
EPA assessment: GenX more toxic than thought; health effects might include liver, immune system
The Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment Monday showing that GenX, a chemical made at a Bladen County plant, is more toxic than previously believed. The toxicity assessment for hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and its ammonium salt, which the EPA calls GenX chemicals, determined a daily ingestion level at which a person is unlikely to face adverse health effects, according to the EPA website. During a similar review in 2018, agency officials set that chronic “reference dose” at a level more than 26 times this year’s assessment. The EPA’s review talked about possible health effects. “Animal studies following oral exposure have shown health effects including on the liver, kidneys, the immune system, development of offspring, and an association with cancer,” it said. “Based on available information across studies of different sexes, life stages, and durations of exposure, the liver appears to be particularly sensitive from oral exposure to GenX chemicals.” EPA officials say the assessment will help public health officials determine the risks associated with GenX. The Chemours company manufactures GenX at its plant in Bladen County. The chemical also is a byproduct of other processes there. GenX belongs to a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily. The Chemours company manufactures GenX at its plant in Bladen County. The chemical also is a byproduct of other processes there. GenX belongs to a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily. State officials have been investigating GenX since 2017, when the Wilmington Star-News reported that researchers had discovered the chemical and similar compounds in the Cape Fear River, downstream from the Chemours plant. The company agreed to a consent order that requires it to drastically reduce the amount of GenX it is emitting into the air.
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EPA releases final GenX human health toxicity assessment
The release Monday of the Environmental Protection Agency’s final human health toxicity assessment for GenX chemicals represents a key step in advancing the scientific understanding of these toxins and their effects on human health, officials said Monday. Across the country, including in southeastern North Carolina, GenX chemicals, part of the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance, or PFAS, group, have been found in surface water, groundwater, drinking water, rainwater, and the air. The final GenX chemicals toxicity assessment is a step closer to developing a national drinking water health advisory for GenX chemicals, which the agency committed to publishing in Spring 2022 as part of the PFAS Roadmap that EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan’s announced the PFAS Roadmap last week. The roadmap details the whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS. During his announcement Oct. 19 he said to expect the release of this final assessment. “Research establishes a foundation for informed decision making and it is one of the central strategies of EPA’s PFAS Roadmap,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox in a statement. “This science-based final assessment marks a critical step in the process of establishing a national drinking water health advisory for GenX chemicals and provides important information to our partners that can be used to protect communities where these chemicals are found.” The final assessment for GenX chemicals looks at the potential human health effects associated with oral exposure. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents Cape Fear River Watch in litigation to stop pollution into the Cape Fear River from the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility in North Carolina. News broke of the pollution in June 2017, while Regan was North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality’s secretary. The final human health toxicity assessment for GenX underscores the importance of regulating PFAS as a class of chemicals and the need to stop harmful pollution at its source under existing laws, according to the center. “Today’s toxicity assessment is further confirmation that the more we learn about these chemicals, the more we learn that they must be treated as a class; no community should have to suffer from harmful PFAS as we wait for research to confirm their toxicity,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney and leader of the Clean Water Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center who led litigation against Chemours in North Carolina. “This more stringent GenX toxicity assessment is why it’s so vital to our families and communities that DEQ, and state agencies nationwide, must impose stringent limits on PFAS using existing authority when issuing water permits to polluters.” The law center’s litigation led to a consent order among Cape Fear River Watch, the state and Chemours to stop at least 99% of PFAS pollution at its source that contaminated the Cape Fear River, according to the release.
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Chemours responsible for New Hanover contamination, NC DEQ says

State officials have determined Chemours is responsible for contaminating New Hanover County’s water supply. The company, which has a plant on the Cape Fear River, also is responsible for contaminating groundwater monitoring wells in New Hanover County and also might be responsible for contaminations in Pender, Columbus and Brunswick counties, according to a statement released Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ is requiring Chemours to “assess the extent of contamination in downstream communities to include well sampling and provision of replacement drinking water supplies,” according to the statement. DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser said contamination from Chemours extends to multiple communities down the Cape Fear River. The company’s actions to address the communication must reach those communities, she said. “DEQ will continue to take the necessary steps to provide relief to affected North Carolinians as the science and regulations require,” she said.
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State to force Chemours to test downstream wells for PFAS

The state is requiring Chemours to take more action to address GenX and PFAS contamination into the Cape Fear River from the Fayetteville Works facility, especially that affecting private well owners. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which includes GenX, are widely used, man-made toxins often called “forever chemicals” that break down very slowly over time and build up in humans, animals and the environment, according to the EPA. Studies show that exposure to some of these chemicals may be linked to harmful health effects. First, Chemours must assess the extent of contamination in communities downstream, to include well sampling and provision of replacement drinking water supplies, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality officials said Wednesday. Second, Chemours is required to review existing well sampling in communities surrounding the Fayetteville Works facility to determine additional eligibility for whole-house filtration and public water, in light of the revised Toxicity Assessment for GenX from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The contamination from Chemours extends down the Cape Fear River into multiple communities and Chemours’ actions to address that contamination must reach those communities as well,” said DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser in a statement. “DEQ will continue to take the necessary steps to provide relief to affected North Carolinians as the science and regulations require.” Copies of the notifications to Chemours are online. DEQ officials said the department has determined that Chemours is responsible for contamination of groundwater monitoring wells and water supply wells in New Hanover County and possibly Pender, Columbus, and Brunswick counties. “Chemours is required to expand the off-site assessment required under the 2019 Consent Order to determine the extent of the contamination. Chemours must also conduct sampling of private drinking water wells to identify residents who may be eligible for replacement drinking water supplies. Chemours must submit plans to DEQ for approval,” officials said. Regarding the second action, officials said Chemours had been advised that the EPA will be releasing a federal drinking water health advisory level for GenX in the coming months. The 2019 Consent Order requires Chemours to provide replacement permanent drinking water to private wells with “detections of GenX compounds in exceedance of 140 ng/L (nanogram per liter), or any applicable health advisory, whichever is lower.” In advance of a likely EPA health advisory level below 140 nanogram per liter, DEQ is requiring Chemours to review existing well sampling data to identify residents who would be entitled to public water or whole house filtration under a revised health advisory level. Chemours must revise the assessment of public water feasibility for all affected residents under a lower health advisory level. DEQ is also requiring Chemours to create a plan to transition residents who have previously received reverse osmosis systems based on GenX results to either public water or whole-house filtrations systems as appropriate under a lower GenX health advisory level. “I want to thank DEQ and Secretary Biser for taking these steps to require action from Chemours, so they take responsibility for the PFAS contamination they have caused in our community,” said New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman in a statement. “It is important for our residents to be provided with the same protections as those who are close to the Chemours plant, and that means testing and monitoring the groundwater wells in our county and providing bottled water and then a permanent filtration or connection to a public water supply if elevated PFAS are detected,” she said. “New Hanover County has advocated to be included in the Consent Order, and today’s actions are a positive step towards that. We will continue to do all we can to support DEQ’s efforts and ensure our residents have access to safe drinking water.” Lisa Randall, regional communications lead for Chemours, provided the following statement on behalf of the company: “Chemours is a part of the solution to addressing PFAS contamination in North Carolina, and we will continue working with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), as we have been for several years, to move forward with efforts to address PFAS found in the environment related to our Fayetteville Works manufacturing site. We have worked closely with NCDEQ on implementation of on-site and off-site programs, including a private well sampling program, as part of the consent order agreement between Chemours, Cape Fear River Watch and the state of North Carolina. “We are continuing to review the NCDEQ correspondence we just received and will follow-up with the agency for further clarification of their correspondence.”
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Previously reported – January 2022
EPA orders chemical makers to test toxicity of PFAS, giving NC residents a partial victory

Chemical makers who produce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, must start testing the toxicity of their products, according to a new decision recently announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA’s ruling is a partial victory to six North Carolina community and environmental justice groups who petitioned the government to require Chemours, a chemical maker outside Fayetteville, to start testing its substances as part of an ongoing environmental disaster in southeastern North Carolina. The StarNews first reported in 2017 that Chemours, and DuPont before them, had contaminated the Cape Fear River with PFAS chemicals for more than 30 years. More than 250,000 North Carolinians have been exposed to toxic levels of PFAS chemicals, but understanding the health consequences of that exposure has been a challenge since little is known about PFAS chemicals. By granting the petition, EPA will use its federal authority to require chemical companies to begin testing what risk PFAS chemicals may present to humans. Those companies may be compelled to fund that research and disclose the results to the government. “Today’s actions advances the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to improve understanding of, and to protect people from, the potential risks of PFAS,” according to the news release from the EPA. The EPA’s decision “deeply disappointed” the six groups in North Carolina who filed the petition, according to a news release from the groups. The groups felt EPA’s response was “inadequate” and doesn’t go far enough to hold Chemours and other companies responsible. The environmental groups aren’t accepting the government’s decision, and said they are considering their options, including litigation, to compel it to do more, according to the news release. The six groups include the Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, the NC Black Alliance and Toxic Free NC. “Simply put, EPA has had over a year to review the many letters and submissions of petitioners explaining the concerns of North Carolina communities but has completely missed the entire purpose of the petition to address the public health needs of a severely contaminated community,” according to the joint news release.

The backstory
The contamination of the Cape Fear River in southeastern North Carolina stems from the Fayetteville Works plant outside Fayetteville. The sprawling chemical plant is owned today by Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont. For decades the two companies allowed PFAS chemicals to seep into the ground, air and river around the plant, exposing more than a quarter of a million North Carolinians to chemicals that early studies suggest can cause an increased risk of developing various diseases including cancer. The water disaster unfolded over nearly 40 years, and for much of that time Chemours and DuPont allegedly knew what was happening, but decided to cover up the contamination, according to a lawsuit filed against Chemours and DuPont by the state of North Carolina. Chemours has been forced to contain the leak, and pay $12 million to the state for its actions. In the wake of the disaster, researchers have started working with affected residents to understand what risks PFAS might present to humans. Scientists in North Carolina have established that many residents have extremely high amounts of PFAS in their blood. In October the EPA announced GenX, one of the PFAS chemicals that leaked into the Cape Fear, was more toxic than it previously estimated. It stated based upon animal studies that oral exposure to GenX has shown negative health effects on the liver, kidneys, immune system, the development of offspring and can cause cancer. In Wilmington, researchers estimate residents ingested approximately 700 parts per trillion of PFAS every day for more than 30 years. That exposure is roughly five times the exposure goal set by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

A reversal of decisions
In October the EPA announced a national PFAS testing strategy, and the agency’s decision this week is largely a continuation of that strategy. In the first of what could be multiple phases of testing, the EPA plans to test 24 PFAS substances and extrapolate that data out to 2,950 other PFAS chemicals in the same categories as the initial 24 substances. The six North Carolina groups originally asked the EPA to require Chemours to test 54 PFAS chemicals that the groups had found in the Cape Fear River. In announcing its decision this week, the EPA will require chemical companies to test for only 30 PFAS chemicals as part of its new national testing strategy. Nine of the 24 PFAS substances excluded from the EPA’s decision could be part of future testing by the agency, according to the EPA, and the other 15 chemicals mentioned in the petition “do not fit the definition of PFAS used in developing the testing strategy.” EPA’s decision this week is a complete reversal from what the agency decided nearly a year ago. In the last days of the Trump administration, the EPA initially rejected the petition.The six North Carolina groups asked the agency to reconsider in March of this year, hoping the change in administration would lead to a better outcome. The Biden administration agreed to reconsider the petition in September and ruled on it this week.

‘Biden EPA fails to protect North Carolina’
Current EPA Administrator Michael Regan has been involved in the Cape Fear River water contamination for several years. Regan served as the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality before becoming EPA administrator, and during his tenure, he was able to enter the state and Cape Fear River Watch into a consent order with Chemours to bring the contamination under control. In announcing the EPA’s decision, Regan acknowledged that communities across North Carolina “deserve to know the potential risks that exposure to PFAS pose to families and children,” Regan said. “By taking action on this petition, EPA will have a better understanding of the risks from PFAS pollution so we can do more to protect people,” Regan said. But a day after the EPA’s decision, the six environmental groups issued their response to the agency’s actions, and part of their reaction was aimed directly at Regan. “In announcing EPA’s PFAS Roadmap in Raleigh on Oct. 18, Administrator Michael Regan acknowledged the ‘decades of unchecked devastation’ that Cape Fear communities have suffered and emphasized the unexplained and serious health disorders residents are battling,” according to the press release. “Unfortunately, EPA’s petition response does not honor these commitments,” the press release added. North Carolinians are going into medical debt battling rare and recurring forms of cancer because of PFAS contamination, said Emily Donovan of Clean Cape Fear. These residents deserve to have access to every health study possible to understand the risks they face. That’s what the petition asked for and the EPA has the legal authority to compel Chemours to pay for those studies, Donovan said. “As the director of an environmental nonprofit who believed in and trusted the folks of this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious; as a poisoned community member who is also grieving the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, I am heartbroken,” said Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch. Michael Green, CEO of CEH added, “We do not intend to accept this decision from EPA, and we do intend to hold Chemours responsible. EPA is responsible for protecting our health and the environment, and this decision is not consistent with that.”
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EPA grants petition requiring PFAS testing, local groups say it doesn’t go far enough
The Environmental Protection Agency has granted a petition that will compel companies that produce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to conduct testing on health effects. However, environmental activists who submitted the petition say the EPA didn’t go far enough with their requirements. “EPA’s petition response did not announce any new studies on the 54 PFAS. It said it would require limited testing on 7 of the 54 PFAS, but this testing had previously been announced in October under EPA’s general PFAS testing strategy. In declining to require testing on additional PFAS produced by Chemours, EPA claimed it could determine their health effects by extrapolating from studies it plans to require on 24 ‘representative’ substances under its testing strategy,” according to a statement released by the petitioners on Wednesday. “This highly theoretical and unproven approach, which is based on complex computational models, rejects the recommendations of petitioners, more than 120 public health organizations, and dozens of leading scientists that EPA should focus testing on those PFAS that directly threaten human health,” it continued. The EPA, however, says this is a good step towards providing people with potential risks of the substances being released into the air, water, and even ground. “Communities in North Carolina and across the country deserve to know the potential risks that exposure to PFAS pose to families and children,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a press release. “By taking action on this petition, EPA will have a better understanding of the risks from PFAS pollution so we can do more to protect people. This data will also help us identify the sources of pollution so we can hold those accountable for endangering the public. EPA is fully committed to addressing this longstanding pollution challenge, and today we take another critical step forward to protect the water, air, and land we all depend on.” The petition was first filed in October of 2020 by the Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, Toxic Free NC, and the NC Black Alliance. It requested the EPA “require health and environmental effects testing on 54 chemical substances the petition identifies as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) released into the environment by The Chemours Company (Chemours) at its chemical production facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.” However, the petitioners disagree with the press release and say it does not do what they had asked for, specifically, testing to determine the impacts these substances have on people. “As the director of an environmental nonprofit who believed in and trusted the folks of this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious; as a poisoned community member who is also grieving the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, I am heartbroken,” Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch said. While the request specifically referred to Chemours, the EPA’s plan is aimed at all producers of these substances. “EPA plans to require PFAS manufacturers to provide the agency with toxicity data and information on categories of PFAS. EPA expects to exercise its TSCA section 4 order authority to require recipients of test orders to conduct and fund the studies. The information gathered as a result of this testing will help EPA deepen its understanding of the impacts of PFAS, including potential hazards. As the agency learns more about the impacts of PFAS, EPA will continue to take action to protect human health and the environment,” according to the agency. As far as human testing goes, the EPA is not conducting the testing that the petition requests. Instead, the agency says there are already ongoing human impact studies. “EPA is contributing to and reviewing numerous existing ongoing human studies, including studies on potentially exposed workers and communities in North Carolina, and is evaluating how to further advance and expand on these efforts,” according to the EPA. “The EPA asserts it is ‘granting’ the petition but in fact is deferring action on petitioners’ testing requests indefinitely,” according to the press release from the petitioners. “EPA refused to commit to requiring the studies that are most important in understanding the human health effects of long-term PFAS contamination on North Carolina communities. In fact, EPA provided no assurance that it would require cancer studies on any PFAS; refused to require an epidemiological study on the exposed human population; and declined to require testing of any of the mixtures of PFAS found in drinking water and human blood.”

The EPA also listed a summary of the order which is listed below:

    • “Near-Term Testing Covers 30 of 54 Petition Chemicals – EPA’s first test orders for 24 data-poor categories of PFAS under the Testing Strategy will provide data that cover 30 of the 54 petition chemicals.
    • Subsequent Testing May Cover 9 of 54 Petition Chemicals – An additional 9 PFAS identified in the petition belong to one other category included in the Testing Strategy. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the sufficiency of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing.
    • Remaining 15 of 54 Petition Chemicals – Fifteen chemicals identified in the petition do not fit the definition of PFAS used in developing the Testing Strategy. EPA has determined that there is robust data on some of them available to the Agency. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the sufficiency of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing.
    • Mixtures studies – EPA will address PFAS mixtures by using the toxicity of the individual substances to predict the toxicity of the mixture, an approach which is consistent with the current state-of-science on PFAS. EPA is proceeding with development and peer review of such methods as specifically applied to PFAS.
    • Human studies – EPA is contributing to and reviewing numerous existing ongoing human studies, including studies on potentially exposed workers and communities in North Carolina, and is evaluating how to further advance and expand on these efforts.
    • Analytical standards – EPA does not believe it is appropriate to require the development or submission of analytical standards with the initial test orders that will be issued under the Testing Strategy, but has requested comment on whether to require the submission of existing analytical methods for PFAS under a separate rulemaking proceeding the Agency expects to finalize next year.”

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Previously reported – April 2022
Chemours to further limit GenX emissions, add more testing
Chemours has agreed to further limit GenX emissions, conduct additional testing and pay the six-figure penalty assessed last year by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality. The Division of Air Quality and Chemours signed a settlement agreement Tuesday requiring Chemours to reduce GenX emissions from the carbon adsorber unit, an emissions control device, in the vinyl ethers north manufacturing area to no more than an average of 1 pound per month between May and September of this year. Fugitive emissions from the vinyl ethers north area are primarily controlled by the carbon adsorber unit, which is a separate system from the onsite thermal oxidizer. Chemours’ facility-wide emissions are limited to 23.027 pounds per year under the current air permit. Chemours also is required to take additional actions this year to reduce emissions, including installing new process and emission control equipment. The company must follow a rigorous schedule of stack tests to measure how well the carbon adsorber unit at vinyl ethers north is controlling emissions. Chemours will also pay in full the $305,000 penalty, which the Division of Air Quality assessed last year after finding Chemours was in violation of the stringent GenX emission requirements of its air permit, which requires Chemours to limit its total GenX emissions to 23.027 pounds per year, using a rolling 12-month calculation. This limit equates to a 99% reduction from GenX emissions in 2017. Excess GenX emissions in March 2021 resulted in noncompliance with the rolling 12-month limits from March through September of last year. In October 2021, the division issued a written Notice of Violation and Notice of Recommendation for Enforcement to Chemours. DAQ noted the Carbon Adsorber Unit was not properly operated or maintained for 26 days following its March 9, 2021, stack test. Chemours filed a Petition for a Contested Case Hearing in response to DAQ’s civil assessment. Today’s settlement resolves DAQ’s civil penalty and Chemours’ petition. Lisa Randall, regional communications lead for Chemours provided Coastal Review with the following statement: “Chemours has reached an agreement with NCDEQ regarding the agency’s 2021 notice of violation (NOV) for exceeding the 12-month rolling average for Fayetteville Works’ site HFPO-DA air emissions. Chemours has agreed to pay the $305,000 civil penalty assessed by the agency and will also dismiss its administrative appeal of the NOV. Chemours has also agreed to take additional steps toward reducing air emissions. NCDEQ has agreed to not issue additional NOVs related to the rolling calculation for the remainder of the 12-month period as long as agreed-to-emission limits are met. Chemours continues to make progress on all requirements of the Consent Order agreement with NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch and remains committed to being a leader in reducing PFAS emissions.”
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Previously reported – June 2022
More toxic than previously thought: EPA slashes PFAS exposure limits based on new information
Years of animal and human testing reveal four PFAS chemicals are far more toxic than originally thought. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced four new national health advisories, cutting lifetime exposure limits to a fraction of what was previously thought to be safe. EPA issued new health advisories for GenX and PFBS, and interim health advisories for PFOA and PFOS on Wednesday at the National PFAS Conference, currently being held in Wilmington. EPA’s actions come five years after GenX and other PFAS chemicals were discovered in the Cape Fear River, having been put there by chemical makers DuPont and Chemours. For more than 30 years, the two companies released hundreds of PFAS compounds, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, into the river, air and groundwater, contaminating the drinking water source of more than 300,000 people. State officials began investigating GenX and other PFAS chemicals in 2017, after a StarNews investigation revealed Chemours and DuPont’s actions. Chemours said it’s evaluating its next steps, which could include legal action against EPA’s “scientifically unsound action,” according to a statement from the company following the federal agency’s announcement. “At Chemours, we support government regulation based on the best available science. While EPA claims it followed the best available science in its nationwide health advisory for (GenX), that is not the case,” according to Chemours’ statement.
What are the new levels?
Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, announced the agency’s new health advisories at the National PFAS Conference. Fox explained the new health advisories were a result of years of research. “The updated advisory levels are based on new science including more than 400 recent studies, which indicate some negative health effects may occur at extremely low levels, much lower than previously understood for both PFOA and PFOS,” Fox said. Human studies found associations between PFOA and PFOS exposures and effects on the immune system, cardiovascular system, developmental issues with infants and cancer, according to EPA. Animal testing revealed links between GenX and effects on the liver, kidney, immune system, developmental effects and cancer. EPA’s new health advisory sets a lifetime exposure limit of 10 parts per trillion for GenX. EPA’s new GenX exposure limit will replace the 140 part per trillion drinking water health goal set by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in 2018, according to a press release from the agency. EPA’s previous drinking water health advisories for PFOA and PFOS limited exposure to less than 70 parts per trillion. Based on new toxicity testing, EPA curtailed exposure limits to 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. For context, not a single surface water test for GenX, PFOA and PFOS at Chemours’ Outfall 002 site tested below EPA’s new health advisories, according to DEQ testing data from 2018-2021. The median concentration of GenX in tested water was 125.5 parts per trillion, more than 12 times EPA’s new level, according to DEQ data. The median concentration of PFOA was 10.55 parts per trillion, and 14.2 parts per trillion for PFOS. EPA also announced a final health advisory for PFBS, a fourth PFAS compound, of 2,000 parts per trillion, according to EPA’s press release.
What this means for the public
Following EPA’s announcement, DEQ announced it and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was “moving quickly to evaluate the state’s drinking water supplies based on these health advisories and determine appropriate next steps to assess and reduce exposure risks,” according to DEQ’s press release. DEQ estimates more than 1,700 additional private well owners affected by Chemours’ contamination will now be eligible for whole-home filtration systems or connection to public water systems, according to DEQ’s press release. DEQ has directed Chemours to begin installing these new systems as soon as possible. Data on PFOA and PFOS levels in North Carolina’s private drinking water wells and public water systems are limited, according to DEQ’s press release. However, available data indicates the presence of one or both compounds in “multiple” public water systems across the state. “DEQ and DHHS are evaluating the available data in light of these new health advisories to identify potentially affected communities and take action to address impacts to North Carolina residents,” according to the press release.
New advisories receive mixed reaction
EPA’s announcement was met with mixed reactions. A room of environmentalists, scientists and more applauded EPA’s new PFAS health advisories. However, EPA’s announcement was met by criticism and condemnation from the chemical industry. In a statement, the American Chemistry Council, which represents numerous chemical companies, said it supports creating water standards for PFAS based on the best available science. The ACC echoed Chemours’ accusation that EPA didn’t use the best available science to establish its new PFAS health advisories. “Today’s announcement of revised lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS and new advisories for PFBS and the GenX chemicals reflects a failure of the agency to follow its accepted practice for ensuring the scientific integrity of its process.” Environmental groups, however, celebrated EPA’s new advisories. The Southern Environmental Law Center applauded EPA’s new health advisories, said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney and leader of the SELC’s Clean Water Program. SELC encouraged state environmental agencies and EPA to use existing law to reduce PFAS emissions farther. “EPA’s stringent new health values for several toxic ‘forever chemicals’ will save lives and ensure a healthier environment for all of us,” said Brian Buzby, executive director of the NC Conservation Network.
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  • Previously reported – July 2022
    Chemours challenges EPA health advisory for GenX
    The Chemours Company is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for its recent health advisory for GenX, one of the contaminants discharged for years into the Cape Fear River from the company’s plant in Fayetteville. Chemours is challenging the EPA’s review of the agency’s health advisory for hexafluoropropylene oxide dime acid, or HFPO-DA (GenX), arguing the agency failed to use the best available science when making its determination. “Nationally recognized toxicologists and other leading scientific experts across a range of disciplines have evaluated the EPA’s underlying analysis and concluded that it is fundamentally flawed,” according to a Chemours release. “EPA’s own peer reviewer called aspects of EPA’s toxicity assessment (which serves as the basis for the health advisory) ‘extreme’ and ‘excessive.’ The agency disregarded relevant data and incorporated grossly incorrect and overstated exposure assumptions in devising the health advisory. The EPA’s failure to use the best-available-science and follow its own standards are contrary to this administration’s commitment to scientific integrity, and we believe unlawful.” The suit filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia specifically names EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who is also former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Chemours warned it might take legal action against the EPA after the agency’s assistant administrator for water, Radhika Fox, announced the final health advisory June 15. Fox made the announcement at the third National PFAS Conference held in downtown Wilmington, a city and surrounding region thrust into the national spotlight five years ago when the news broke that Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Facility had for decades been discharging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances into the Cape Fear River, air and ground. The EPA’s final health advisory for GenX is 10 parts per trillion, or ppt and, for perfluoro butane sulfonic acid, or PFBS, at 2,000 ppt. PFBS has not been found in significant concentrations in samples in North Carolina, according to DEQ. The agency also issued updated interim health advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluoro octane sulfonic acid, or PFOS. GenX was created to replace PFOA, which was voluntarily phased out of production more than 10 years ago in the U.S. Chemours states in its news release that HFPO-DA is not a commercial product and does not pose human health or environmental risks “when used for its intended purpose.” Health studies of animals that ingested GenX show health effects in the kidneys, blood, immune system, liver and developing fetuses, according to the EPA’s toxicity assessment. Chemours argues that the GenX toxicity assessment issued October 2021 was “materially different” from a draft assessment published in November 2018 and that the EPA did not provide public notice or allow for public comment on the new assessment. “Upon review of the October 2021 Toxicity Assessment, Chemours and external experts identified numerous material scientific flaws, including its failure to incorporate available, highly relevant peer-reviewed studies and that it significantly overstates the potential for risk associated with HFPO-DA,” according to the release. The EPA did not respond to an email request for comment Wednesday. EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Benita Best-Wong defended the GenX toxicity assessment in a letter to a law firm representing six North Carolina health and environmental groups, stating the assessment “was subject to two rigorous independent peer reviews by scientists who were screened for conflicts of interest in 2018 and 2021.” Best-Wong went on to write that the agency asked the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program to conduct an independent review of the liver histopathology slides from two studies. The agency published detailed responses to comments from both peer reviews and the assessment was put out for public review and comment for 60 days, she wrote. That letter was in response to the groups’ call for the EPA to order Chemours to conduct health studies on 54 PFAS. Those groups, including Cape Fear River Watch, Center for Environmental Health, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, the NC Black Alliance and Toxic Free NC, filed a lawsuit against the EPA for failing to require Chemours to conduct the studies. The EPA’s health advisory for GenX replaces the state’s 2018 provisional drinking water health goal of 140 ppt. A consent order between DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch and Chemours requires the company to provide whole house filtration for households that rely on private water wells where GenX concentrations are above the health advisory. “We expect Chemours to meet their obligations under the Consent Order and to the communities impacted by the PFAS contamination,” Sharon Martin, DEQ deputy secretary for public affairs, said in an email Wednesday. Cape Fear River Watch Executive Director Dana Sargent said in a telephone interview she was “shaken” by the lawsuit. “This is going to be seriously infuriating for the community to hear this news and to still be looking at commercials and this nonsense saying (Chemours) are good neighbors,” she said. “I think Chemours needs to recognize that they can’t continue to claim that they’re good neighbors while suing the nation’s regulatory agency based on their assessment of the GenX toxicity level, which was done under strict calculations based on available science on the health impacts of GenX. The science is science.”
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Previously reported – July 2022
Scientists find way to destroy PFAS chemicals
Some of the most stubborn manmade chemicals, which many health experts believe are harmful to humans, may have finally met their match, according to new research. WITN has been looking into the study that has found a way to destroy some categories of PFAS. Northwestern University researchers found out how to break the chemicals down with two relatively harmless chemicals. From drinking water to other common household items, PFAS chemicals—or forever chemicals, as they are infamously known, are found in a lot of places, and they tend to stay in the places they go. “They’re all manmade chemicals so these are not found naturally,” UNC Chapel Hill professor and chemist Frank Leibfarth said. “It’s a problem that will only get worse because they don’t degrade. They increase the risk of certain types of cancer.” That “forever” title, however, may have just met its match. A study published by researchers at Northwestern University has found a way to destroy these stubborn chemicals when it comes to GenX PFAS chemicals. Leibfarth says the research is a great advancement. “What this study did is said, ‘alright, we applied these conditions, and this is what we got out,’ but then they did the really hard work of understanding every step in that process,” Leibfarth said. Two harmless chemicals, sodium hydroxide, a chemical used to make soap, and dimethyl sulfoxide, a chemical approved as a medication, are the keys to the safe destruction of these PFAS. Exposing these particles to very high heat used to be the only operational way of destroying them in the past. The new method appears to be more energy efficient and safer. If Gen-X sounds familiar, it’s because you may remember the controversy surrounding the company Chemours and how it was accused of releasing the chemical into the Cape Fear River, a water source for hundreds of thousands in New Hanover County. “North Carolina, especially the Wilmington area, has really led a lot of national and international awareness of this issue,” Leibfarth said. The study found that the method was not effective on the PFOS, so research continues on how to best handle that classification of PFAS chemicals. There are many types of household water filters today that can help in blocking PFAS from making it into your cup.
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Previously reported – September 2022
DEQ approves permit to reduce PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has issued the discharge permit for a treatment system to remove PFAS compounds from contaminated groundwater on the Chemours Fayetteville Works site. The treatment system is part of the larger barrier wall remediation project to substantially reduce PFAS entering the Cape Fear River and impacting downstream communities. After a comprehensive review and public process, DEQ’s Division of Water Resources has issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for a granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration treatment system. After consideration of the public comments and further review of data and information contained in the permit record, the permit limits for the three indicator compounds have been significantly reduced beyond the 99% removal required in the Consent Order. During an initial period to optimize the performance of the system, the permit limits will be: 120 ng/L (ppt) for GenX, 100 ng/L (ppt) for PMPA and 320 ng/L (ppt) for PFMOAA. After the 180-day optimization period, the limits will drop to less than 10 ppt for GenX, 10 ppt for PMPA, and less than 20 ppt for PFMOAA. These limits represent an estimated removal efficiency of greater than 99.9%. The NPDES permit includes weekly monitoring upstream and downstream of the treatment system during barrier wall construction to track progress and efficiency. It also allows for an evaluation after one year to incorporate new data and further tighten limits if appropriate. The permit can also be reopened to add limitations based on new toxicity data, introduction of Federal or state PFAS standards, and if another PFAS compound breaks through the treatment system more quickly than the three current indicator parameters. The massive remediation project is the largest of its kind to address PFAS. The system involves a mile-long underground barrier wall, more than 70 extraction wells and the GAC treatment system to intercept and treat groundwater contaminated by years of pollution at the facility. The groundwater will be pumped and treated to ultimately remove an estimated 99.9% of PFAS compounds before being released into the river. Currently the contaminated groundwater flows untreated directly into the Cape Fear River. This project is designed to reduce the largest ongoing source of PFAS contaminating the river and reaching downstream water intakes and must be operational by March 15, 2023. In addition, DEQ issued an approval letter for the design of the barrier wall. The approval includes conditions for additional monitoring wells, sampling of extraction wells, and management of contaminated groundwater during barrier wall construction. DEQ is also finalizing the 401 Water Quality Certification to minimize and address impacts during the construction of the barrier wall in conjunction with the 404 Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The NPDES permit, hearing officer’s report and approval letter are available on the NCDEQ website at 3Sdasmd.
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Previously reported – October 2022
NC residents face risk of health issues from GenX, PFAS exposure, new research shows

Residents throughout the Cape Fear region have known for five years that they were exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals leaked into their drinking water by two chemical companies. Now, new research indicates many residents face an increased risk of developing health issues associated with that exposure. Researchers from North Carolina State University’s GenX Exposure Study released their latest round of blood sampling on Tuesday. What they found largely supported their previous findings including the fact that nearly all of their more than 1,000 participants had some combination of PFAS in their blood, according to Nadine Kotlarz, a postdoctoral fellow for the GenX Exposure Study. PFAS concentrations in participants’ blood were so high, they not only exceeded the national average, but also indicated that most participants have a greater chance of developing adverse conditions associated with PFAS exposure, according to new healthcare recommendations developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. A growing body of evidence shows an association between PFAS exposure and, “decreased antibody response to vaccines, dyslipidemia or alterations in cholesterol levels, decreased infant growth and fetal growth, and an increased risk of kidney cancer in adults,” said Jane Hoppin, principal investigator for the GenX Exposure Study. Human studies found associations between PFOA and PFOS (two compounds found in participants’ blood) and effects on the immune system, cardiovascular system and the development of cancer, according to the EPA. In the Cape Fear region, researchers at the GenX Exposure Study found 29% of participants fell into the highest risk category of the NASEM recommendations, meaning they face a “higher risk of adverse effects.” Individuals in this category should consider screening for thyroid issues, ulcerative colitis, and various forms of cancer including kidney cancer and testicular cancer, according to the NASEM recommendations. Another 68% of participants fell into the moderate category, meaning sensitive populations could potentially develop adverse health conditions. Individuals in this group should consider getting screened as well. Researchers at NC State first collected blood samples from Wilmington residents back in 2017. Since then, the group’s research has expanded to include residents closer to Chemours’ chemical plant in Fayetteville and even those living up toward Pittsboro. The central focus of Tuesday’s virtual meeting was to learn more about the health effects associated with the contamination of the Cape Fear River and water sources surrounding the waterway. For nearly four decades, Chemours, and before them DuPont, contaminated North Carolina’s largest river system with per- and polyfluorinated substances (also known as PFAS). The Cape Fear provides drinking water to nearly 500,000 North Carolinians. The contamination was uncovered back in 2017 by the StarNews and since then public anger has grown, largely at Chemours and DuPont for tainting peoples’ water with dangerous chemicals. “We found two PFAS that are known to originate at the Fayetteville Works… in most people in New Hanover and Brunswick counties and in some people in the Fayetteville area,” Kotlarz said. “We did not detect Gen X in the blood samples collected in 2020 and 2021.” The study’s more than 1,000 participants included approximately 514 residents from New Hanover County and Brunswick County and 300 residents from Fayetteville, Kotlarz said. The team also collected blood samples from residents in Pittsboro.  Kotlarz added PFAS concentrations in participants were decreasing over time, and that GenX doesn’t seem to last for long periods in human blood. The GenX Exposure Study will continue to host public meetings throughout the rest of this year to educate residents about their findings and answer questions from participants. After that the goal of the study is to transition from understanding the contamination to following participants over time to learn more about the health outcomes associated with PFAS exposure, Hoppin said. “As we move forward in time, we’ll be able to see what PFAS concentrations were in people’s body today and how that influences their health in the future,” Hoppin said.
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Previously reported – April 2023
CFPUA files suit to make sure DuPont is held responsible for PFAS, GenX contamination
Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is taking the fight to DuPont in a lawsuit attempting to make sure all parties are held responsible for the contamination of the Cape Fear region with compounds known as “forever chemicals.” Chemours, and before them DuPont, contaminated the Cape Fear River and the surrounding region with toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, for more than 30 years. The contamination began, according to CFPUA and others, in about 1980 when DuPont operated the Fayetteville Works chemical plant outside of Fayetteville. Up until 2015, DuPont dumped PFAS into the environment surrounding the chemical plant, tainting the drinking water source to roughly 1-in-15 North Carolinians as a result. CFPUA has already filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to hold DuPont and Chemours accountable for their actions, but this new lawsuit is trying make sure DuPont doesn’t escape responsibility. In the lawsuit, which was filed on Friday, CFPUA alleges DuPont used various business transactions and restructuring from 2015 to 2019 to avoid financial responsibility for the contamination of the Cape Fear River, according to a press release from CFPUA. CFPUA’s claims largely match allegations the state of North Carolina and others have levied against DuPont in lawsuits they’ve filed against the chemical giant. The groups allege DuPont knew PFAS were dangerous and that the company’s liability for dumping these compounds into the environment stretched into the billions of dollars, according to CFPUA and others’ lawsuits. CFPUA and others claim DuPont used various business transactions, including spinning off its performance chemical business into a new company called Chemours, to avoid responsibility. By spinning off Chemours and transferring its wealth to other spinoff entities and subsidiaries, DuPont’s alleged plan was to prevent CFPUA, the state of North Carolina and others from ever holding DuPont accountable, according to CFPUA and others. “Clearly the damages scared the executives such that it drove them to engage in this incredibly complex corporate shell game,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein in an interview with the StarNews back in January. CFPUA alleges in its lawsuit that these transactions and restructuring allowed DuPont to “strip away” more than $20 billion in its assets over the course of a five-year period, according to CFPUA’s lawsuit. “As a result, DuPont was left with substantially fewer tangible assets than it had prior to the restructuring.” “Upon information and belief, the purpose of Project Beta was to avoid responsibility for the widespread environmental harm that DuPont’s PFAS contamination had caused and shield billions of dollars in assets from these substantial liabilities,” according to CFPUA’s lawsuit. CFPUA’s Delaware lawsuit seeks to make sure DuPont pays for the damages the public utility incurred, which it estimated to be roughly $238 million, despite the various business transactions, according to CFPUA’s lawsuit. CFPUA named Chemours, E.I. DuPont, DuPont De Nemours (commonly referred to as “New DuPont” in CFPUA and others’ lawsuits) and Corteva (another spinoff of DuPont) in its lawsuit. CFPUA’s new lawsuit was filed in Delaware because both Chemours and DuPont are headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, according to CFPUA officials. “Plaintiff brings this action to ensure the voidable transfers concocted by Defendants do not preclude Plaintiffs from recovering the amounts to which it is entitled from (CFPUA’s federal lawsuit),” according to CFPUA’s lawsuit.
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Previously reported – October 2023
Lawsuit against Chemours, DuPont moves forward following class action certification
A lawsuit against Chemours and DuPont is moving forward after a federal judge granted class action certification to over 100,000 North Carolina residents. According to Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, the residents “allege that The Chemours Company (Chemours) and DuPont Chemical (DuPont) illegally discharged toxic wastewater containing PFAS and GenX chemicals, aka ‘forever chemicals,’ from its Fayetteville Works plant into the Cape Fear River, failed to inform residents, failed to inform government officials after learning of its damaging impacts, and continued these harmful practices for decades. The plaintiffs claim that they unknowingly consumed drinking water contaminated with these chemicals, that they now suffer from and face the risk of serious health problems, and that Chemours and DuPont should pay the cost of eliminating the contamination of these PFAS chemicals from their homes.” The class certification was granted by United States District Judge James Dever III on Wednesday, Oct. 4. “The class action was first brought in 2017 in the Eastern District of North Carolina,” the announcement states. “In 2018, Cohen Milstein and Susman Godfrey were court appointed Interim Co-Lead Class Counsel. “Since filing the case, Cohen Milstein and Susman Godfrey have provided information to DEQ in support of the development and enforcement of the consent order while seeking additional relief through the class action.” This lawsuit against Chemours and DuPont joins other cases focusing on the contamination of the Cape Fear River. Earlier this year, Chemours, DuPont and Corteva agreed to a more than a billion-dollar settlement amid complaints they polluted drinking water across the country. Additionally, in March, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority filed a lawsuit to prevent Chemours, DuPont and related companies from restructuring to avoid liability for damage caused by PFAS at the Fayetteville Works plant. The full order can be accessed here. More information about Cohen Milstein, including the class action case, can be found here.
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Previously reported – November 2023
‘Hold Chemours accountable’:
Brunswick sends letter on GenX import concerns to EPA
The Environmental Protection Agency recently authorized Chemours to import millions of pounds of GenX from a Dutch company under criminal investigation. Commissioners of Brunswick County — found by one national study to have the worst PFAS contamination among 44 municipalities — voiced their concerns about the decision Wednesday in a letter to administrator Michael Regan. Brunswick County residents, like all North Carolina and U.S. residents, deserve access to clean drinking water,” Chair Randy Thompson wrote in the letter. “All residents who source their water from the Cape Fear River and a growing number of residents who source their water from drinking water wells are affected by Chemours’ pollution and have yet to see the company fulfill NCDEQ’s 2019 Consent Order.” On Sept. 8, the EPA sent a letter to Chemours permitting the import of more than 4 million pounds of GenX from the company’s Dordrecht, Netherlands facility to the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant in Bladen County, North Carolina through Sept. 6 2024. The approval follows a class action lawsuit filed last month by Dutch criminal attorney Bénédicte Ficq against DuPont and its spinoff Chemours; the suit alleges the companies’ executives knowingly caused decades of PFAS pollution. The Fayetteville plant will use the imported GenX for “recycle and reuse.” Thompson, writing on behalf of the board of commissioners, noted Chemours’ previous improper GenX waste disposal is still present in the Cape Fear River. The Fayetteville Works’ barrier wall, to capture contamination, was completed in June — months after the consent order mandated. Thompson said weekly PFAS tests performed at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant show the prevalence of PFAS compounds in the county is still high. He argued insufficient time has passed to ensure the wall is effectively preventing PFAS from entering the river. The commissioners urged the EPA to guarantee Chemours “has significantly reduced the amount of PFAS entering the Cape Fear River before allowing more PFAS into the state.” The chair included a list of county recommendations in the letter, such as including the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality in future PFAS authorizations and to “hold Chemours accountable to future changes to health advisory levels or maximum contaminant levels.” NCDEQ was not made aware of EPA’s decision to import GenX, nor did it have any say in the matter. The letter argued Chemours’ actions have already unfairly burdened the county’s taxpayers and water customers; construction on the Northwest Water Treatment Plant’s low-pressure reverse osmosis facility — plagued by years of delays — has already cost $24,229,190. Thompson said the county has issued a total of $167.3 million in revenue bonds for the facility. He also noted GenX and other PFAS compounds have been found in private wells used by county residents. A study by the National Resources Defense Council found significant amounts of 12 PFAS compounds excluded from EPA testing methods in the county. The letter can be read here.
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Remember GenX and PFAS contaminants? Why they’re back in the news and what it means for NC
Researchers have found more types of PFAS “forever chemicals” in the Cape Fear River. The news comes as Chemours looks to import GenX from its plant in the Netherlands to Fayetteville.
Six years ago the StarNews broke the story that water in the Cape Fear River downstream of Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Plant contained high levels of previously unknown chemicals used in common everyday products like food packaging, cookware, medical devices and adhesives.  The manmade per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including GenX, are frequently dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down quickly in the environment, can linger in the body, and have been tied to a host of health problems and ailments. Fast-forward to 2023 and the questions surrounding PFAS and their ongoing environmental, financial and health problems have often taken a backseat in the public realm behind pandemics, toxic politics, global conflicts and worries about a slowing economy. That has occurred even as the national scope of the contamination has grown as more and more areas around the country, including military bases where PFAS have been used in firefighting foam for decades, are found to be polluted with the chemicals. But two reports in recent weeks have brought the issue back to the forefront in the Tar Heel State. In mid-October the news website NC Newsline reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved plans by Chemours to restart the import of GenX from its plant in the Netherlands to Fayetteville Works, a process that the federal regulators had frozen in 2018 over concerns of “outdated data” and “inappropriate use of a combined waste stream.” A Chemours spokesperson told the Fayetteville Observer that the 4-million-pound figure was the maximum amount the company would be allowed to import over the next year, but that they will likely import far less. The chemical would be recycled and reused, reducing the amount of new GenX that would have to be produced, the spokesperson added. The announcement that Chemours could be importing more GenX into North Carolina even as the long-term fallout from decades of dumping “forever chemicals” into the Cape Fear by Chemours and DuPont, which spun off Chemours in 2015, that then made their way into local water supplies remains to be determined drew angry responses from environmentalists and community activists. On Tuesday Gov. Roy Cooper joined in, stating that the EPA’s decision should be “reconsidered and reversed.” “It is unacceptable for North Carolinians to bear the risks associated with importing millions of pounds of GenX from other countries for disposal in our air, land and water,” the governor said in a letter to the EPA. “Under the Biden Administration, the EPA has been a vital partner in our efforts to learn more about these chemicals and protect the health of our communities and we will continue to encourage them to take action.” Then two weeks ago North Carolina researchers published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science stating that they had discovered 11 new PFAS compounds in the Cape Fear River below the Chemours plant. The discovery was made by using a novel testing method and adds to the more than 14,000 known PFAS created by industry. “However, the exact number of unique PFAS is difficult to estimate as additional compounds are continually developed and identified,” the study states. “Furthermore, a very small percentage of these chemicals have any publicly available information on their toxicological impacts or presence in the environment.” While regulators can begin monitoring for the 11 new PFAS, more studies will be required to determine their toxicity and how long they stay in the environment. And as state and local officials have seen with GenX, in can take years for safe standards to be adopted − all the while local utilities, health officials and residents struggle with what’s already in their water and the environment. Last month a federal judge allowed more than 100,000 North Carolina residents and property owners to move forward with a class-action suit against DuPont and Chemours. The plaintiffs sued in 2017 after it became public that the companies had been discharging PFAS into the Cape Fear River, groundwater around Fayetteville Works, and air since 1980. They claim the manmade contaminants had led to them developing various diseases and are seeking punitive and compensatory damages for, among other things, the cost of replacing tainted pipes, plumbing fixtures, and installing water-purification systems. While still fighting some of the contamination allegations, DuPont and Chemours have been working to settle other legal disputes. In June, the two companies along with Corteva, an Indianapolis-based company that provides seeds and crop-protection solutions, reached a $1.19 billion settlement with a slew of public water systems over PFAS contamination. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) was not one of the systems that settled with the companies. The authority, which provides water and sewer service to most New Hanover County residents, has sued Chemours and DuPont to recover costs and damages associated with their PFAS contamination and its impact on the authority’s operations. That includes $43 million CFPUA spent to install eight granular-activated carbon (GAC) filters to remove PFAS contamination at CFPUA’s Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. The facility draws water from the Cape Fear and provides drinking water to about 80% of CFPUA’s customers. North Carolina legislators also are continuing to earmark state funds to deal with the PFAS crisis, including $55 million in the recently passed state budget. That amount includes $35 million to CFPUA, part of which will be used to extend water lines to private well owners.
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Previously reported – December 2023
EPA pulls plug on previously approved GenX imports
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed its approval for Chemours to import GenX into North Carolina. The agency announced its decision today, prompting quick responses from both state officials and the company. “It’s good that the EPA reversed this decision and I’m grateful for their quick response,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “We have been working for years in North Carolina to force the cleanup of forever chemicals to help ensure clean water, and companies like Chemours have made this effort more difficult.” Chemours in a release this afternoon said it does not discharge GenX into the Cape Fear River through its recycling process at its Fayetteville Works facility in Bladen County and that a “calculation error” had incorrectly identified the amount the company wants to import. “Our reclamation and recycling process for [GenX] is circular and more environmentally friendly than manufacturing larger quantities of new compound,” the release states. “We identified and acknowledged a calculation error in the applications to the Dutch ILT that we proactively disclosed to US regulators. The amount being imported is in fact far below the levels approved by EPA in the original permit. We are working to correct the information and will continue to engage with authorities on the path forward.” The EPA’s decision in October to sign off on Chemours importing as much as 4 million pounds of GenX from its plant in the Netherlands sparked outrage from state and local officials. GenX is one of thousands of manmade chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, and is specific to Chemours’ Fayetteville Works plant. Chemours is under a Consent Order with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the nonprofit Cape Fear River Watch to drastically reduce the amount of PFAS it discharges into the environment, including the Cape Fear River, which is the drinking water source for tens of thousands of people. The company is also being held responsible for PFAS contamination in private wells throughout the Cape Fear region, which includes at least eight counties. The EPA made its decision to reverse course based on information provided by DEQ, according to a department release. “We appreciate that the EPA heard the concerns shared by the Governor and the residents directly affected by PFAS contamination from Chemours,” NCDEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser said in a statement. “North Carolina is committed to reducing PFAS pollution and today’s reversal aligns with that goal.” The company stated that it had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in emissions controls at its Fayetteville plant. “Chemours responsibly manufactures critical products that support national and Biden Administration priorities like American manufacturing of semiconductors and decarbonizing the energy sector. Our products and our actions promote a more sustainable future, and we will continue to deliver on our commitment to reduce our environmental footprint.” In September, experts appointed to the United Nations sent letters to Chemours, Corteva and DuPont de Nemours criticizing their use of PFAS. Those UN experts said the companies likely violated the human rights of residents in the Cape Fear region. Letters were also sent to the governments of the Netherlands and the United States accusing regulators of failing to protect human health and the environment.
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EPA reverses approval of GenX waste importation after DEQ found inaccurate information
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday the reversal of its authorization for Chemours to import millions of pounds of GenX waste. It sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper, who expressed his disapproval of the EPA’s decision earlier this month. In the Nov. 29 letter to Gov. Cooper, EPA administrator Michael Regan noted the reversal was influenced by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s finding Chemours did not provide accurate information about export volume requested and the amount of GenX waste its Fayetteville facility could process. Regan wrote it was “different from a factor of ten from the amount the company had initially quoted” in its notification approved by the EPA. “Because information in both notifications was incorrect, the September 8, 2023 consents to the import of waste from the Netherlands into the United States are no longer valid,” Regan wrote. In a statement on the decision Wednesday, Chemours insisted its calculation error was “proactively disclosed to US regulators” and said the imported waste would be far below the amount approved in the initial permit. Chemours said its importation of GenX waste would be used for recycling; it argued this is more environmentally friendly than manufacturing new compounds. It claimed the recycled PFAS waste would not be discharged in the Cape Fear River. The Sept. 8 EPA decision permitted Chemours to import more than 4 million pounds of GenX waste for recycle and reuse from the company’s Dordrecht, Netherlands facility, which is under criminal investigation. The waste would have been shipped to Chemours Fayetteville Works plant in Bladen County, North Carolina. The import was halted after public outcry and letters were sent to the EPA from Gov. Cooper, as well as local leaders from New Hanover and Brunswick counties. Gov. Cooper issued a statement Wednesday commending the new EPA decision. “It’s good that the EPA reversed this decision and I’m grateful for their quick response,” Cooper said in a statement Wednesday. “We have been working for years in North Carolina to force the cleanup of forever chemicals to help ensure clean water, and companies like Chemours have made this effort more difficult.” The New Hanover Board of Commissioners similarly released a joint statement: “This development is a significant victory for the environmental health and safety of New Hanover County and the Cape Fear River. We commend the EPA and NCDEQ for their diligent efforts and collaboration in making this critical decision, reflecting our shared commitment to protect our community.”
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis also released a statement Wednesday celebrating the EPA’s reversal. “It is vital all North Carolinians have access to safe water, and I’ll continue my work to address the risks posed by emerging PFAS contaminants, just like we did with the historic clean water investment in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” he said.
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Previously reported – February 2024
NC ‘Forever Chemical’ Plant Violates Human Rights, U.N. Panel Says
The allegations of human rights violations linked to pollution from the factory broadens a yearslong battle over the site and over the chemicals known as PFAS.
The dumping of contaminated wastewater by a chemical plant on the Cape Fear River began more than four decades ago, making the river water unsafe to drink for 100 miles. This week, in response to a petition by community groups in North Carolina, a United Nations panel called the pollution a human rights issue. The U.N. concerns about human-rights violations, the kind of claims that Americans might be more used to seeing leveled at foreign countries, broaden the scope of a global fight over the harms from what are known as forever chemicals, or by their acronym PFAS. They are the subject of a yearslong dispute over their dangers. Chemours, the chemicals giant that took over the plant in 2015, and DuPont before it, “are completely disregarding the rights and well-being of residents” along the river, a panel of U.N. human rights experts said. The pollution continues “even as DuPont and Chemours had information about the toxic impacts of PFAS on human health and drinking water,” they said, using the acronym for polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of chemicals, many of which are toxic. Chemours said it was “committed to responsibly manufacturing and producing products in a manner consistent with international principles.” The products it makes at its plant at Fayetteville, N.C., contributed to “vital technologies for green hydrogen, electric vehicles and semiconductor manufacturing,” the company said. Chemours is currently moving ahead with plans to expand the Fayetteville plant. DuPont has rejected claims that it bears responsibility for the Fayetteville plant, which it spun off as part of a corporate restructuring in 2015. PFAS are human-made chemicals that companies have used to make a wide range of water- or grease-resistant products including nonstick cookware, pizza boxes, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, firefighting foam and some cosmetics. They don’t naturally break down and instead accumulate in the environment and in the blood and organs of people and animals. Research by both chemical companies and academics have shown that exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancer, liver damage, birth defects and other health problems. A newer type of PFAS, GenX, which Chemours makes at its Fayetteville plant, was designed to be a safer alternative to earlier generations of the chemicals. New studies, however, are discovering similar health hazards. State regulators have repeatedly fined the Fayetteville plant for exceeding emissions limits, and, over the years, the Environmental Protection Agency has also issued a string of violations. In 2021, the agency started requiring chemical manufacturers to test and publicly report the amount of PFAS in household items as part of what it calls its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, a strategy to protect public health and the environment. Still, the U.N. panel, made up of special rapporteurs from its Human Rights Council, said both the E.P.A. and local regulators had “fallen short in their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses.” That included failing to provide affected communities in North Carolina “with the type and amount of information necessary to prevent harm and seek reparation,” the panel said. The E.P.A. declined to comment. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Local environmentalists called on Chemours to halt its expansion in Fayetteville and focus on cleaning up the pollution. “We still have residents in our region who do not have access to clean, safe drinking water,” said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, which petitioned last year for the United Nations to open a human rights investigation. “We’re finding PFAS along our beaches, in locally grown produce and locally caught fish. It’s also in our air and rainwater,” she said. Yet “Chemours wants to expand production and make more PFAS.”
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Previously reported – April 2024
EPA head Michael Regan returns to NC,
announces new standards for ‘forever chemicals’

The federal government has set standards for so-called forever chemicals in drinking water and will provide $1 billion for testing and other protective measures, said Michael Regan, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who spoke Wednesday morning in Fayetteville. Regan announced the measures regarding PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, at an event in front of the P.O. Hoffer Water Plant operated by the Public Works Commission, the locally owned utility. Regan served as director of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality from 2017 until March 2021 when President Joe Biden tapped him to head the EPA. “Today I’m proud to return to North Carolina to announce the first-ever, nationwide, legally enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS,” Regan said, “the most significant action EPA has ever taken on PFAS.”  He said the chemicals, which are used in products such as non-stick coating for cookware and firefighting foam, “have a place and are important for certain industries and certain practices.” But he added: “There is also no doubt that these chemicals entering into our environment in an uncontrolled manner are harmful to our families, harmful to our communities and harmful to our economy.”  The new standards will require utilities to test for six different types of PFAS in drinking water; the chemicals have been linked to certain types of cancer. The new standards limit PFOA and PFOS, two common types of PFAS, to 4 parts per trillion, as well as four other types of PFAS similar to those two. The regulations could reduce the impact pf PFAS on 100 million people, Regan said. A reporter’s question to Regan at Wednesday’s event noted that the standards addressed six types of PFAS but there were thousands. “We’re starting with this six,” he said. “With this six, we have the best science and data to design these health standards.” He said the EPA would “continue until we get to all of them.” 

Activist: Persistent as forever chemicals
Other speakers Wednesday were N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper; state Attorney General Josh Stein; Brenda Mallory, chairperson of the Council on Environmental Quality for the Biden Administration; Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin; Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group; and Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear and a mother whose family has been directly affected by PFAS pollution. Donovan, who brought her daughters to the EPA event, listed several activists who had raised concerns about PFAS. She said one of her fellow activists likes to say: “We are as persistent as PFAS.” 

‘Preparing for this day’
The Wilmington StarNews first reported evidence of PFAS pollution in the local water supply in 2017, tracing the contamination to the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant at the Bladen and Cumberland county line. In 2019, a consent order was negotiated by Regan’s DEQ; Chemours; and the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing Cape Fear River Watch. It requires the chemical company to reduce its impact on the water, air and soil through several measures, including well-testing and providing bottled water or other replacement water to residents. Cooper and Stein highlighted the state’s role in dealing with PFAS contamination. “In North Carolina, we’ve already been preparing for this day,” Cooper said about the new standards. “Our Department of Environmental Quality is partnering with our local water systems, getting ready, taking hundreds of samples of water, providing technical assistance.” The state will propose PFAS limits for surface and groundwater, too, he said.

‘Bring some money by’
Cumberland County Commissioner Glenn Adams praised the EPA decision and said he believed it was just the beginning. The Wednesday announcement applies to the whole nation, he said. “For us, we already knew what the issue was,” he said. “Hopefully when they talk about reducing limits they’ll bring some money by. “We’ve already been talking about Gray’s Creek and Cedar Creek — it’s spreading” he said about PFAS contamination. He says the officials he heard from today appreciated that funding was needed. “It’s a health risk,” he said. “We always talk about the health risk.”
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EPA announces new PFAS standards for water utilities, but fails to address NC chemical industry
On Wednesday, the EPA announced first-time legally enforceable maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for six types of PFAS. They include:

      • PFOA 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt) 
      • PFOS 4.0ppt 
      • GenX chemicals 10ppt 
      • PFNA 10ppt 
      • PFHxS 10ppt  
      • Mixtures of GenX, PFNA, PFHxS, and PFBS meeting a hazard index standard of 1.

“This is a very important first step, a huge move for the EPA to protect communities in our country,” Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Jean Zhuang told Port City Daily. Public water utilities will be required to complete initial monitoring of the compounds by 2027 and must implement solutions to reduce chemicals exceeding the MCL by 2029. After 2029, utilities with PFAS exceeding MCLs will be required to give public notice of the violation and take action to reduce them in drinking water. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is seeking federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to assist water utilities in funding expensive filtration technology. CFPUA installed its granular-activated carbon system in 2022, which cost $43 million. It raised its rates 8% in 2022 to help cover the costs. CFPUA spokesperson Cammie Bellamy said the utility is in compliance with the EPA’s new rules and provides updated testing results. She said the site will soon include comparisons with new PFAS maximum contaminant levels. Pender County spokesperson Brandi Cobb said Pender is also in compliance with the new standards and has been filtering PFAS compounds through its GAC system. “We appreciate having a specific regulation, as it offers clarity and guidelines on the essential measures to mitigate toxic chemicals in the water,” Pender County Utilities executive director Anthony Colon told PCD. “Nonetheless, it is concerning that the EPA places more responsibility on utility companies and their customers than on the companies responsible for introducing these chemicals into the water in the first place.” While the MCL standards place requirements on public water utilities, it remains unclear if the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality will implement the rules for companies that require pollution discharge elimination system permits. In a public comment to the EPA, CFPUA executive director Kenneth Waldroup said PFAS manufacturers should be the foremost focus of expensive regulation, not utilities. According to DEQ Deputy Communications Director Josh Kastrinsky, the agency is proposing to include the EPA’s PFAS standards in the state’s surface and groundwater standards to the Environmental Management Commission, the appointed body oversees and creates rules for DEQ. North Carolina currently does not have surface or groundwater water standards for PFAS; new standards would include PFAS in discharge permits. It’s unclear if the EPA’s new rules will affect a recent permit submitted by automotive manufacturer Lear Corporation, for instance, which included no PFAS limitations in its February draft NPDES permit for its Kenansville facility. DEQ extended the public comment period for the draft permit after a Cape Fear River Watch petition protesting the omission gained thousands of signatures. It is currently under EPA review. Kastrinksy told Port City Daily the agency is currently reviewing public comments for Lear’s draft permit and a final announcement will be made soon. “We do want to emphasize that EPA and our states need to take the next step and ensure that utilities can meet these standards — and not be too burdened — that they should begin using existing legal tools under the Clean Water Act to stop PFAS pollution at the source,” Zhuang said. Beyond Lear, she noted other known and suspected North Carolina dischargers do not have PFAS limitations in their NPDES permits, including DAK Americas’ emissions in the Cape Fear River and Colonial Pipeline, which releases in the Yadkin River watershed. “Dischargers should be tasked with implementing best available control technologies (BACT) in all cases for cleaning our waters and air,” UNCW geographer Roger Shew told PCD. “This should not be a discussion item. If the technology is available then it should be put in place —  that is and should be EPA’s responsibility.” Cape Fear River Watch executive director Dana Sargent said she views the announcement as positive, but argued the EPA’s first-time PFAS regulations should have been established decades earlier. “Thousands of people have become sick or died from PFAS exposures while the chemical manufacturers who knew of the dangers 60 years ago, cozied up to the EPA, and federal and state officials, who — instead of doing their jobs to protect human health and the environment — helped make these corporations trillions of dollars, completely unregulated, for decades,” Sargent said. On March 19, Cape Fear River Watch and other local nonprofits sent a letter to EPA expressing alarm about the agency’s private, invite-only workshop on the national PFAS testing strategy with chemical industry representatives. The groups are currently suing the EPA to require comprehensive PFAS testing in North Carolina, to include 54 Chemours-specific compounds. Zhuang pressed the fact that Wednesday’s announcement only applies to a few PFAS compounds; different agencies estimate a range from 6,000 to more than 12,000 variants. She hopes for more comprehensive regulation in the future. Sargent similarly called for more expansive action: “It’s time the USA adopts the precautionary principle followed by other developed countries, which requires companies prove their products are safe before they enter the environment, rather than waiting for people to get sick and die, before beginning a decades-long process to regulate them.” She added the agency has not sought public input for its PFAS testing strategy, which Sargent believes is excessively influenced by the chemical industry. “Even now, they refuse to regulate the corporations directly by requiring them to stop the pollution at the source, but instead put the burden on utilities to either filter this dangerous filth or do the government’s job to pressure companies to stop discharging it,” she said. Powerful business groups in the state such as the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, North Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, and the American Chemistry Council have pushed against stronger PFAS regulations.  Legislators introduced a House Bill 600 provision last year to limit DEQ from imposing limits on PFAS, but withdrew it after public backlash. Industry groups also fought against Rep. Ted Davis Jr’s bill to require Chemours to pay for the public utilities’ PFAS filtration systems in New Hanover and Brunswick counties in 2022. Shew said DEQ should work with PFAS discharging companies to meet the new standards:. “And if they don’t, they should be held fiscally accountable. There should be incentive penalties to ensure they adhere to the new rules.”
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EPA announces first-of-its-kind restrictions on PFAS contamination in drinking water
The Environmental Protection Agency announced utilities will have to restrict the amount of forever chemicals in their drinking water supply by 2029. “Today is a significant step towards cleaner and safer water for all Americans,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “These new standards will give people the confidence they deserve when they turn on the tap.” The announcement was made Wednesday when state and federal leaders gathered in Fayetteville by the Chemours company’s Fayetteville Works Plant. Chemours contaminated the area’s drinking water supply by dumping forever chemicals in the Cape Fear River. According to the Environmental Working Group, North Carolina is third in the nation when it comes to PFAS water contamination. For years, local advocates have been calling for regulations. Dana Sargent is one such advocate and executive director of Cape Fear River Watch. She says the water contamination has caused numerous people living in Fayetteville and the Cape Fear region to experience health problems. “There are a ton of stories in this community of people with diseases that are directly linked to PFAs,” Sargent said. “Thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancers, things that you wouldn’t expect in the ages of people, and then it’s generational.” While Sargent is happy the limits are now in place, she questions why it took so long for them to pass the regulations and why they won’t actually be enforcing them for the next five years. “Our federal government knew PFAS was dangerous at least 26 years ago, and here we are in 2024 with the first regulation,” Sargent said. “They’re allowing sampling for three years. Currently, in North Carolina, we’ve had sampling for about 7. We don’t need any more sampling. We know there’s PFAs in the water. We could move forward right away with forcing the utilities to get these things filtered.” Sargent said she also wished the new restrictions put the burden on the producers of these chemicals, not the water suppliers. “I want our federal government and our state regulators to hold the polluters accountable, and that’s missing from this type of action,” Sargent said. “It’s our pocketbooks and it’s our health that’s been burdened by these companies who continue to bank off of this stuff.”

The new maximum contaminant levels are:

      • PFOA 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt)
      • PFOS 4.0ppt
      • GenX chemicals 10ppt
      • PFNA 10ppt
      • PFHxS 10ppt

“These are really pretty good because it’s hard to detect those chemicals lower than those levels,” Sargent said. “The right answer would be we don’t want any PFAS contamination in our water, but there will never be a perfect filtration system.” WECT reached out to three utility companies in the area to see if they currently comply with these new restrictions. Cape Fear Public Utility Authority says all of its systems comply since they implemented a new filtration system in 2022. H2GO in Brunswick County said its systems also comply because it sources its water from Lower Peedee and Black Creek aquifers which are free of PFAS contaminants, and not the Cape Fear River. Brunswick County Public Utility says its systems do not comply with these new standards yet but should soon. The utility is in the process of building a filtration system that should help remove PFAs from the water supply. Contractors estimate the project should be completed by the end of 2024.
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With new ‘forever chemical’ standards set,
how will NC utilities clean up their water?
Filtering manmade chemicals like GenX out of public water supplies could cost billions. Utilities say their customers shouldn’t have to shoulder the costs
In a historic announcement earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its first-ever drinking water standards to protect people against toxic “forever chemicals.” Michael Regan, EPA administrator and North Carolina’s former top environmental regulator, traveled to Fayetteville to unveil the new regulations for six manmade per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including GenX. The chemicals are used in many household and everyday items, and they “have a place and are important for certain industries and certain practices,” Regan said. But decades of uncontrolled dumping of the chemical compounds into the environment, including into waterways and groundwater that serve as drinking sources for millions, and their widespread use, including in fire-fighting foam, has seen PFAS contamination and health concerns proliferate across the country. The substances are often called forever chemicals because they do not easily break down in nature or the human body. The choice of Fayetteville for the announcement was not by accident. Seven years ago, the StarNews broke the story that water in the Cape Fear River downstream of Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Plant contained high levels of previously unknown chemicals. In the years since, PFAS have been found throughout the United States and worries about the environmental, financial and health impacts of this national contamination have seen a raft of moves to protect people, punish the PFAS polluters, and learn more about the true health impacts of the compounds that have already been linked to several types of cancer. While officials, environmentalists and grassroots activists said this month’s announcement is a welcome first step to help protect people and the environment from the still largely unknown impacts from the widespread contamination, it’s only the beginning. “It’s absolutely fantastic to now have these baseline standards for our public water systems,” said Jean Zhuang, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). “But we need further steps to stop PFAS from getting into the environment in the first place, and that means going after the polluters who are profiting from producing these chemicals.” She added that existing legal tools, like the federal Clean Water Act, already give federal and state regulators the ammunition to go after these industries. But enforcement and seeing actual steps on the ground is a slow process. It took six years after Chemours, and its former parent DuPont, were found to have been dumping GenX and other forever chemicals into the Cape Fear River for decades from Fayetteville Works before a barrier wall and groundwater capture and treatment project were in place to stop more than 90% of PFAS-contaminated water from reaching the river. Then there’s the sheer volume of PFAS out there. According to the EPA, there are nearly 15,000 synthetic chemicals and little is known about the potential health impacts of most of them. “We’re starting with this six,” Regan said at the Fayetteville event. “With this six, we have the best science and data to design these health standards.” In a statement, Chemours said it was proud of its actions using the best-available technologies to eliminate almost all PFAS discharges from Fayetteville Works. “We know of no other company in North Carolina that has made such a significant investment to address emissions and legacy remediation,” company spokesperson Cassie Olszewski wrote. But Chemours did express some reservations over the EPA’s new PFAS limits in drinking water. “While we will review the final regulation, we have serious concerns with the underlying science used and the process EPA followed in developing the (maximum contaminant levels), including as commented to EPA by various parties,” the company said. “Chemours supports government regulation that is grounded in the best available science and follows the law.”

Multibillion-dollar bill
Announcing new standards to limit the amount of toxins coming out of people’s taps might have been the easy part. According to the EPA, the new rule’s requirements will be phased in over the next five years, with initial PFAS monitoring required to be finished within three years and then two additional years for capital improvements if the numbers come in too high. According to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, more than 300 water systems in the state including 42 large municipal utilities serving a combined three million residents have PFAS levels that will exceed the new federal standards. While some larger municipal systems like the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) that serves New Hanover County and H2GO that serves Brunswick County have the financial pockets to fund the monitoring and installation of PFAS filtration systems on their own before receiving any money from potential settlements with polluters, many do not. That could leave water customers footing the bill if other sources of funding can’t be secured. Recognizing this, Regan said the federal government is making billions in funding available for PFAS testing and future capital improvements to water systems to filter out toxins. North Carolina also has made funding available to help utilities deal with PFAS contaminants. But the Denver-based American Water Works Association (AWWA) fears officials are seriously underestimating the true cost to utilities of meeting the new and future PFAS drinking water standards. Chris Moody, AWAA’s regulatory technical manager, said a recent study found the cost of PFAS treatment nationally to be three times higher than the EPA’s estimates, potentially requiring an investment of up to $40 billion. Then there is the EPA’s aggressive five-year timeline to have all of the improvements in place, which will leave water systems competing against each other for limited resources and manpower amid a stretched supply chain. “There is a possibility that even by water systems’ best efforts many will take longer than five years to complete construction and start-up of the new facilities,” Moody said. Which brings us back to getting industry to pony up the costs of PFAS testing and system improvements. Already some major chemical producers have announced settlements topping $11 billion with states and public water providers. That list includes 3M, DuPont, Chemours, Corteva and Johnson Controls. But many cases are continuing to work their way through the courts, and not all states and utilities have agreed to settle with the companies over their PFAS dumping. Zhuang, the SELC attorney, said it was not only important to go after polluters for the PFAS contamination they’ve already caused, but use regulatory steps to stop any more toxins from entering the environment. “We are very excited about this announcement and these new drinking water standards, but there’s always more work that needs to be done,” she said.

More information
Details about the EPA’s new PFAS drinking water standards:

    • For PFOA and PFOS, EPA is setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) goal, a non-enforceable health-based goal, at zero. This reflects the latest science showing that there is no level of exposure to these contaminants without risk of health impacts, including certain cancers.
    • EPA is setting enforceable MCL at 4.0 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, individually. This standard will reduce exposure from these PFAS in our drinking water to the lowest levels that are feasible for effective implementation.
    • For PFNA, PFHxS, and “GenX Chemicals,” EPA is setting the MCLGs and MCLs at 10 parts per trillion.
    • Because PFAS can often be found together in mixtures, and research shows these mixtures may have combined health impacts, EPA is setting a limit for any mixture of two or more of the following PFAS: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and “GenX Chemicals.

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Homeowners Insurance

Homeowners Insurance Policy

Previously reported – January 2022
NC Homeowner’s Insurance Rate Settlement Only A Partial Victory

Homeowners in Carteret and the other 19 coastal counties received good news in late November with the announcement that North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey denied a proposed insurance premium increase that would have raised homeowner’s insurance up to 25% and instead negotiated a rate increase that tops out at 9.9%. While this is good news for local homeowners as well as those across the state, it raises concerns that need to be addressed.
Due to the importance of homeowner’s insurance, and the fact that it is a necessity for home mortgages, there needs to be greater transparency on the part of insurance companies providing claim details so that the public better understands the justification. And, in the cases of a rate settlement such as announced last month by Commissioner Causey, there needs be more disclosure about the process and the arguments used that resulted in the new premium charges. In mid-November of 2020, the N.C. Rate Bureau (NCRB), a legislatively created department tasked with assuring accuracy of insurance rate administration and to represent those agencies licensed to operate in the state, presented a premium increase to the state’s Department of Insurance (DOI) for homeowner’s insurance that averaged 24.5% statewide. In making the rate request, the rating bureau stated that because of an increased number of insurance claims over the preceding years a much high rate was justified to assure the solvency of the requesting companies. But out of the apparent concern for the financial impact of even higher rates, the NCRB and its members proposed only a 24.5% increase. Keep in mind this was an average increase. The state is divided into 29 territories and each territory carries a specific risk rating, with the coastal region and a few mountain regions carrying the highest risk rating. Because the 20 coastal territories are considered to have the highest risk of claims due to hurricane exposure, insurance premiums for that region of the state were facing premiums increases as high as 25% while other territories were scheduled for single digit increases. Public notice of this 2020 rate proposal was disseminated by Commissioner Causey in a two-page press release to newspapers and broadcast media. Because the notice was sent out a week before Thanksgiving, the traditional beginning of the Christmas season, most newspapers and the few broadcast media that cared enough to read the new release provided only cursory coverage. The public notification of this proposal was extremely short on both time allotted for public comment, one month, and equally short on information about the reason for the increase. The only explanation provided in Commissioner Causey’s release was “one of the drivers behind this requested increase is that North Carolina has experienced increased wind and hail losses stemming from damaging storms.” There is no mention of what storms were the cause nor any indication as to the losses suffered, nor did it mention that there was an extreme disparity of rate changes, with the coastal region experiencing the highest rate increases in all categories. Anyone interested in the details of the rate increase needed to go to the Rate Bureau’s website which is not part of the state’s DOI website and then attempt to comprehend the two-part, two-thousand-page filing. The NCDOI website had few details about the filing and only provided information for making comment or participating in a “virtual meeting.” Late last month, almost a year to the day after the initial rate increase request, Commissioner Causey announced that he and the rate bureau had settled on an increase that caps premium increases to 9.9% for the areas designated as high risk and 5.5% for other territories, which results in a statewide average of 7.9%. In making the announcement about the recent settlement, Mr. Causey stated, “I am happy to announce that North Carolina Homeowners will save over $751 million in premium payments compared to what the NCRB had requested. I am also glad the Department of Insurance has avoided a lengthy administrative legal battle which could have cost consumers time and money.” There is no question that homeowners, condominium owners and apartment renters in the 20 coastal counties are far better off now that Mr. Causey has negotiated the proposed 25% premium insurance increase down to only 9.9%. But still, the public has been kept in the dark about the process and reasoning behind both the original requested premium hike and now the settlement. Considering the complexities of the insurance rate proposal and the expansive requirement of insurance for property ownership, it stands to reason that the NCDOI should do more to inform and educate the public. Simply announcing that a rate increase has been proposed with little, very little, explanation and then to provide only one month to understand and research the facts provided is unfair to the public. It is worth noting that this proposal, like four other previous proposals, came during the holiday season when the general population was focused on the Christmas season. The 2020 requested premium increase is particularly onerous as the nation and state recover from the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and rapid out-of-control inflation. Commissioner Causey and the legislature should establish the same procedures utilized by the N.C. Utilities Commission. Utility companies licensed to provide electricity and gas services in the state, like the insurance industry, must seek approval for all rate increases or adjustments in service. In those cases, the utility company requesting a rate or service change must present documentation for the changes to the state’s Utilities Commission. The commission then conducts public witness hearings in several towns affected by the rate or service proposals. Following those meetings, the commission then conducts an expert witness hearing and from both the public forums and more comprehensive hearings, the commission’s staff makes a report for the Utilities Commission’s final decision. Mr. Causey’s announced rate reduction is only a partial solution. Recent news reports noting that home insurance is rising faster than inflation should cause even greater concern for homeowners, spurring Commissioner Causey and the legislature to improve public disclosure and more transparency in the process.
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Previously reported –July 2022
Home insurance costs nearly double due to inflation

Inflation has affected nearly every aspect of life, from food, to gas, to labor. Now, homeowners could see those costs reflected in their insurance premiums. “It’s the first time in my lifetime, that I’ve seen inflation at such a high level and at such a fast rate,” said North Carolina Coastal Insurance owner, Hernan Lois. According to Lois, the average homeowner will pay 30 to 40 percent more for homeowners insurance this year because of inflation raising property values, labor prices, and building supply costs. According to builder, Neil Sims, the average OSB board (one of the most common materials home builders use) used to cost around eight dollars apiece. Just recently, that cost reached the mid 30-dollar range. “The prices… the labor prices and material prices have significantly increased. So, because you could build a house for 200,000 dollars five or 10 years ago, does not mean anything anymore,” Sims explained. And with the height of hurricane season quickly approaching, insurance expert Hernan Lois says it’s more important than ever to update your coverage. “The reality is,” Lois continued, “you want to make sure you have full replacement value because if something were to occur, you want to be made whole.” Lois says total losses happen more often than you’d think. Being underinsured can be a disaster in itself. “Well ultimately out of pocket expenses. It means that they would have to pay for all of the additional reconstruction costs or possibly to their contents coverage. Their loss of use coverage, which is their living expenses while their home is being rebuilt,” said Lois. Though he opted for more coverage, Wilmington resident Dennis Mauger says his insurance went up 600 dollars a year. It was a tough financial pill for the retiree to swallow. “We had a house fire a couple years back and thank goodness we had good coverage on insurance replacement costs. I understand the value of insurance, it’s just hard to, if it’s the year that you’re not using it to absorb those costs,” Mauger said. When a storm system is named and predicted to come to our region, insurance companies can bind policies, keeping homeowners from changing their coverage plans.
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Previously reported –May 2022
Your Homeowners’ Insurance Bill Is the Canary in the Climate Coal Mine
If you don’t think you’ve been affected by global warming, take a closer look at your last homeowners’ insurance bill: The average cost of coverage has reached $1,900 a year nationwide, but it’s $4,000 a year in New Orleans and about $5,000 a year in Miami, according to Policygenius, an online insurance marketplace. And that is pocket change compared with the impact climate change may ultimately have on the value of your home. We have reached a turning point: Climate risk is driving insurer decisions like never before. After recent years of paying out claims for about 20 disasters a year with damages of over $1 billion, a sixfold increase from the 1980s, insurers are getting serious about new pricing models that incorporate the costs of a warming climate. Across the United States, premiums jumped 12 percent from 2021 to 2022, according to Policygenius estimates, and they are expected to continue to rise. Even with higher premiums, unpredictable losses are wreaking havoc on insurers’ bottom lines. Ten insurers have gone belly up in Florida in just the last two years. And in many cases, insurers are pulling back in risky areas, leaving state-backed insurance plans holding the bag. Both private and government-backed insurers are undercapitalized for dealing with the potentially massive disasters we could be facing in coming years. This shortfall foreshadows more premium increases, which will drag down house prices. And losses will not be borne by those residing in higher-risk areas only; they will be borne by policyholders everywhere. Thus far, housing markets have largely managed to ignore these potential exposures. Over the last three years, home prices are up around 37 percent nationwide. They are up even more in parts of Florida and the Southwest that are predicted to suffer significant impacts from a warming climate. Take Phoenix, which, by 2060, is forecast to endure 132 days each year with temperatures of over 100 degrees. Last summer, the water level in Lake Mead, a critical source of water for 25 million people in the Southwest, reached its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in 1937. And living in Phoenix requires energy-intensive amenities like air conditioning, which worsen these consequences. Yet Phoenix home prices are up 53 percent since January 2020. Why are so many home buyers putting themselves in harm’s way? The simplest explanation is that they are choosing to focus on the short-term benefits of sunny weather rather than the longer-term problems. A defining feature of the pandemic housing boom has been Americans, particularly retirees, moving southward. And with about 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day, this pattern could continue for years to come. It’s hard to make decisions based on things we haven’t experienced. But by ignoring the growing consequences of climate change, we are investing too much in potentially hazardous areas in a way that’s hard to unwind. In 50 years, the result could be miles of unlivable homes along waterfronts and in deserts. The financial consequences of these choices will be enormous, causing ripple effects through insurance markets and ultimately undermining home values. Climate risks are difficult to forecast and are increasingly correlated: From insurers’ perspectives, it’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” with heightened risks of floods, droughts, wildfires and more. To have the necessary buffer to pay out claims after catastrophic losses, insurers will need more reserves and more reinsurance, and they will pass those costs on to policyholders in the form of higher premiums. That includes policyholders who live well out of harm’s way. The year after the Marshall fire destroyed over 1,000 homes and caused over $2 billion in damage near Boulder, Colo., average premiums rose over 17 percent statewide. While insurers can choose to stop offering insurance, the homeowners and governments they leave behind will still have to deal with the risks. And as the costs go up, more households may decide to reduce their coverage or may choose to go without insurance entirely. It’s estimated that only one-third of households in flood zones have flood insurance — with many risking financial ruin if the “big one” hits. Then there’s the housing market. There is $30 trillion in housing equity in the United States, and the most important source of wealth for most American households is the home. If homeowners have to pay more in premiums, can’t obtain insurance at all or can’t find buyers because of fears about climate change, property values can erode or collapse even without a hurricane making landfall. This dynamic has already started: My research partner Philip Mulder and I found that low-lying housing markets in coastal Florida began to price sea level risk in the 2010s, leading to a roughly 5 percent discount relative to houses in similar, but less exposed, communities. Climate risks are disproportionately borne by lower-income groups and racial minorities, who may already live in riskier areas, are less likely to be insured, and may lack access to resources for pre-disaster preparation or post-disaster repairs. As some private insurers retreat from higher-risk areas, state-backed “insurer of last resort” plans are stepping into the void. The number of enrollees in these state-backed plans rose by 29 percent between 2018 and 2021. These plans are often more expensive, they offer less coverage than private insurance options, and they face the same concerns as private insurers about their ability to pay out in the event of a crisis without burdening policyholders statewide. What can be done? The government needs to ensure that insurers, both public and private, are sufficiently capitalized to withstand significant climate-related risks. One way to start is by instituting “stress tests” for housing and property markets against climate risk. As the recent experience of Silicon Valley Bank has taught us, the balance sheets of players in the market may be weaker than previously believed, given recent swings in interest rates. If balance sheets can’t cover the losses, either claims go unpaid, or the broader population is on the hook for the difference. These stress tests should consider not only a severe natural disaster scenario, but also a sharp “revaluation” event responding to a change in climate forecasts. How would coastal housing markets respond to news that ice sheets were melting faster than anticipated, leading to more rapidly rising seas? Current homeowners and those shopping for a house need to wake up. Some will undoubtedly dismiss these risks, reasoning that the impact is likely to be “beyond their investment window.” In making that assumption, however, they are ignoring that when they sell their home, they will need to find a buyer willing to bear the uncertainty. Other homeowners prefer to avoid publicizing risks that could harm their property value, abetted by uneven disclosure requirements across states. Right now, those of us who elect to live in safer communities are quietly subsidizing those who do not. Homeowners who move to areas that are likely to be significantly impacted by climate change should pay for the potential risks they are assuming. One way to do that would be to have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac incorporate climate risk into their pricing models. If you want to buy a waterfront home on Siesta Key, Fla., you will pay a higher interest rate on your mortgage, a surcharge you could reduce by climate-proofing your home. Note, however, that most climate proofing won’t help if, as scientists predict, the home is literally underwater. The government should manage expectations through better disclosure and better assessment of climate perils. An easy first step would be to make detailed risk data more accessible and interpretable. Potential property owners deserve loud and crystal-clear warnings of climate-related risks, especially if prices are not yet providing a sufficient signal on their own. Private insurers are sending a warning signal about heightened climate risks that homeowners and potential buyers need to receive. Insurers’ decisions are leaving households with fewer choices, less protection, and more financial distress. Homeowners should understand the potential hazards and find the right insurance policy or policies to protect them from harm. And they need to be aware that the costs of living in harm’s way are going to rise in coming years. An era of complacency is ending. If you decide to buy that condo where you can hear the ocean’s waves, realize that you are likely to pay more for that privilege — one way or the other.
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Previously reported –May 2022
Home insurers cut natural disasters from policies as climate risks grow
Some of the largest U.S. insurance companies say extreme weather has led them to end certain coverages, exclude natural disaster protections and raise premiums
In the aftermath of extreme weather events, major insurers are increasingly no longer offering coverage that homeowners in areas vulnerable to those disasters need most. At least five large U.S. property insurers — including Allstate, American Family, Nationwide, Erie Insurance Group and Berkshire Hathaway — have told regulators that extreme weather patterns caused by climate change have led them to stop writing coverages in some regions, exclude protections from various weather events and raise monthly premiums and deductibles. Major insurers say they will cut out damage caused by hurricanes, wind and hail from policies underwriting property along coastlines and in wildfire country, according to a voluntary survey conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a group of state officials who regulate rates and policy forms. Insurance providers are also more willing to drop existing policies in some locales as they become more vulnerable to natural disasters. Most home insurance coverages are annual terms, so providers are not bound to them for more than one year. That means individuals and families in places once considered safe from natural catastrophes could lose crucial insurance protections while their natural disaster exposure expands or intensifies as global temperatures rise. “The same risks that are making insurance more important are making it harder to get,” Carolyn Kousky, associate vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund and nonresident scholar at the Insurance Information Institute, told The Washington Post. The companies mentioned those policy changes as part of previously unreported responses to the regulatory group’s survey. The survey was distributed in 2022 by 15 states and received responses — some sent as recently as last month — from companies covering 80 percent of the U.S. insurance market. Allstate said its climate risk mitigation strategy would include “limiting new [auto and property] business … in areas most exposed to hurricanes” and “implementing tropical cyclone and/or wind/hail deductibles or exclusions where appropriate.” Nationwide has already pulled back in certain areas. The company said that in 2020, it “reduced exposure levels in some of the highest hazard wildland urban interface areas in California.” In its response to the regulators’ survey, Nationwide said it no longer underwrites coverage for “properties within a certain distance to the coastline” because of hurricane potential. Other changes will come. “More targeted hurricane risk mitigation actions are being finalized and will start by year-end 2023,” Nationwide told regulators. Berkshire Hathaway, which also offers reinsurance — insurance policies for insurance providers — wrote that increased climate disasters mean “it is possible that policy terms and conditions could be updated or revised to reflect changes in such risk.” U.S. homeowners have faced unprecedented disasters in recent weeks that have underscored the new challenges facing insurance markets. Hurricane Idalia brought severe flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas and tore through parts of Florida that had never experienced direct hits from a major storm. Tropical Storm Hilary caused $600 million in damage on the West Coast, according to Karen Clark & Co., a leading catastrophe modeling firm. The fires on the Hawaiian island of Maui, whose cause is still under investigation, led to $3.2 billion in property damage, the firm said. Those catastrophes, insurance industry insiders said, show just how quickly claims costs are escalating in the face of climate change. U.S. insurers have disbursed $295.8 billion in natural disaster claims over the past three years, according to international risk management firm Aon. That’s a record for a three-year period, according to the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
Natural catastrophes in the first six months of 2023 year in the United States caused $40 billion in insured losses, the third costliest first-half on record, Aon found. “There’s no place to hide from these severe natural disasters,” said David Sampson, president of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. “They’re happening all over the country and so insurers are having to relook at their risk concentration.” That trend is too costly, insurers contend, and necessitates rewriting policies or eliminating coverages in growing geographic areas. Rate increases for homeowners insurance are regulated by state agencies. “That can prevent firms from pricing policies that accurately reflect risk,” said Daniel Schwarcz, who studies insurance markets at the University of Minnesota Law School. Instead of setting much higher prices for policies in specific areas that might be more vulnerable — such as regions below sea level or on the edge of fire-prone areas — insurance firms must set prices that are relatively comparable across an entire state. “We’re in the business of pricing to risk,” Matt Mayrl, vice president of strategy, performance and partnerships at American Family Insurance, said in an interview. “Sometimes your price can’t match your risk.” Many of the policy changes, experts say, may be unfavorable to certain consumers but are important for the survival of the wider insurance market. Typical home insurance policies cover damage from all manner of perils, including fire and smoke, wind and hail, plumbing issues, snow and ice, and vandalism and theft. Floods are generally covered by a separate federally administered program. Under the policy changes many large insurers are reporting to regulators, firms will continue to offer baseline policies to clients in disaster-prone areas, but without protections for damage caused by those disasters. For example, a policy in a region afflicted by hurricanes may exclude coverage for wind or hail damage, or in wildfire country, a policy without fire and smoke protection. Consumers who want those coverages would need to purchase a supplemental policy or shop for insurance from another provider. “The fact that insurers have the capacity to limit their exposure or change their exposure over time means at the end of the day their concerns are not fully aligned with the concerns of their policyholders,” Schwarcz said. Representatives from Allstate and Erie declined to comment. Berkshire Hathaway and Nationwide did not respond to requests for comment. Insurance markets, especially those that serve many regions across the country, rely on relatively stable risk projections when it comes to natural disasters. By balancing wildfire risk during the late spring in the Pacific Northwest with hurricanes in the early fall in the Southeast and winter storms in the Upper Midwest, insurers can spread risk across constituencies. In theory, providers can collect monthly premiums from a broad clientele without paying out claims on too many large-scale disasters at once. But weather patterns are changing as the planet warms. “There is no wildfire season anymore — it’s year-round,” said Sampson, who is also a member of President Biden’s Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission. Major hurricanes are becoming more frequent and hold more intense rains, said Paulo Ceppi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London. Meanwhile, “tornado alley” — an area swarmed by twisters that runs from Texas and Oklahoma through Kansas and Nebraska — is moving east, according to 2018 and 2022 research published in the journals Nature and Environmental Research Communications. The variability in weather patterns means insurance companies can no longer rely on the previous risk projections that helped them make decisions. “Potential changes to the frequency and/or severity of weather-related catastrophic losses pose a risk in both the short and long term,” Nationwide wrote in its survey response. “Activity has been observed in recent years that has differed from historical norms or modeled expectations.” As insurers leave certain markets or cut certain perils out of policies, some homeowners are going without insurance. State governments have erected insurance policies of last resort. The taxpayer-backed Citizens Property Insurance in Florida was the state’s second-largest insurer in 2021 in terms of policies written, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Fourteen insurance firms have either left Florida as of April or have policy portfolios that are failing. Farmer’s, the fifth-largest homeowners’ insurance provider in the United States, said in July that it would not renew nearly a third of its policies in the Sunshine State. A state-backed policy in California, where State Farm and Allstate have withdrawn or significantly cut back on new policies, covers 3 percent of residents. But even state-backed policies must face climate risks. “When you see the insurance companies pulling out en masse because the cost of rebuilding homes in Florida is bankrupting them,” said Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, “it’s either hubris or folly to think the state wouldn’t be bankrupted stepping in to help.”
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Previously reported – January 2024
Insurance firms seek 42% rate hike for NC homes with 99% increase at coast
Insurance companies are seeking a more than 40 percent average rate increase for coverage of homes in North Carolina with much higher rates sought at the coast, according to a Friday news release from the North Carolina Department of Insurance. The North Carolina Rate Bureau, which represents companies that write insurance policies in the state, is requesting a 42.2 percent rate increase for homeowners’ insurance, the news release said. The highest rate increases — at 99.4 percent — would essentially double costs for homeowners in beach areas in Brunswick, Carteret, New Hanover, Onslow, and Pender counties, the news release indicated. Insurance companies are seeking a 39.8 percent hike for homes in Durham and Wake counties, including Raleigh and Durham. Under the proposal from the insurance companies, the rate hike would go into action on Aug. 1. An earlier rate increase request for homeowners insurance from the bureau in November 2020 was for an average hike of 24.5 percent in North Carolina. However, after a settlement with the North Carolina Department of Insurance, the overall rate increase ended up being 7.9 percent, the news release said. A public comment period is required by law to give the public time to address the proposed 42.2 percent rate increase. All public comments will be shared with the North Carolina Rate Bureau. If North Carolina Department of Insurance officials do not agree with the requested rates, the rates will either be denied or negotiated with the North Carolina Rate Bureau. If a settlement cannot be reached within 50 days, Department of Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey will call for a hearing. 

Below are the ways to provide public comments:

    • A public comment forum will be held to listen to public input on the North Carolina Rate Bureau’s rate increase request at the North Carolina Department of Insurance’s Jim Long Hearing Room on Jan. 22 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Jim Long Hearing Room is in the Albemarle Building, 325 N. Salisbury St., Raleigh, N.C. 27603.
    • A virtual public comment forum will be held simultaneously with the in-person forum on Jan. 22 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The link to this virtual forum will be:
    • Emailed public comments should be sent by Feb. 2 to an email at [email protected].
    • Written public comments must be received by Kimberly W. Pearce, Paralegal III, by Feb. 2 and addressed to 1201 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1201.

A more detailed breakdown of the list by zip codes for some areas is available from the North Carolina Department of Insurance by clicking here (pdf document).

 Territory 140 / Eastern Coastal areas of Brunswick County zip code 28462

NCRB proposed increase 71.4%

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Previously reported – November 2020
Insurance companies request rate increase for homeowners
The North Carolina Rate Bureau (NCRB) has requested a 24.5 percent statewide average increase in homeowners’ insurance rates to take effect August 2021, according to a news release issued Nov. 10 by state insurance commissioner Mike Causey. The NCRB is not part of the N.C. Department of Insurance but represents companies that write insurance policies in the state. The department can either agree with the rates as filed or negotiate a settlement with the NCRB on a lower rate. If a settlement cannot be reached within 50 days, Causey will call for a hearing. Two years ago, in December 2018, the NCRB requested a statewide average increase of 17.4 percent. Causey negotiated a rate 13.4 percentage points lower and settled with a statewide average rate increase of 4 percent. One of the drivers behind this requested increase is that North Carolina has experienced increased wind and hail losses stemming from damaging storms. A public comment period is required by law to give the public time to address the NCRB’s proposed rate increase.
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Sticker shock: NC’s insurance companies want to raise rates for coastal homeowners by 99%
Living along the coast could be about to get more expensive if the state’s insurance industry has its way. Blame increased risk from climate change and surging coastal property values
The proposed increases are eye watering. The N.C. Rate Bureau, which represents the insurance industry in the Tar Heel State, has asked state regulators to approve a massive increase in homeowner insurance rates. How big? Well, the increase would average out to about 42% statewide. But that figure, as large as it is, doesn’t encompass the hit some property owners would take, especially along the coast. Here’s a look at how badly coastal homeowners could be hit by higher insurance rates, what’s behind the industry’s logic for proposing such massive increases, and what rate hikes are consumers really likely to see.

Sticker shock
The proposal would hammer property owners in coastal areas of the Cape Fear region. The bureau has proposed an increase of 99.4% for beachfront properties in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties in the Wilmington area and Carteret County, which includes Emerald Isle. Farther up the N.C. coast, beach areas along the Outer Banks would see a 45% increase. Areas on the mainland but near the Intracoastal Waterway in the Wilmington area would see proposed increases of 71.4% for those roughly from U.S. 17 oceanward and 43% for those farther inland. The increases would be determined by a property’s ZIP code. Proposed increases in the rest of the state also would be substantial, but not as much as a gut punch for coastal homeowners in Southeastern North Carolina. In coastal areas between Morehead City and the Virginia state line, most policies would jump by roughly 25%. Farther inland, Duplin and Lenoir counties would see rates go up 71%, while Triangle homeowners would see a price increase of nearly 40%. The proposed increases around Charlotte and Asheville would be 41% and 20%, respectively. The new increase comes a little over three years after the insurance industry requested an overall average increase of 24.5%. That filing resulted in a settlement between insurers and the state for an overall average rate increase of 7.9%.

Why hit the coast so hard?
Industry officials say a lot of factors are at play that’s making insuring properties at the coast more risky and less profitable. Near the top is the inherent uncertainty and increased risk brought on by climate change. The warming weather is allowing bigger and more powerful hurricanes to threaten coastal areas up and down the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts. The changing climate, which means tropical systems can hold more moisture, travel farther inland, and threaten areas farther north, is also expanding the traditional hurricane season into the early spring and early winter periods. Flooding woes also are widening beyond traditional flood-prone areas as infrastructure is overwhelmed by periods of heavy rainfall ala Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018. Damages tied to Florence, for example, were estimated to top $22 billion in North Carolina, with much of that hitting inland areas. Jarred Chappell, chief operating officer with the rate bureau, said the increase in the number of natural disasters and the payments forked out by insurance companies in their wake is also driving up the cost of insurance that the insurance companies themselves take out to help them stay solvent during high claim events. He estimated the cost of reinsurance, the insurance for insurers, is rising at nearly 50% a year, with no one clear when the massive increases that companies have to shoulder or pass on to their customers will end. Chappell said rising costs for labor and raw materials also are making repairs more expensive, further eating into the cost for insurers. But another factor, officials say, is one that homeowners probably on one hand don’t mind seeing the rising value of coastal property. Nearly a dozen homes in New Hanover County have sold for more than $6 million, and nearly all of those sales have occurred in the past few years, according to MLS statistics. Even more “affordable” properties have seen their values surge in the lead up and through the pandemic years. Using data from the real estate website Zillow, the online data website Stacker determined that Wrightsville Beach was the North Carolina community with the fastest-growing home prices. The site said home values in the popular New Hanover County beach town averaged nearly $1.35 million in March 2023, with prices up 8.6% over one year and 82% over five years. Among other Tar Heel communities that have seen the biggest property value increases, a big chunk were other towns clustered on or near the state’s string of barrier islands. Rebuilding or repairing more valuable property is inherently more expensive. And the rising risk for insurers comes just as more and more people are deciding to give coastal living a shot. The population of New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties the Wilmington metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is forecast to increase from 450,000 in 2020 to more than 625,000 by 2040.  Other coastal areas in the South, such as Florida and South Carolina, are seeing similar population booms.

Are coastal homeowners getting picked on?
Considering other recent rate increases, a lot of residents probably feel that way. The N.C. rate bureau last summer proposed a 50.6% increase in dwelling insurance rates, which covers second homes and rental properties. While rates statewide would rise by more than half under the plan, they would increase much more near the coast. The proposed increases for extended coverage in “Territory 140,” which covers beach and coastal areas in Southeastern North Carolina, would go up more than 97% for buildings and 70% for contents. A public hearing on the proposed increases is scheduled for April 8. The federal government also is looking to “right-size” its financial liabilities in our new climate change-influenced world by significantly raising the costs of participating in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program by moving to a risk-based approach in determining premiums. First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research and technology group based in Brooklyn, New York, estimates the average flood insurance premium charged to the country’s most flood-prone homes would have to more than quadruple to make the flood program, which annually bleeds red ink, solvent and ensure homeowners are paying their fair share. Under congressional and other pressures, FEMA will now raise premiums by a maximum of 18% a year until policies meet the new rate recommendation on a property’s potential risk. Many coastal and inland areas in Southeastern N.C. are in areas where flood insurance is required if you have a mortgage.

What happens now?
Since the insurance market in North Carolina is regulated, the industry has to submit its proposed rate increases to the N.C. Department of Insurance. The review process includes a public comment period. If Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, as expected, doesn’t agree with the requested rate increases, the rates will either be denied or negotiated with industry. If a settlement cannot be reached within 50 days, the commissioner will call for a hearing. If history is any guide, the parties will likely agree on a settlement that includes a rate increase smaller than what insurers want but potentially much higher than what homeowners think they should have to shoulder. One increasing concern for state regulators is how insurance markets in other Southern coastal states are contracting and becoming more and more difficult as companies decide they would rather leave those markets, and abandon potential customers and business, than be on the hook for risky coverages where they often aren’t allowed by states to charge premiums they feel are necessary to cover their exposure risks. This is especially true in Florida and Louisiana, two other hurricane-prone states that have seen significant storm strikes and payouts by insurers in recent years.

There are four ways the public can submit their thoughts on the proposed increases.

    • A public comment forum will be held to listen to public input at the N.C. Department of Insurance’s Jim Long Hearing Room, 325 N. Salisbury St., Raleigh, on Jan. 22 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
    • A virtual public comment forum will be held simultaneously with the in-person forum on Jan. 22 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The link to this virtual forum will be:
    • Emailed public comments should be sent by Feb. 2 to: [email protected].
    • Written public comments must be received by Kimberly W. Pearce, Paralegal III, by Feb. 2 and addressed to 1201 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1201.

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Insurance Commissioner Causey, specialists visit Down East
From hurricane damage to the current proposed rate increase for homeowners insurance, having a home on the North Carolina coast often comes at a price. To help property owners better understand their current insurance and what it covers, the Down East Resilience Network, a group focused on adaptation and resiliency for the Carteret County communities, held an all-day community roundtable on insurance at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center. Insurance specialists, including Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, were invited to answer questions, and provide information. Causey told the crowd that making sure your property is more resistant to storms can help hold down insurance costs. “I think anything we can do to protect the property from wind damage, storm damage, knowing what to do before, during and after a storm is most important in saving lives and holding down our insurance costs,” Causey said, adding there are grant programs for mitigation. The about 100 who dropped by throughout Wednesday were able to speak with representatives from the state departments of Insurance and Public Safety, and the North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association, a tax-exempt coastal property insurance pool, and other insurance specialists. “I want you to understand that everyone lives in a flood zone. The level of risk varies,” Charlotte Hicks said that morning. The flood insurance consultant said that has been her mantra, “everyone is in the flood zone.” “I want you to be able to assess your risk. Make a good decision for you. Does every single person in the United States need to buy flood insurance? Probably not, but you need to know what your true level of risk is and whether or not it’s a smart decision for you to make. And I think so many people don’t realize what their risk truly is. And if they did, they would purchase flood insurance and they would not have a problem.” When asked how a homeowner can best prepare for a natural disaster, Department of Insurance Consumer Complaints Analyst Tim Crawley told Coastal Review that the “number one thing” is to have homeowners insurance in place and understand what’s covered in the policy. He also recommended making sure to keep the structure maintained and let the “cell phone be your friend.” “Use your phone take a picture of your policy” ahead of the storm, take photos around the home as a way to inventory personal property, he said. “If your house gets decimated, all those papers are gone. You can at least retrieve that from an online cloud. From a floodplain management perspective, “know your risks,” answered Eryn Futral, a National Flood Insurance Program planner with North Carolina Emergency Management, when asked how a homeowner can best prepare. “Don’t just look at the flood maps that are available. Look at the other tools that might show you different flooding scenarios depending on storm surge for the type of flooding that you have,” Futral said. Futral advised asking neighbors and other residents how high waters have been in the past and what types of storm caused flooding. She also recommended online resources such as the North Carolina Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network, or FIMAN, a flood-risk information system, and the NC Floodplain Mapping Program. Department of Insurance Regional Director Jessica Gibbs added that there is a waiting period to buy flood insurance. “Some people will try to buy it right before the hurricane hits, which is never the best.” It’s also unavailable once a storm enters a prescribed geographic window. Companies will not put new policies in effect in these situations.

Companies seek big rate hike
Causey, during his remarks, encouraged residents to submit their input during the public comment period ending Feb. 2 on the North Carolina Rate Bureau’s proposed rate increase of 42.2% statewide. The requested increase includes a 99.4% hike for beach areas in Brunswick, Carteret, New Hanover, Onslow and Pender counties. The most recent rate increase request was in November 2020, when the Rate Bureau sought an overall average increase of 24.5%. That resulted in a settlement between Causey and the Rate Bureau for an overall average rate increase of 7.9%, according to Department of Insurance website. Causey explained the rate bureau system to the 50 or so at the waterfowl museum Wednesday. The association representing insurance industry interests was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1977, and any insurance company that writes business in the state must be a member. When insurance companies want to raise rates on car or homeowners insurance, they’re required by state law to submit a rate filing to the Department of Insurance, which can be 2,000 to 3,000 pages that actuaries must then comb through. The rate bureau this year is “asking for a whopping increase on homeowners averaging 42% statewide but is almost 100% on some of our coastal areas, from Carteret down to Brunswick County,” he said. As required, the department has scheduled a public hearing for 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22, in Raleigh’s Albemarle Building. There is a virtual hearing taking place at the same time. About 6,000 people have sent letters and emails so far with their opinion on the proposed homeowners rate increase, Causey said. At the end of the roundtable Wednesday afternoon, Causey reiterated to Coastal Review that “the rate increase is a proposal, and not a done deal. We have a long way to go, and the people need to let their voices be heard.” The public can email comments to [email protected], or by mail to Kimberly W. Pearce, Paralegal III, by Feb. 2 and addressed to 1201 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1201. All public comments will be shared with the North Carolina Rate Bureau. If Department of Insurance officials do not agree with the requested rates, the rates will either be denied or negotiated with the North Carolina Rate Bureau. If a settlement cannot be reached within 50 days, the Commissioner will call for a hearing, according to a release from Causey’s office.

‘A few major factors’
North Carolina Rate Bureau Chief Operating Officer Jarrod Chappell responded to Coastal Review Wednesday in an email that the rate indications in the filing were “being driven by a few major factors reflected in the data,” including rising costs to repair homes. “We have all seen high rates of inflation in numerous aspects of our lives recently and construction supplies are not immune to that,” Chappell said. He cited rising labor costs in the construction market since the last filing and noted greater demand than supply in the construction labor market. “The largest driver overall, however, is reinsurance costs. Homeowners insurance companies must buy reinsurance to cover catastrophic claim exposures and their costs for reinsurance have risen roughly 50% per year over the last 3-4 years,” he said in the email. “This is primarily due to climate change and increased population/exposures in North Carolina. This is especially a problem in the coastal communities where they have the greatest exposure to hurricanes.” Chappell said it’s the rate bureau’s statutory responsibility to collect data from the insurance companies on any policies written in the state and use that data to determine an adequate rate that will maintain a healthy insurance market for consumers. “At this point, NCRB has supplied that data to the Commissioner of Insurance with the rate indications. The Commissioner will now review that data and ultimately determine what an appropriate rate should be. Consumers should expect to hear a response from the Commissioner within the next two months where he can either accept the changes as indicated or order a hearing to discuss it further. We have requested an August 1, 2024 effective date for the new rates, but the process often takes much longer than that,” he continued. As a homeowner, Chappell said he understands the concerns about the numbers they’re seeing in the news. He advised shopping around. “One thing people should keep in mind is that the Rate Bureau sets a base rate that insurance companies then deviate off of in order to price individual risks accordingly. What that means in the market, is that many homeowners policies are already priced with adequate rates and any change to the base rate will have little to no impact on them,” Chappell said. “We are lucky to have a very competitive insurance market in NC, because it helps keep our rates lower than many other similar states around the country. Maintaining an adequate base rate is critical to keeping that market as competitive as possible.”
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Previously reported – February 2024
Brunswick County Commissioners Send Letter to NC Insurance Commissioner on Proposed 2024 Insurance Rates

On behalf of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners, I am writing to express the Commissioners’ opposition to the North Carolina Rate Bureau’s proposed 2024 homeowner insurance rate increases. We have serious concerns that these rates will negatively impact property owners’ ability to protect their homes and assets effectively and affordably if approved.

While all the proposed rate changes for counties are significant, Brunswick County and our region are targeted with some of the highest increases compared to many of the western and central parts of the state. All three proposed rates affecting Brunswick County would exceed the state average increase of 42.2% based on the Bureau’s requested rates. Two of these rates are also the highest among all the rates proposed

      • 99.4% Proposed Increase for Beach Areas in Brunswick County
      • 71.4% Proposed Increase for Eastern Coastal Areas of Brunswick County (select zip codes)
      • 43% Proposed Increase for Western Coastal Areas of Brunswick County (select zip codes)

Concerns About Proposed Rate Increases

    • Disproportionately Impacts Seniors and Residents on a Fixed-Income. While Brunswick County is recognized as one of the fastest growing counties in the state and nation, much of that growth is due to the migration of older residents. Brunswick County currently has the highest median age in the state at 57 years and one-third (34%) of our population of 153,064 is 65 years or older. Many older and retired residents, as well as our workforce population, are on fixed incomes and are not expecting nor are able to afford such a major increase to their home insurance.
    • Detrimental to Affordable Housing and Home Ownership. Access to affordable housing is a pressing challenge for our county. Increasing insurance rates will only make it harder for individuals to afford to own a home here if insurance bills become even more expensive. It will also make it more difficult for renters who already cannot afford to own or save for a home, as the rate increases will be passed down to them through their leases.
    • Unfairly Targets Beach Community Properties. Yes, beachfront properties are susceptible to major impacts from natural disasters, but so are inland areas. Our state’s coastal communities are getting hit with the brunt of the increases despite the fact that inland counties are often just as or even more affected by damaging floods and other issues from these storms. It also appears that some inland counties that experienced damaging floods or wildfires over the past few years have not seen the same level of rate increases as what Brunswick County areas are facing.
    • More Transparency Needed in How Rates are Calculated. Based on the NC Rate Bureau’s proposal, it appears it is proposing rates to cover maximum total destruction of a property. However, not all properties’ structures are totally destroyed during weather disasters to the point they require full insurance payouts for replacement. We are curious to know what research was conducted to warrant such a drastic hike in the rates for Brunswick County properties. The Bureau must provide clearer and more transparent information on how it made these recommendations and how all types of hazards and disasters are considered statewide through the process. 

We strongly urge you to consider the short- and long-term repercussions such a drastic increase places on the property owners in Brunswick County and to advocate for more realistic and reasonable rates. We fear that many of our residents will no longer be able to afford their insurance bills and may risk their properties by opting for higher deductibles that could impede their ability to recover from damage in the future.

We appreciate your consideration of our concerns. Please reach out to me or Brunswick County’s administration with any questions on this issue.

From the Mayor’s Desk (02/02/24)

Click here to view the letter several mayors in the county sent opposing the proposed insurance rate increase. The letter details reasons for the opposition to the proposed increase. It also requests that another hearing be scheduled and the deadline for public comment be extended.

The undersigned mayors of Brunswick County strongly oppose the huge increase in property rates requested by the Insurance Bureau.

In Brunswick County, the proposed rates range from 43% to 99.4% with the rates for the majority of Brunswick County citizens ranging from 71.4% to 99.4%. When the proposed 15% increase in wind and storm insurance is added, the rates would increase from 58% to 114.4%. In their totality they are the highest rates in the State of North Carolina. We are not aware of any data that supports such a massive and punitive increase. Nothing has occurred in terms of massive losses in Brunswick County since the last increase that would justify such an increase.

The impact of this proposed increases would be particularly devastating to three at risk group of citizens in Brunswick County. First, in an area where there is a lack of affordable housing, rents would likely increase as the costs of insurance is passed on renters. Second many first time buyers and current homeowners will find these increase either foreclose the option to buy a home or afford it. As Mayors we are particularly concerned about the impact of this increase on teachers, first responders, medical personnel, government employees and service industry employees. Third, these proposed increase would impose significand hardships on the elderly who are living on fixed incomes.

In addition to opposing this increase, we urge that your staff carefully review both the proposed increases to determine the validity of the claimed justifications and their impact on the citizens of Brunswick County.

As you know, North Carolina law states that insurance rates shall not be excessive, inadequate or unfairly discriminatory. While we understand that North Carolina citizens do need access to insurance coverage, we believe that these proposed rates are excessive, discriminatory, and limit North Carolina citizens’ access to insurance.

Finally, we are concerned that there was little time to appear at the hearing or submit written comments. We respectfully request that another hearing be scheduled and the deadline for submitting written comments be extended.

N.C. Insurance Commissioner calls proposed rates ‘excessive and unfairly discriminatory’
N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey has denied a request by the North Carolina Rate Bureau to raise homeowner insurance rates by an average of 42.4 percent. The North Carolina Rate Bureau, an organization that represents insurance companies in the state, has proposed a rate increase of as high as 99.4 percent for some beach areas. “I haven’t seen the evidence to justify such a drastic rate increase on North Carolina consumers,” Causey said Tuesday. “The Department of Insurance has received more than 24,000 emailed comments on this proposal, with hundreds more policyholders commenting by mail. Scores more consumers spoke during a public comment forum. North Carolina consumers deserve a more thorough review of this proposal. I intend to make sure they get that review.” Causey, who called the proposed increases “excessive and unfairly discriminatory,” has set a hearing date for Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. State law gives the insurance commissioner 45 days to issue an order after the hearing. “Homeowners were shocked with the high amount requested by the insurance companies, and so was I,” Causey said. Last month, Causey told WECT that the office has received over 6,000 messages from groups and people in southeastern North Carolina.
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NC insurance commissioner rejects home insurance increase, court hearing set
Tuesday morning the state insurance commissioner rejected a significant rate increase as petitioned by the North Carolina Rate Bureau to the state Department of Insurance. The increase was projected to inflate by roughly 42% across North Carolina but would be significantly higher for homeowners in the coastal region — by 99%. The North Carolina Rate Bureau asked for the rates to become effective Aug. 1, 2024. The bureau represents the insurance industry to make policy suggestions to the Department of Insurance, which then negotiates with the state government. According to Causey’s office, the state has heard from around 25,000 North Carolina homeowners opposed to the hike. This doesn’t include people who spoke out at the public hearing held Jan. 22. Many listed rising costs on groceries, gas and other utilities already affecting monthly budgets. “I heard loud and clear what the public said,” Causey said Tuesday, calling the potential insurance escalation unfair and discriminatory. Locally, area government officials, including in Brunswick and New Hanover counties, signed letters sent to Causey in opposition. Brunswick County commissioners specifically said its region faced some of highest proposed increases, at 99.4% for Brunswick beach areas and 71.4% more for eastern coastal areas of the county. One concern from commissioners is the disproportionate effect it will have on seniors on a fixed income. Brunswick County has the highest median age in the state at 57 years and 34% of the roughly 150,000 population is 65 years or older. Brunswick commissioners also stated insurance increases would impact affordable housing and home ownership. Storm risk is the leading cost on insurance spikes in coastal areas, according to the rate bureau. The NCRB uses storm and climate modeling from Moody’s and Verisk credit services to inform calculations on catastrophic storm risk. COO Jared Chappell said last month those risks are trending upward. “I think it is partly due to climate change and partly also due to greater exposure at the coast,” Chappell said. “We’ve seen more and more — especially after Covid — more and more people move into the coastal areas.” Causey has issued a court hearing on the issue to take place Oct. 7 unless parties reach a settlement beforehand. The latter is normally followed so as to not pass on the costs of court to the consumer. The last time a rate increase went into effect in North Carolina was 2020. It was presented to go up by 24.5%, according to previous PCD reporting, but was negotiated down to 7.9%.
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NC has rejected the proposal to raise coastal insurance rates by 99%. Now what happens?
State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey called the proposed increase “excessive and unfairly discriminatory.” Insurance industry says climate change, inflation driving the need to raise premiums
In a move that surprised no one, N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey this month rejected a proposal by the state’s insurance industry to raise homeowner insurance premiums by 42% statewide and an eyewatering 99% in beach and coastal areas around Wilmington. “Homeowners were shocked with the high amount requested by the insurance companies, and so was I,” Causey said in a release. The rejection, however, doesn’t mean the end of the process, but just the beginning of likely negotiations between regulators and the industry that could be influenced by the upcoming November election, in which Causey is seeking re-election.

How did we get here?
The N.C. Rate Bureau, which represents the state’s insurance companies, cited two main factors for the surprisingly large rate increase proposal. First, is the rising cost of pretty much everything, including labor and potential repairs, driven by inflation and the lingering impacts of labor and material shortages tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. The other is climate change, which is causing more frequent and widespread property destruction, particularly tied to bigger and stronger hurricanes, as the warming climate fuels more severe weather events. Damages in North Carolina tied to 2018’s Hurricane Florence, for example, were estimated to top $22 billion, with much of that hitting inland areas. Two other factors also could be playing a role in the industry’s request, said Don Hornstein, an administrative and insurance law expert with the University of North Carolina School of Law. The first is the moratorium that was put into place during the pandemic on any rate increases. That left the industry going several years without seeing an increase in homeowner insurance rates even as the price of everything else increased. The last increase came in 2020, when insurance companies originally wanted to hike premiums by 24.5% but eventually agreed to settle for 7.9% after Causey rejected their initial request. But Hornstein said an equally big factor weighing on the size of the proposed rate increase is the cost of reinsurance basically insurance for the insurance companies themselves in case a large-scale disaster stretches their financial ability to respond. “These increased weather risks are international, not just in the U.S.,” he said, noting the recent massive wildfires in Europe and Australia as just two examples. “And as the risk is increasing everywhere, it works to the detriment of insurers seeking reinsurance everywhere.”

Rate increase shock
The rate bureau’s recent proposal included an increase of 99.4% for beachfront properties in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties in the Wilmington area and Carteret County, which includes Emerald Isle. Farther up the coast, beach areas along the Outer Banks would have seen a 45% increase. Areas on the mainland but near the Intracoastal Waterway in the Wilmington area would have seen proposed increases of 71.4% for those roughly from U.S. 17 oceanward and 43% for those farther inland. The increases would be determined by a property’s ZIP code. Proposed increases in the rest of the state also would be substantial, but not as much as a gut punch for coastal homeowners in Southeastern North Carolina. The reaction from the public and local officials was not surprising. “The Department of Insurance has received more than 24,000 emailed comments on this proposal, with hundreds more policyholders commenting by mail,” Causey said. “Scores more consumers spoke during a public comment forum. North Carolina consumers deserve a more thorough review of this proposal. “I intend to make sure they get that review.” 

What happens now?
As part of the process of raising rates in North Carolina’s regulated homeowner and auto insurance markets, the insurance commissioner has the right to reject the rate bureau’s proposal and schedule a hearing. Causey has done that, scheduling a hearing for Oct. 7. State law gives the insurance commissioner 45 days to issue an order once a hearing concludes, and the insurance industry always has the option of taking the issue to the courts if they reject the commissioner’s findings. But this is an election year, and Causey, a Republican, is seeking re-election. Assuming he wins the upcoming GOP primary against two other candidates, that could make his appearances during the hearing where he would likely attack the proposed rate increase as “excessive and unfairly discriminatory” as he already has a strong bully pulpit for him during the height of campaign season. Many times, though, state regulators and industry negotiate a settlement behind closed doors before a hearing. Hornstein said it’s likely the parties will talk, if they aren’t already doing so, and exchange numbers and thoughts on what kind of increase would be needed to keep the state’s insurance market competitive, profitable for companies, and attractive to new entrants. He said state regulators will have to walk a fine line in balancing the desires of property owners with the needs of industry. Otherwise, Hornstein warned, North Carolina’s insurance market could end up looking like Florida, Louisiana or even more recently California, where numerous insurance companies have decided their exposures to disasters whether hurricanes, flooding or wildfire just isn’t worth the risk and the high premiums, costing them business, they’d need to charge consumers. “If insurers don’t feel they have enough rates, they will cancel policies or pull out,” Hornstein said, noting that Nationwide declined to renew more than 10,500 policies in the state last year, mostly due to hurricane concerns. “Either they get what they think they need, or they’ll vote with their feet.”
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Previously reported – April 2024
Anti-regulation sentiment may be fueling insurance crisis
When Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey met last month in Manteo for a brief overview and Q&A with community members worried about property insurance issues, he stressed that his office had limited power over building code changes and insurance company business decisions in North Carolina that have unnerved homeowners. First of all, he said, billion-dollar losses from storms, wildfires, floods and other disasters are worldwide challenges. But the property insurance industry in the U.S., where population numbers and real estate values are often highest in the highest-risk areas, is approaching its own survival crisis. “It’s a very hard market right now across the United States,” Causey said. “Companies just don’t want to write homeowners policies.”
Confronted with looming policy price hikes and feeling powerless to stop their insurance companies from pulling out of the state, frustrated homeowners are turning to the government for solutions. “People say, ‘Why don’t you change the system?’” Causey said, responding to the audience’s questions about future insurance affordability and access. “The only group that can change that system is the legislature.” Whether Causey, a Republican who is seeking reelection to the post he’s held since 2017, is shifting blame may be debatable, but it is evident from the last legislative session that focus on property insurance viability in the state was not a priority for the North Carolina General Assembly. Rather than modernizing the state’s 15-year-old residential building codes, a step incentivized by lower property insurance costs, millions in government grants, and more resilient and efficient construction, North Carolina legislators passed a law, House Bill 488, that in much of the state banned inspection of exterior sheathing in structures exposed to winds of 140 mph or less. The bill also removed authority from the North Carolina Building Code Council, a panel of industry specialists that had been working for months on updating codes, froze the old energy-efficiency standards until 2031 and directed creation in 2025 of a new separate residential council. While the legislation is certain to deprive the state of available funds for climate resilience, it is also locking homebuyers into new housing that is built to outdated standards and thus more vulnerable to climate hazards. As a result, homebuyers will have increasingly higher utility bills, as well as structures more prone to damage in weather events, ultimately making their home more expensive to own. “Everybody’s going to be paying quite a bit more for homeowners’ insurance because … our building codes are hopelessly out of date when it comes to residential construction in some areas,” said Kim Wooten, a member of the Building Code Council and the chair of the council’s ad hoc energy committee. “The other piece of this is that North Carolina is now going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money from the federal government to increase our ability to withstand flooding from flood events, storm events, weather disaster events.” The bill also allocated about $500,000 for staff members for the new residential council, which had been part of the existing Building Code Council, she said. Wooten, who was on the panel from 2008 to 2013 before rejoining about five years ago, is an engineer. Anti-regulation sentiment in the legislature as well as persistent climate change skepticism, Wooten said, has contributed to lawmakers’ resistance to updating codes. The North Carolina Home Builders Association, which lobbied for the bill, had said that sheath inspection is unneeded and, along with energy-efficiency updates, would add an average of about $20,000 in costs to a new home. But in an independent analysis Wooten conducted as part of her role with the energy committee while reaching out to green homebuilders, industry insiders and researchers, said that energy efficiency was consistently one of the five top things homebuyers want in a home — and the costs were “nowhere near” what the homebuilders claim. “They just pulled a number out of a hat, which is the same number they pulled out of their hat five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” Wooten said. “Yeah, it’s always $20,000.” Zach Amittay, a Southeast advocate for E2, also known as Environmental Entrepreneurs, told Coastal Review that it’s understandable that the homebuilders’ group would want to protect their bottom line, but ultimately, the consumer and the taxpayer will be paying the piper. “It’s going to become more and more financially untenable for folks to be able to have insurance, and then you’re dealing with more uninsured homes and then what happens after storm damage,” he said. Less resilient construction often translates to more severe damage to both the interior and exterior, Amittay added. That leaves underinsured property owners unable to afford repairs or replacement of their home. “That’s also the kind of thing that, in my opinion, the government should be taking steps to try and protect residents from these sort of outcomes,” Amittay said. On its website, the North Carolina Home Builders Association said that “viable” code changes would have to be supported by data and follow proper processes. “We work to develop and support cost-effective and affordable building codes, standards, regulations and state legislation in the construction area,” according to the website. “While safety is our priority, proposals also have to be examined for their cost-benefit and practicality.” Typically, cities and towns in the U.S. base their building codes on recommendations that are updated every three years from the International Code Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. According to a Feb. 28 Swiss Re Institute report, at $97 billion, or 0.38% of gross domestic product, the U.S. suffers the highest economic cost “in absolute terms” from weather events in the world, mostly related to hurricanes. The Swiss Re Group is a leading global provider of reinsurance and insurance. “The first step towards cutting losses is to reduce the loss potential through adaptation measures,” the report found. “Examples of adaptation actions include enforcing building codes, increasing flood protection, while keeping an eye on settlement in areas prone to natural perils.” Each dollar invested in new building codes designed for construction that can better withstand storms can save $6 to $10 later, according to the report. “Ultimately,” the report said, “losses as a share of GDP of each country will depend on future adaptation, loss reduction and prevention.” Property owners on the Outer Banks and elsewhere on the North Carolina coast were shaken earlier this year by eye-popping proposed rate increases for homeowners insurance, averaging 42% statewide and as high as 99.4% in some coastal counties. Rates in the state are set by the North Carolina Rate Bureau, which was established as a separate entity to represent insurance companies in the state, and operates independently of the insurance commissioner. “It’s the largest rate request I’ve ever seen, (since 2017 when he took office) 42% state average, 99.4% in some counties. 25,000 letters and comments, including from associations and county boards, congressional delegations,” said Causey, who has challenged the Rate Bureau. But barring a negotiated agreement, Causey said he expects the rates will be adjudicated in court on Oct. 7. “I haven’t seen the evidence to justify such a drastic rate increase on North Carolina consumers,” Causey said in a Feb. 6 press release. Other insurance impacts weren’t as broad, but they can factor into future costs. In February 2023, Nationwide insurance had notified the state that it would not be renewing 10,525 policies in North Carolina, about half of which were related to hurricane risk, spurring homeowners’ fears of more companies fleeing. Then, in August, the legislature overturned Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of H.B. 488, allowing the building code bans to go into effect. Causey’s office had opposed the bill, and he said that his office “weighs in” on insurance company actions in the state such as Nationwide’s decision. At the same time, a volatile property insurance market can spook real estate investors, and eventually, economic stability. “It’s not going to be, ‘Can you afford it?’” Tanner Coltrain, agency manager at Farm Bureau Insurance in Swan Quarter, told Causey at the Manteo meeting, referring to insurance availability. “It’ll be, ‘Can you even buy it?’ There may be some comfort in that North Carolina has what many consider one of the most innovative programs in the nation that encompasses resilience, insurance and consumer incentives and costs in one fell swoop. The North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association, or NCIUA, offers grants up to $8,000 for eligible homeowners toward roof replacement with what’s known as a fortified roof through its Strengthen Your Roof pilot program. Studies have shown that as much as 90% of catastrophic insurance claims from storm damage are related to roof failures, and the NCIUA program has shown the effectiveness of fortifying roof construction. But despite its proven track record, funds for the program were decreased during the General Assembly’s last session. “We’re looking for the legislature to put more money into resilience,” Causey said.
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Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a hurricane as “an intense tropical weather system with a well-defined circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher.”

Be prepared – have a plan!

For assistance with making an emergency plan read more here »
. 1) FEMA Ready
. 2) American Red Cross Disaster and Safety Library
. 3) ReadyNC
. 4) Town Emergency Information
. 5) HBPOIN Hurricane Emergency Plan

For more information » click here

If the Town declares a mandatory evacuation, PLEASE LEAVE
General Assembly during the 2012 Session, specifically authorizes both voluntary and mandatory evacuations, and increases the penalty for violating any local emergency restriction or prohibition from a Class 3 to a Class 2 misdemeanor. Given the broad authority granted to the governor and city and county officials under the North Carolina Emergency Management Act (G.S. Chapter 166A) to take measures necessary to protect public health, safety, and welfare during a disaster, it is reasonable to interpret the authority to “direct and compel” evacuations to mean ordering “mandatory” evacuations. Those who choose to not comply with official warnings to get out of harm’s way, or are unable to, should prepare themselves to be fully self-sufficient for the first 72 hours after the storm.

No matter what a storm outlook is for a given year,

vigilance and preparedness is urged.

Previously reported – April 2022
Scientists predict seventh straight above-average hurricane season

Researchers at Colorado State University are calling for 19 named Atlantic storms, including nine hurricanes
Researchers at Colorado State University are calling for the seventh consecutive above-average Atlantic hurricane season. The scientists, who study large-scale features of the atmosphere and the ocean, are already spotting signs that point to a season even busier than that of 2021. It’s their 39th year issuing preseason forecasts. Their outlook, published Thursday morning, calls for 19 named storms, compared with a recent average of 14.4. The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season produced 21 named storms, third most on record, exhausting all of the names of the National Hurricane Center’s conventional naming list. Although Colorado State is predicting two fewer storms this year, it is calling for a more active season in terms of metrics that take into account storm intensity and duration. “The team predicts that 2022 hurricane activity will be about 130% of the average season from 1991-2020,” the outlook states. “By comparison, 2021’s hurricane activity was about 120% of the average season.” The outlook also calls for a 71 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall somewhere on U.S. soil. Major hurricanes are those that reach Category 3 strength or greater, containing maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or more. The risk of a major hurricane along the East and Gulf coasts and in the Caribbean is substantially elevated, compared with the 1990 to 2020 average, the outlook said. Unusually warm sea surface temperatures and the lack of an El Niño pattern are among the factors influencing the university’s outlook. The team uses a statistical model based on 25 to 40 years’ worth of data.

What to expect
The past five years have featured a slew of landfalling major hurricanes — eight to be exact. Harvey, Irma, and Maria terrorized the United States in 2017, Florence and Category 5 Michael lashed the nation in 2018, Laura and Zeta in 2020 and Ida in 2021. Since 2016, a half-dozen Category 5 hurricanes have roamed the Atlantic. Every year since 2016 has fallen into the anomalously active or hyperactive categories from a standpoint of ACE, or Accumulated Cyclone Energy — a measure of how much energy storms expend on their winds. By the books, hurricane season starts on June 1, but NOAA has considered shifting the advertised start date to May 15 in the face of recent trends and early season tempests.

The Colorado State outlook, headed by researcher Philip Klotzbach, calls for the following:

  • 19 named storms, including tropical storms and hurricanes. The average for a season is 14.4. It’s worth noting that named storms can occur anywhere in the Atlantic basin, and the number has no bearing on how many make landfall — or where.
  • 9 hurricanes, more than the seasonal average of 7.2. Hurricanes have winds of 74 mph or greater.
  • 4 major hurricanes, or those whose winds reach Category 3 strength or greater. That’s more than the average of 3.2 major Atlantic hurricanes per season.
  • A 47 percent chance that the East Coast gets hit by a major hurricane, with a 46 percent chance for the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Tex. That’s more than 1.5 times the average likelihood.

The average ACE for a season is also 132, but this year Klotzbach and his team are predicting hurricanes will rack up 160 units of ACE. That’s 21 percent more than a typical season.

Why an active season?
No matter how you slice it, Atlantic hurricane season 2022 is looking to be extra busy. Why? The Colorado State researchers cite a lack of El Niño. Currently, a La Niña is dominating weather patterns across the Western Hemisphere. Characterized by a cooling of water temperatures in the east tropical Pacific, La Niña weakens high-altitude winds from the east in the tropical Atlantic. That reduces wind shear, or a change of wind speed and/or direction with height. Wind shear has a tendency to tear apart fledgling tropical systems, so a lack of wind shear can encourage nascent storms to blossom. A dearth of wind shear is integral in supporting the rapid intensification of tropical systems. Hurricane researcher Kim Wood, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Mississippi State University, was not surprised by the forecast. In a
recent paper, she, Klotzbach and colleagues analyzed hurricane activity over the past 32 years and found conditions have leaned more toward a La Niña state, which has aided active hurricane seasons in recent years in the North Atlantic. La Niña conditions were present in 2020 and 2021, bolstering very active seasons with destructive Category 4 hurricanes such as Iota, which slammed Central America, and Ida, which caused massive destruction along the Gulf Coast of the United States. However, the fact that La Niña could persist for a third year in a row is very rare. In fact, a La Niña three-peat has occurred only twice before in record-keeping back to 1950. Projections call for La Niña to weaken and relax to “ENSO-neutral” conditions during the summertime — but, so long as El Niño doesn’t materialize to kick up wind shear, an average or above-average season should prevail. Sea surface temperatures across the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean are running a general 1 to 5 degrees above average, too, which translates to considerably more “ocean heat content” to fuel tropical systems. Of course, it remains to be seen whether waters remain that unusually warm in the months ahead. Low wind shear and unusually warm waters could later prove a recipe for rapidly intensifying storms. Wood and her colleagues found high-end rapid intensification events, during which tropical cyclones increased by at least 57 mph (50 knots) in 24 hours, have increased significantly in frequency over the past three decades — probably caused in large part by human-induced climate change. Researchers also previously found climate change has caused hurricanes to move slower and drop more rain in a concentrated area, such as the case with Hurricane Florence in North Carolina in 2018 or Harvey in Texas in 2017. Rising sea levels also worsen storm surges, which can cause more flooding and infrastructure damage. “More and more people are living close to the coast, and thus we’re just increasing our vulnerability to these storms,” Wood said. “Even if there’s just one [storm] that makes landfall this year, that’s going to be a big one for whoever lives there.” AccuWeather, the State College, Pa.-based private forecasting company, has also issued an Atlantic hurricane season outlook and is calling for 16 to 20 named storms and six to eight hurricanes, very much in line with Colorado State. 2022′s first storm, once it’s named, will be called Alex. Should all of the 21 names on the National Hurricane Center’s list be used, forecasters will turn to a supplemental list set of names. The supplemental list was developed after the record-setting 2020 hurricane season, in which 30 named storms formed, forcing forecasters to use Greek letters after 21 storms had earned names. Colorado State has evaluated the accuracy of its seasonal hurricane forecasts, made in April, since it began issuing them in 1984. Through 2013, the forecasts did not offer much predictive skill. However, it says its forecasts “have shown considerable improvement in recent years.”
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Know your hurricane risk, FEMA, NOAA encourage
When it comes to hurricanes, it’s important to be prepared and know your risk. That was the message federal officials delivered Wednesday during a press conference from the annual National Hurricane Conference taking place this week in Orlando, Florida. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham encouraged the public to prepare for more intense storms. The conference is a national forum for federal, state and local officials to work together to improve hurricane preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation in the United States and Caribbean and Pacific tropical islands. Criswell explained that while the conference is an opportunity for emergency management professionals to share lessons learned from the past. More importantly, she said, it’s time to start thinking about what is going to be experienced in the future. In recent years, hurricanes have intensified, giving emergency managers less time to warn their constituents to prepare. The storms are stronger, lasting longer at higher durations over land, impacting coastal communities and inland too. This is going to continue, she said. Residents most need to understand their risk, she added. “What is the risk in the area that you are at if you are on the coast or if you are inland? And then do you have a plan to protect your family against that risk? Do you know how you’re going to evacuate? Do you know where you’re going to go? Do you know how you’re going to communicate to your family members that live outside of the area so you can let them know that you’re safe,” Criswell said. And of course, don’t forget pets. Make sure to have the same supplies you’d have for rest of your family. Graham reiterated the need for a plan. “you can’t make your plan during the storm. You’ve got to do it early,” he said, because sometimes the timeline of a tropical storm reaching land is short. “have that plan ready to go, ready to implement.” Criswell said that if relocating to a new area, learn what the risks are, such as hurricanes or tornadoes. “Individuals need to be deliberate about that. You need to understand what your risk is and if you have not been in that situation before there are a lot of resources out there,” she said, and has a wealth of information. Graham added that if you don’t know what to do when a hurricane comes, then ask. “If you don’t know, ask … know that risk,” he said. “Because being prepared is everything.” Many don’t want to evacuate during a hurricane and that mentality is hard to change, Criswell said. “I think that we get the most increase in the level of preparedness and communities immediately after a disaster,” she said, but the longer between storms, the more comfortable residents get with the idea that they can withstand the storm. “It worries me because we are seeing right now these natural weather events that are getting more severe, they’re stronger, they’re lasting longer. They’re intensifying more rapidly. And so, where in the past maybe communities and individuals would wait things out,” she said. “We as an emergency management profession and a community we have to continue to help people understand what these threats are. We need to provide the resources for them to learn about their threats as well.” Graham pointed out the need to communicate. “You can have a perfect forecast, but it doesn’t do much good if it’s not understood and it’s not actionable.” His office has different professionals, such as meteorologists and social scientists, to help communicate. Criswell continued that there can’t be a one-size-fits-all type of messaging. For the first time last year, FEMA created a culturally specific preparedness campaign for preparedness month focusing on the Hispanic community. Graham said what worries him sometimes are areas that historically have a lot of strong storms and just because it didn’t happen in the last couple of years doesn’t mean it can’t happen this year. So, the complacency part of it is worries me.” Criswell echoed Graham, saying it’s the complacency that really worries her. “I worry about those communities and our ability again — because of the rapid intensification of these storms — our ability to get messaging out to those communities so they can make timely decisions to either evacuate or stay in place to protect their families,” she said. “We’ve got to be able to communicate to those individuals that aren’t necessarily taking it as serious as they could or should” because disasters don’t discriminate. “We all have to take it seriously. Storms are getting worse. They’re getting worse. They’re causing more destruction. They are intensifying more rapidly. We’re going to have less time to warn people so they can take appropriate measures. We’ll have to take it seriously,” she said.
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Previously reported – April 2022
NOAA predicts above-normal 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season
Ongoing La Niña, above-average Atlantic temperatures set the stage for busy season ahead
Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, are predicting above-average hurricane activity this year — which would make it the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season. NOAA’s outlook for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which extends from June 1 to November 30, predicts a 65% chance of an above-normal season, a 25% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season. For the 2022 hurricane season, NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence.

2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

“Early preparation and understanding your risk is key to being hurricane resilient and climate-ready,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “Throughout the hurricane season, NOAA experts will work around-the-clock to provide early and accurate forecasts and warnings that communities in the path of storms can depend on to stay informed.” The increased activity anticipated this hurricane season is attributed to several climate factors, including the ongoing La Niña that is likely to persist throughout the hurricane season, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds and an enhanced west African monsoon. An enhanced west African monsoon supports stronger African Easterly Waves, which seed many of the strongest and longest lived hurricanes during most seasons. The way in which climate change impacts the strength and frequency of tropical cyclones is a continuous area of study for NOAA scientists. “As we reflect on another potentially busy hurricane season, past storms — such as Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the New York metro area ten years ago — remind us that the impact of one storm can be felt for years,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “Since Sandy, NOAA’s forecasting accuracy has continued to improve, allowing us to better predict the impacts of major hurricanes to lives and livelihoods.”

Additionally, NOAA has enhanced the following products and services this hurricane season:

“Hurricane Ida spanned nine states, demonstrating that anyone can be in the direct path of a hurricane and in danger from the remnants of a storm system,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “It’s important for everyone to understand their risk and take proactive steps to get ready now by visiting and for preparedness tips, and by downloading the FEMA App to make sure you are receiving emergency alerts in real-time.” NOAA’s outlook is for overall seasonal activity and is not a landfall forecast. In addition to the Atlantic seasonal outlook, NOAA has also issued seasonal hurricane outlooks for the eastern Pacific and central Pacific hurricane basins. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center will update the 2022 Atlantic seasonal outlook in early August, just prior to the historical peak of the season.
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NOAA forecasts seventh straight busy Atlantic hurricane season
The agency predicted 14 to 21 named storms, 6 to 10 hurricanes and 3 to 6 major hurricanes
The siege of active Atlantic hurricane seasons will continue for yet another year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted Tuesday. In its annual seasonal outlook, the agency forecast the seventh straight above-normal Atlantic season, with 14 to 21 named storms — compared with 14 in an average year — and three to six major hurricanes, rated Category 3 or higher. Major hurricanes are of particular concern, as they tend to rapidly intensify, or increase by 35 mph or more in wind strength in 24 hours — leaving coastal residents with little time to prepare. These major storms are responsible for the overwhelming majority of damage because of wind and ocean surge, the rise of water above normally dry land at the coast. Scientists have observed an increase in rapidly intensifying hurricanes over the past few decades, linked to warming ocean waters from human-caused climate change. NOAA’s outlook for another busy season follows a devastating period of heightened storm activity in the Atlantic. The 2021 season produced 21 named storms, the third-most on record, exhausting all of the names of the National Hurricane Center’s conventional naming list. In 2020, a record 30 named storms formed. The two seasons combined produced the most landfalling storms on record in the United States. The United States saw more Category 4 and 5 hurricane landfalls from 2017 to 2021 than from 1963 to 2016. Every year since 2016 has generated above-average activity in the Atlantic, with five Category 5 storms roaming the basin over that period. A seemingly relentless parade of major hurricanes — including Harvey, Irma, Michael, Laura, Zeta and Ida — lashed the beleaguered Gulf Coast during the six-year window. The effects of Hurricane Ida last year were so severe — from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast — that the World Meteorological Organization retired Ida from the rotating list of hurricane names. The storm caused 96 deaths as it tracked from Louisiana to Connecticut and was blamed for $75 billion in damage, the fifth-costliest hurricane on record in the United States. Ida, which caused catastrophic flooding in the Northeast — including New York City — demonstrated how tropical systems can inundate communities hundreds of miles from where they first come ashore. Inland flooding has become the leading cause of fatalities from tropical weather systems in recent years. Scientists have also found human-caused climate change is intensifying heavy rainfall in these tropical systems. NOAA released its outlook at a news conference in New York, commemorating 10 years since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the region in 2012. Sandy, blamed for $80 billion in damage, is listed as the fourth-costliest tropical system on record. Sandy was transitioning from a hurricane to a “post-tropical cyclone” when it slammed the Northeast with a massive storm surge, torrential rain and huge swath of damaging winds. “As we saw from Sandy, it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane to cause such devastation to communities,” said Christina Farrell, New York City emergency management first deputy commissioner.

NOAA’s forecast and a trend toward better accuracy
Hurricane outlooks made in the spring have shown considerable improvement over the past decade after not exhibiting much accuracy from the 1980s through about 2013, according to researchers at Colorado State University. Here are the numbers from NOAA’s outlook:

    • 14 to 21 named storms, compared with an annual average of 14.4.
    • Six to 10 hurricanes, compared with an annual average of 7.2.
    • Three to six major hurricanes, compared with an annual average of 3.2.

NOAA’s outlook stated there is a 65 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season and a 10 percent chance that it will be below normal. NOAA’s outlook echoes those made by several research institutions and private companies. Colorado State University, for example, is predicting 19 named storms, with a 71 percent likelihood that the United States will be hit by a major hurricane. Similarly, AccuWeather, the private forecast company based in State College, Pa., is calling for 16 to 20 named storms.

While seasonal hurricane forecasts have improved, predictions of storms once they form have made even greater strides. The National Hurricane Center’s track forecasts have steadily improved, and its average storm intensity forecast error is now 40 percent less than it was in 2000. Rick Spinrad, NOAA’s administrator, anticipates additional gains. “NOAA will triple operational supercomputing capacity this summer,” Spinrad said at Tuesday’s news conference. “This upgrade will allow for higher-resolution earth models that can handle larger ensembles of models with more numerous calculations, more advanced physical considerations and more advanced ability to assimilate the data collected out in the storm.” To improve its predictions, NOAA is also operating five Saildrones — uncrewed vehicles on the ocean’s surface — to probe conditions; extending forecasts for extreme rainfall potential three to five days into the future; and introducing a product to pinpoint where the peak surge will occur when a storm is approaching the coast.

Signs of a busy season
Many indicators point toward the high probability of a busy season. The position of several key atmospheric features are noteworthy, and the ocean appears primed to support significant storms.

Among the elements being monitored are:

Sea surface temperatures. Hurricanes thrive when water temperatures reach the lower to mid-80s. Hurricanes are heat engines, extracting thermal energy from “oceanic heat content.” A greater, deeper reservoir of exceptionally mild ocean water translates to more fuel to generate or sustain a hurricane.

  • Water temperatures throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic are running 1 to 3 degrees above average. The unusually warm water boosts the “potential intensity,” or maximum theoretical strength, a hurricane can achieve.

The loop current. Some researchers say unusually high temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico loop current are an ominous sign for the season ahead. The loop current is a warm-core eddy that meanders north of the Florida Straits and Yucatán Peninsula. The current could give storms an extra boost if they cross over it — but it’s one piece in a much larger atmospheric puzzle.

La Niña. La Niña is a dropping of sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific. It sets in motion a chain-reaction process that favors increased Atlantic hurricane activity. Specifically, it cools the air over that relative temperature minimum in the eastern Pacific, spurring sinking motion there. That makes it easier for air over the Atlantic to rise and feed big storms.

Wind shear. Wind shear is a change of wind speed or direction with height. Too much shear can disrupt a fledgling storm’s circulation and tear it apart before it has the opportunity to organize. Shear can also spell the demise of a strong hurricane.

  • During La Niña summers, there’s typically a reduction in wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. That will make it easier for hurricanes to form and remain stronger for longer.

NOAA’s outlook also pointed to “an enhanced African monsoon,” which supports more disturbances from Africa entering Atlantic waters, where they can develop into storms.

Hurricane seasons officially begins June 1
The first storm of 2022, once it’s named, will be called Alex. Should all 21 names on the National Hurricane Center’s list be used, forecasters will turn to a supplemental list set of names. The supplemental list was developed after the record-setting 30 storms in 2020 that led forecasters to use Greek letters after 21 storms had earned names. In recent years, an uptick in early-season storminess has been noted. NOAA has considered moving the “official” start of Atlantic hurricane season from June 1 to May 15, reflecting observed trends in a warming world. That would also match the May 15 start date of hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific. Irrespective of how many storms form, every year forecasters stress that it takes only one storm to have a memorable and potentially devastating impact on a community. In early May, the Hurricane Center led a public awareness campaign to urge preparedness for the upcoming season. “Early preparation and understanding your risk is key to being hurricane-resilient and climate-ready,” said Gina Raimondo, secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA.
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2022 Atlantic hurricane season to be above average: NOAA
The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins next week, is predicted to have above-average activity, with a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Rick Spinrad announced the initial outlook Tuesday during a news conference at New York City Emergency Management Department in Brooklyn, New York. Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, made the prediction for the season, June 1 to Nov. 30. Spinrad said the 2022 prediction will make the seventh consecutive year of an above-normal season. “Specifically, there’s a 65% chance of an above-normal season, a 25% chance of a near-normal season, a 10% chance of below-normal season.” Averages for the Atlantic hurricane season are 14 named storms and seven hurricanes. Of those, the average for major hurricanes at a Category 3, 4 or 5, is three. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center uses 1991 to 2020 as the 30-year period of record to determine averages. For the range of storms expected, Spinrad explained that forecasters call for a 70% probability of 14 to 21 named storms, with top winds of at least 39 miles per hour. Of these, six to 10 will become hurricanes with top winds of at least 74 miles per hour, and of those, three to six major hurricanes will be categories 3, 4 or 5 with top winds of at least 111 miles per hour. NOAA’s outlook is for overall seasonal activity and is not a landfall forecast. The Climate Prediction Center will give an update in early August before peak season, officials said. NOAA officials attribute the increase in activity to many factors, such as the ongoing La Niña. La Niña is the cool phase of the Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, cycle. ENSO is a three-phase recurring climate pattern that has a strong influence on weather across the United States. The other two phases are neutral and El Niño, the warm phase that suppresses hurricane activity in the Atlantic. La Niña enhances it. Other factors officials point to are warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon, which supports stronger African Easterly Waves that seed many of the strongest and longest-lived hurricanes during most seasons. “The way in which climate change impacts the strength and frequency of tropical cyclones is a continuous area of study for NOAA scientists,” according to NOAA. Rick Luettich, director of the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences based in Morehead City and a coastal physical oceanographer, told Coastal Review Tuesday that he thinks this forecast by NOAA is not a surprise at all. “And I think we have to expect that it’s likely to hold true.” While the range of 14 to 21 storms is broad, Luettich thinks there will be at least the 14 storms “and whether or not we stop at 21 remains to be seen. But it looks like we’ll get through most of the alphabet again this year.” He noted that NOAA’s predictions are not substantially different from those announced a few months ago by Colorado State University researchers, who predicted 19 named storms this year. Of those, nine are predicted to become hurricanes with four to reach major hurricane strength at sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater. North Carolina State University researchers also predicted in April a similar amount of 17 to 21 named storms for this year. Luettich explained that the main thing that keeps storms, which pull heat from the ocean, from fully forming is wind shear, or the variation in wind from the surface up into the atmosphere. “If there’s a strong difference between the winds high aloft and the winds closer to the surface then that difference tends to stretch and pull and tear apart the storms,” he said. If the wind shear is weak then there’s not much to keep the storm from forming. “Wind shear tends to be much stronger in years when we have an El Niño,” Luettich said, but this year looks to be a moderate La Niña new year. The ENSO cycle most directly impacts whether or not there are a large number of storms, small number or somewhere in between. “The combination of a warm ocean and limited or little wind shear drives the large numbers of storms in the predictions.” The La Niña/El Niño cycle is what allows storms to get fully going and manifest or is what tears them apart. “And from year to year, it changes,” he added. He did point out that being in the third consecutive year of a La Niña cycle is unusual. Between plenty of energy in the ocean and weak wind shear, this is likely to be another year of substantial and strong storms. As the storm predictions relate to climate change, “if you look at the long-term temperature records you can see in both the atmosphere and the ocean there is a steady increase in the Earth’s temperature,” he said. Climate change is causing energy in the ocean to increase and more precipitation, leading to storms traveling slower and allowing more time for rainfall in an area. However, it’s a little less clear how the ENSO cycle is affected by climate change. “There are suggestions that in a warming climate the La Niñas and El Niños may be stronger when they occur, but I’m not aware that there’s a really good consensus or understanding of whether they’re likely to be more frequent,” he said, adding it’s just not clear how climate change will affect the ENSO cycle.

On the North Carolina coast
Erik Heden, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in the Newport/Morehead City area, explained in an interview Tuesday that his office doesn’t focus on NOAA’s initial outlook during any given year because “it doesn’t tell us whether or not our area will be impacted by storms. We try to shift the focus toward preparation each and every year since we live in an area that is vulnerable.” He urges residents and visitors that if there is a hurricane forecast that impacts their area, don’t focus on the category of the storm. “The category is only related to wind speed. It says nothing about how much rain will fall, how long the storm will remain over us, how large the storm is,” he said. “Remember Hurricane Florence was ‘only’ a category 1 storm when it made landfall. Cyclones have multiple threats that include storm surge, flooding, rip currents, tornadoes and wind.” Heden urges residents and visitors to follow official resources such as the weather office for your area or the National Hurricane Center. If your area is forecast to be near, not just in, the forecast cone, or cone of uncertainty, you should be preparing for the storm. The forecast cone only shows the most likely path for just the center of the storm. A storm is not a dot on the map and impacts occur well away from the center,” he said. For example, the center of Florence in 2018 hit near Wilmington, “but we all saw major impacts from the storm.” Heden explained that preparation has three steps. The first is to determine your risk, based on where you live, from all five tropical cyclone threats: storm surge, flooding, rip currents, winds and tornadoes. Second, have a hurricane plan and determine where you will evacuate if necessary. Don’t forget your pets. Third, make a hurricane kit. The kit should contain enough food, water and medicine to last at least three days, but ideally up to a week. If cost is a concern, spread it out and buy a few items each shopping trip. Heden said his office is hosting a series of community forums on hurricanes, the first of which will be held 5-8 p.m. June 14 at Holly Ridge Community Center, 404 Sound Road, Holly Ridge. The next forum will be held 10 a.m. to noon June 21 in Pine Knoll Shores town hall. Two will be offered in late July on the Outer Banks. Locations will be announced.

State urges residents prepare now
Keith Acree, communications officer with North Carolina Emergency Management, told Coastal Review on Tuesday that the state and local governments make sure they are prepared for each hurricane season. “North Carolina Emergency Management recently hosted the statewide hurricane exercise, where the State Emergency Response Team and its federal, state, local government and private-sector partners practiced response coordination and communications,” he said. “Helicopter, boat and land search and rescue teams recently held large scale exercises at the coast and in the mountains, in advance of hurricane season.” Acree said residents of North Carolina’s coastal counties should learn if they’re in a predetermined evacuation zone by visiting “Remember your zone and listen for it when evacuations are ordered.” He said residents should prepare by having an emergency kit with basic supplies included and have a plan to stay with family or friends, or at a hotel if you need to evacuate. “A public shelter should be your last resort, not a primary evacuation option. Offer your home to family or friends as a safe place if they need to evacuate, and you don’t,” he said.

Acree also recommends having multiple ways to receive weather alerts, watches and warnings. Install a weather alert app on your cell phone or get NOAA Weather Alert Radio for your home. Lastly, remember that hurricanes and tropical storms can affect the entire state. Residents in Haywood and surrounding counties in Western North Carolina are still recovering from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred, a Gulf Coast storm that moved across the state’s mountains last year, causing catastrophic floods along the Pigeon River killing six people, he explained. “It only takes one storm that strikes your community to make a really bad hurricane season for you,” Acree said. “Now is the time for North Carolinians to prepare for hurricane season.”
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Previously reported – July 2022

2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

Weather Permitting: Hurricane season has been quiet so far in 2022.
Will it stay that way?
About a month ago, it seemed the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season was off and running. From the Carolinas to Central America, tropical storms were slogging ashore, with a seemingly endless freight train of low-pressure systems chugging across the Atlantic. Fast-forward to early August. No hurricanes, no storms. Not even a promising swirl for Hurricane Hunters to check out over the past month. It’s like someone pulled the tropical plug. For only the fourth time in the past 30 years, the stretch from July 4 to Aug. 4 has passed without any named storm activity. The tropics, it seems, are drier than the Baptist state convention. Were all the dire predictions of another hyperactive hurricane season just a lot of hot air? Or have weather enthusiasts just been spoiled by the nonstop tropical spin-ups we’ve seen over the past couple of years? The answer is probably a little bit of both. This 2022 season is the first in the past five years that got to August without at least one hurricane forming. And in the last 30 years, only four seasons have been storm-free from July 4 through Aug. 4: 1993, 1999, 2000 and 2009. Remember this week two years ago? The Cape Fear region was bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias — the ninth named storm of the season. Another storm, Hanna, had already become the first hurricane of the season, and by the end of the year, the National Hurricane Center was deep into the Greek alphabet of storm names. Last year saw another batch of storms — but oddly there was a four-week breather during July into August as well. That rest was rudely ended when a trio of named storms — Fred, Gracie and Henri — all dropped off the African coast within a few days of each other. The 2021 season went on to feature 21 named storms. So, we’ve been conditioned over the last couple of years to expect a parade of storms, especially with conditions that are conducive to development. A continuing La Nina, with above-average sea temperatures, would bode well for storm formation. And, as the hurricane season shifts from “homegrown” systems to the long-tracking Cape Verde storms, all eyes turn to the west coast of Africa. What we’ve seen for the last couple of weeks has been surprising. An extreme layer of bone-dry, dusty Sahara Desert air has cloaked the eastern Atlantic, choking potential storms as they wade off the coast. This dust cloud is a common summer feature, but it has been particularly potent during July. In addition, strong low-level winds have helped rip potential systems apart, and sinking air west of Africa prevents the towering storm clouds we associate with tropical systems. It doesn’t matter how warm the water is if the storms can’t use it. And right now, conditions in the central Atlantic are downright hostile.
What’s next
Will things stay that way? Not likely. Already there are indications that the Sahara Dust Layer is beginning to ease. As sea temperatures continue to creep up, sinking air should become less of an issue. And the wave train off Africa shows no sign of stopping. A few past “slow start” seasons may offer a hint for this year: The 2019 season saw an equally quiet start, with the Atlantic producing only a “C” storm (Chantal) by mid-August. A week later, the gates opened, and 2019 ended up with 18 named storms. In 2010, Tropical Storm Colin didn’t arrive until the first week of August, another slow start to the season. However, by the end of the month, two Category 4 storms formed (Danielle and Earl) and the season ended up with 19 named systems. Finally, the “slow start” season of 1999 made its mark on North Carolina. By early August, only one named storm had formed. By the end of the season, five Category 4 storms had formed, and two (Dennis and Floyd) teamed up that September to produce devastating floods in eastern North Carolina. And, for those keeping track, 1999 was another La Nina year. So, while things may seem quiet in the Atlantic, we’re actually not that far off the 30-year average for hurricanes. August is the traditional first month for hurricanes to form, with early September the peak of the season. Keep an eye on conditions in the Central Atlantic starting in mid-August. I think we’ve got a long way to go. Stay tuned!
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2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

NOAA still expects above-normal Atlantic hurricane season
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather experts still expect the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season to have above-normal activity. NOAA released Thursday its annual mid-season update to the 2022 outlook issued in May by the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. Since the May report, which covers the six-month hurricane season that began June 1 and ends Nov. 30, forecasters have slightly decreased the likelihood of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season from 65% to a 60% chance. Meanwhile, the likelihood of near-normal activity has risen to 30% and the chances remain at 10% for a below-normal season. NOAA’s update to the 2022 outlook calls for 14-20 named storms, which have winds of 39 mph or greater. Six to 10 of those named storms could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or greater. Of those, three to five could become major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or greater. NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence. “We’re just getting into the peak months of August through October for hurricane development, and we anticipate that more storms are on the way,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, in a statement. Erik Heden, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office for Morehead City, told Coastal Review Monday that the peak of hurricane season is not until around Sept. 10. “Typically, the season really doesn’t get going until later in August through October. It’s too early to let our guard down, we aren’t even close to the typical peak yet,” he said. “Lastly, it only takes one storm to make a difference in your lives. Take this quiet time in the season to finish your hurricane kit and plan.” He recommended visiting for help with a hurricane kit and plan. Heden said his office is offering more hurricane talks ahead, including one at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Emerald Isle board meeting room, 7500 Emerald Drive, and 6 p.m. Aug. 16 in North Topsail Beach Town Hall, 2008 Loggerhead Court. Sign up to virtually attend the North Topsail Beach talk. Two talks are planned for later this month on the Outer Banks, as well. “Communities and families should prepare now for the remainder of what is still expected to be an active hurricane season,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service. “Ensure that you are ready to take action if a hurricane threatens your area by developing an evacuation plan and gathering hurricane supplies now, before a storm is bearing down on your community.”So far, the season has seen three named storms and no hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin. An average hurricane season produces 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. The outlook is for overall seasonal activity and is not a landfall forecast. Landfalls are largely governed by short-term weather patterns that are currently only predictable within about one week of a storm potentially reaching a coastline, according to NOAA. “I urge everyone to remain vigilant as we enter the peak months of hurricane season,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “The experts at NOAA will continue to provide the science, data and services needed to help communities become hurricane resilient and climate-ready for the remainder of hurricane season and beyond.” There are several atmospheric and oceanic conditions that still favor an active hurricane season. This includes La Niña conditions, which are favored to remain in place for the rest of 2022 and could allow the ongoing high-activity era conditions to dominate, or slightly enhance hurricane activity. In addition to a continued La Niña, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, an active west African Monsoon and likely above-normal Atlantic sea-surface temperatures set the stage for an active hurricane season and are reflective of the ongoing high-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes. NOAA’s hurricane science and forecasting information is available at Hurricane Season Media Resource Guide and the National Hurricane Center provides the latest on tropical storm and hurricane activity in the Atlantic. “Although it has been a relatively slow start to hurricane season, with no major storms developing in the Atlantic, this is not unusual  and we therefore cannot afford to let our guard down,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. She recommends being proactive by downloading the FEMA app and visiting or for preparedness tips. “And most importantly, make sure you understand your local risk and follow directions from your state and local officials.”
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Previously reported – November 2022
How Rare Are November Hurricanes?
November hurricanes and tropical storms such as Nicole are relatively rare, but they can—and do—form
November weather in most of North America is synonymous with chilly breezes rustling through red, yellow and orange leaves as fall edges closer to winter. It’s generally not a time people associate with destructive tropical cyclones churning toward the U.S.—but that’s exactly what is happening as Tropical Storm Nicole bears down on Florida, where it is expected to make landfall as a hurricane. Though such tropical systems are less common at this time of year, the official Atlantic hurricane season actually lasts through November 30. And storms can form even after that point, as notably happened during the blockbuster 2005 season when Tropical Storm Zeta shockingly formed on December 20 and lasted until January 6. Hurricane season, which begins on June 1, brackets the time of year when atmospheric and ocean conditions are most suitable for storm formation. The season peaks sharply from the end of August through early October, when ocean warmth at end of summer coincides with wind conditions that are generally more favorable to storm formation. Storm activity “starts to decline pretty quickly once November 1 hits,” says Jill Trepanier, a hurricane researcher at Louisiana State University. That drop means November is also “the quietest month from the perspective of U.S. landfall activity,” says Ryan Truchelut, a meteorologist and co-founder of WeatherTiger, a private weather-forecasting group. Only 10 tropical storms and three hurricanes have struck the U.S. during November going back to 1851, he says, so on average such a landfall would happen about every 10 to 15 years. There are some years that are true outliers. Three November storms, one of them a hurricane, formed in 2005. More recently, “November was crazy in 2020,” Truchelut says, thanks to exceptionally warm waters in the Caribbean. Hurricane Eta hit Nicaragua as a category 4 storm, followed two weeks later by another category 4 hurricane, Iota. Any storms that do form in November tend to be weaker for the same reasons they are somewhat rare. As fall progresses, solar energy shifts from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and more northerly latitudes rapidly cool down, Trepanier explains. This creates a big contrast with the lingering warmth farther south, strengthening the polar jet stream—which then sends incursions of cold air southward. These incursions increase a feature called wind shear (when winds vary in speed and direction at different levels of the atmosphere), and that in turn disrupts the convection at the core of tropical systems that powers them. Though Nicole will probably be relatively weak in terms of wind speed, its winds cover a large area and are thus expected to bring storm surge to the entire east coast of Florida. This happens to coincide with a period of higher-than-normal high tides, which will amplify surge amounts. Historically, any November storms that do hit the U.S. have tended to strike Florida because they most commonly form in the nearby western Caribbean, Truchelut says. The most recent November hurricane to hit the state was Kate, which struck the Florida panhandle on November 22, 1985, as a category 2 storm. Nicole will set the record for the latest in the season that a storm has hit the state’s east coast. The previous record holder was the Yankee Hurricane, which made landfall near Miami Beach on November 4, 1935 (this was before meteorologists began giving official names to hurricanes and tropical storms). Having a late-season threat from Nicole so relatively soon after Eta hit the state as a tropical storm in 2020—twice—raises the question of whether late-season storms will become more frequent as climate change brings warmer ocean waters, Truchelut says. A study he co-authored, published earlier this year in Nature Communications, looked for statistical evidence that the hurricane season might be growing longer at both ends. Though this research found strong evidence that the season is starting earlier, that evidence was weak for the end of the season. It is possible there is a trend that simply cannot yet be detected, he notes, because “it’s hard to get a trend for rare events.” Nicole also underscores the lesson that people living in hurricane-prone areas need to keep paying attention and be prepared to act on forecasts, even after the peak of the season has passed, Trepanier says. “Driving home that point is important.”
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Previously reported – December 2022
Hurricane Season Ends, Marked by Quiet August and Deadly September
The six-month total of 14 named storms was about average. But two late-season hurricanes proved catastrophic in Florida and Puerto Rico.
An erratic North Atlantic hurricane season comes to an end this week, with an average number of storms, a rare quiet spell in August and destructive late-season activity, including the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States in nearly two decades. The six-month season, which officially began on June 1 and ends on Wednesday, had 14 named storms, eight of which strengthened to become hurricanes. Two of these, Fiona and Ian, were major hurricanes, with maximum sustained winds of at least 130 miles an hour. The totals are about average for a hurricane season. Some forecasters had expected an above-average season, although most predicted that the numbers for 2022 would remain below those for 2021, which had 21 named storms, and well below 2020, which set a record with 31. The total of 14 storms was at the low end of predictions by forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who said as late as August that there could be 14 to 20 named storms, including six to 10 hurricanes and three to five major ones. “We were one major hurricane short,” said the administration’s lead hurricane outlook forecaster, Matthew Rosencrans. They were also off in forecasting that the combined intensity of the entire season’s storms, a measure called accumulated cyclone energy, would be higher than it actually was. Mr. Rosencrans said in August that the presence of the climate pattern called La Niña, which is characterized by unusually cool water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, could lead to greater hurricane activity. In the Atlantic during a La Niña there is often less wind shear, and that allows tropical storms and hurricanes to grow stronger. But Mr. Rosencrans said Tuesday that it appeared that there was significant wind shear during the season and especially in August, when no storms fully formed. Normally mid-August is the beginning of peak hurricane season, which lasts until mid-October. The quiet August “was the real forecast surprise of the season,” he said. A lack of moisture at high altitudes in the tropical Atlantic where storms begin their development may have played a role as well, he said. Recent hurricane seasons have been marked by the development of one or more storms before the official start of the season. But this year, for the first time since 2014, there were no storms before June 1. For two months, the season progressed slowly, with only three named storms by the end of July. This is not unusual; ocean waters are cooler and provide less of the energy that fuels storms. Hurricane activity picks up after the summer sun has warmed the ocean. After the August lull, activity accelerated in September, with four hurricanes, including the two major ones. In mid-September, Fiona slammed into Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. It dumped more than 30 inches of rain on parts of the island, leading to at least 25 deaths and further damaging infrastructure that had yet to be fully repaired after being damaged in Hurricane Maria five years before. Two weeks later, Ian, another Category 4 hurricane, struck Florida with winds as high as 150 m.p.h. Together with rain and wind-driven tidal surges, that led to at least 114 deaths, most of them in the southwestern part of the state. It was Florida’s deadliest storm in nearly a century, and the deadliest in the United States since Katrina killed more than 1,800 people in southern Louisiana in 2005. The season was notable in several other ways. Two storms crossed from the Atlantic basin to the Pacific, traversing Central America. The last time any storm did this was in 2016. “That is quite a rare phenomenon,” Mr. Rosencrans said. And earlier this month, the season’s last storm, Hurricane Nicole, became the first to strike Florida in November in nearly four decades. While at Category 1 it was not as strong Fiona or Ian, it hit in some of the areas severely damaged by Ian just six weeks before.
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Previously reported – June 2023
Here’s why this hurricane season could be unusually unpredictable El Niño typically means a quieter hurricane season. As ocean temperatures rise, that could be changing. Under normal circumstances, a quiet Atlantic hurricane season would be a safe bet this year: The global climate pattern known as El Niño is fast developing, and it’s known to diminish tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin. But unusually warm waters — in some areas setting records for this time of year — could cancel that out, creating conditions that could instead fuel an active season of revved-up storms. That means the outlook for tropical cyclone risks is significantly more complicated just ahead of this year’s season beginning June 1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists are expected to factor that uncertainty heavily into a hurricane season forecast that will be released Thursday. Seasonal forecasting is always difficult, but it’s even harder to predict which of the competing influences will win out in the months ahead. “There’s not a lot of historic precedence for this,” said Philip Klotzbach, lead hurricane researcher at Colorado State University. As the season plays out against the backdrop of global warming — which has driven a flurry of storms that intensify quickly into devastating hurricanesmeteorologists remind people that it only takes one extreme storm to turn even a quiet season catastrophic. Unusual ocean warmth raises storm risks Hurricane season is set to begin with an already established trend of ocean warming that has been building since early March. By the heart of hurricane season in late summer and early fall, waters around the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Southeast U.S. coast are always bathwater-like. That warmth could be especially pronounced this year. “Those warm anomalies should, if anything, get stronger,” Klotzbach said. That is bad news for hurricane risks. Warm water is a necessary ingredient for tropical cyclones, and the warmer the water, the greater the potential for extremely strong hurricanes. The warmth translates to increased moisture in the air and greater available energy for a storm to unleash. And the recent ocean warming is grabbing climate scientists’ attention because of both its timing and its widespread appearance. It’s normal for ocean temperatures to rise along the surface of parts of the central and eastern Pacific when El Niño develops — something scientists have been observing off the western coast of South America in recent months. Those changes in sea surface temperatures and in winds across the Pacific have domino effects around the world and can trigger weather extremes. But the ocean warming observed as of late has developed in areas besides those Pacific hot spots — including parts of the Atlantic key for hurricane development. The deep tropics between the Caribbean and West Africa are significantly warmer than normal, something that could encourage any atmospheric disturbances moving into the Atlantic from Africa to organize and strengthen into tropical cyclones, said Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the University of Miami and hurricane expert for Capital Weather Gang. “When waves come off of Africa, if they get that kick right away, that might help them form a little quicker,” McNoldy said. And though El Niño is known for accelerating planetary warming, the ocean trends are appearing well ahead of the climate pattern shift. Climate scientists don’t expect El Niño to arrive in earnest until some time in the coming weeks or months. El Niño’s influence adds uncertainty The ocean warmth notwithstanding, El Niño typically brings meteorologists a modicum of confidence in a quieter-than-average Atlantic hurricane season. It’s part of the cascade of impacts El Niño can have on weather patterns around the world. El Niño is associated with towering clouds and a rising motion in the lower atmosphere over the central and eastern Pacific, something that changes atmospheric circulation patterns in a way that tends to send dry, sinking air over the central Atlantic. That means diminished activity in the tropical zones is key for cyclone formation and development. The circulation patterns associated with El Niño also tend to bring an increase in wind shear, or a contrast in wind speeds and direction at different altitudes, over the Atlantic. High wind shear makes it difficult for storm systems to organize into classic cyclones with defined eyes surrounded by intense winds. Those factors have prompted some early hurricane season forecasts to call for below-normal storm activity. An average Atlantic hurricane season has about 14 named storms, half of which strengthen into hurricanes, according to data from 1991 through 2020. About three hurricanes a year become “major” storms, with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph. Klotzbach’s team at Colorado State’s Tropical Meteorology Project in April cited a budding El Niño in predicting that this season’s tallies would come short of those averages, with 13 named storms, 6 hurricanes and two major hurricanes. But the forecast also noted the outlook contained “more uncertainty than normal.” The team will offer an updated forecast June 1. Some forecasters are eyeing chances for increased tropical activity given the unusually warm Atlantic waters. The Weather Company, which owns and Weather Underground, and weather data company Atmospheric G2 predicted a near-normal season, with average hurricane activity and 15 named storms. They said in a hurricane season forecast released last month that the ocean temperature trend “gives one pause when relying on the potential El Niño event to keep the season quiet.” Risks of a damaging season persist That hesitation is especially true given caution from scientists over whether El Niño predictions will pan out. It is notoriously difficult to predict its development and trajectory when evaluating climate conditions during the Northern Hemisphere springtime. Even if El Niño forms as expected, weather forecasting models suggest wind shear may remain relatively limited even through the heart of hurricane season, Klotzbach said. And an active and damaging season could still develop if El Niño arrives later than expected, or in a weaker form, he added. Besides, meteorologists urge coastal residents to remain storm-ready even in quieter-than-average hurricane seasons. They stress that conditions can allow for devastating storms to make landfall despite larger climatic trends. That warning could be especially apt given the atmospheric battles meteorologists predict in the tropics between El Niño-fueled wind shear and a surge of ocean warmth. “There’s just no way of knowing which of those is going to be more important in any given week,” McNoldy said. Read more » click here

2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season OutlookNOAA predicts a near-normal 2023 Atlantic hurricane season El Nino, above-average Atlantic Ocean temperatures set the stage NOAA forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, predict near-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic this year. NOAA’s outlook for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which goes from June 1 to November 30, predicts a 40% chance of a near-normal season, a 30% chance of an above-normal season and a 30% chance of a below-normal season. NOAA is forecasting a range of 12 to 17 total named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher). Of those, 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). NOAA has a 70% confidence in these ranges. The upcoming Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be less active than recent years, due to competing factors — some that suppress storm development and some that fuel it — driving this year’s overall forecast for a near-normal season. After three hurricane seasons with La Nina present, NOAA scientists predict a high potential for El Nino to develop this summer, which can suppress Atlantic hurricane activity. El Nino’s potential influence on storm development could be offset by favorable conditions local to the tropical Atlantic Basin. Those conditions include the potential for an above-normal west African monsoon, which produces African easterly waves and seeds some of the stronger and longer-lived Atlantic storms, and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea which creates more energy to fuel storm development. These factors are part of the longer term variability in Atlantic atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are conducive to hurricane development — known as the high-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes — which have been producing more active Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995. “With a changing climate, the data and expertise NOAA provides to emergency managers and partners to support decision-making before, during and after a hurricane has never been more crucial,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “To that end, this year we are operationalizing a new hurricane forecast model and extending the tropical cyclone outlook graphic from five to seven days, which will provide emergency managers and communities with more time to prepare for storms.” This summer, NOAA will implement a series of upgrades and improvements. NOAA will expand the capacity of its operational supercomputing system by 20%. This increase in computing capability will enable NOAA to improve and run more complex forecast models, including significant model upgrades this hurricane season:

    • In late June, the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System (HAFS) will become operational. HAFS will run this season in tandem with the currently operational Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast Model System and Hurricanes in a Multi-scale Ocean-coupled Non-hydrostatic model, but eventually will become NOAA’s primary hurricane model. Retrospective analysis of tropical storms and hurricanes from the 2020-2022 seasons show that this model has a 10-15% improvement in track forecasts over existing operational models. This new model was jointly created by NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Modeling and Prediction Program and NOAA’s National Weather Service Environmental Modeling Center.
    • The Probabilistic Storm Surge model upgrade on May 2, advances storm surge forecasting for the contiguous U.S. and new forecasts for surge, tide and waves for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Forecasters now have the ability to run the model for two storms simultaneously. This model provides forecasters with the likelihood, or probability, of various flooding scenarios including a near worst-case scenario to help communities prepare for all potential outcomes.

Additional upgrades or new tools for hurricane analysis and forecasting include:

    • The National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Weather Outlook graphic, which shows tropical cyclone formation potential, has expanded the forecast range from five to seven days.
    • Over the last 10 years, flooding from tropical storm rainfall was the single deadliest hazard. To give communities more time to prepare, the Weather Prediction Center is extending the Excessive Rainfall Outlook an additional two days, now providing forecasts up to five days in advance. The outlook shows general areas at risk for flash flooding due to excessive rainfall.
    • The National Weather Service will unveil a new generation of forecast flood inundation mapping for portions of Texas and portions of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in September 2023. These forecast maps will extend to the rest of the U.S. by 2026. Forecast flood inundation maps will show the extent of flooding at the street level.

NOAA will continue improving new and current observing systems critical in understanding and forecasting hurricanes. Two projects underway this season include:

“As we saw with Hurricane Ian, it only takes one hurricane to cause widespread devastation and upend lives. So regardless of the number of storms predicted this season, it is critical that everyone understand their risk and heed the warnings of state and local officials. Whether you live on the coast or further inland, hurricanes can cause serious impacts to everybody in their path,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “Visit or for readiness resources and get real time emergency alerts by downloading the FEMA App. Actions taken today can save your life when disaster strikes. The time to prepare is now.” NOAA’s outlook is for overall seasonal activity and is not a landfall forecast. In addition to the Atlantic seasonal outlook, NOAA also issues seasonal hurricane outlooks for the eastern Pacific and central Pacific hurricane basins. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center will update the 2023 Atlantic seasonal outlook in early August, just prior to the historical peak of the season.
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A guide for hurricane season in the Wilmington area: Supplies, shelters, evacuations and more It’s never too early to prepare for hurricane season. And as the Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1, here are things to know to stay safe in the Wilmington area. Evacuations Twenty coastal counties in North Carolina have established predetermined evacuation zones to simplify the coastal evacuation process in the event of an emergency. Everyone living or vacationing in North Carolina’s coastal areas should know your zone.


Preparing for a hurricane — What you need to know about evacuations

Hurricane kit
Everyone usually remembers food and water, but what about medicine, insurance policies (home and auto), and other important documents?  Here is a list of supplies and documents you should have ready in your “go bag” or supply kit, according to FEMA and the American Red Cross.

Are you prepared for a hurricane? Here’s a list of supplies to have in your hurricane kit.

Pet friendly shelters
If you need to evacuate and want to take your pets with you, several emergency management services will open emergency shelters at local schools if a hurricane should hit.


Where to find pet friendly hurricane shelters in the Wilmington area

Hurricane watch or warning?
Living in coastal North Carolina, most people know when hurricane season begins. But it’s also important to know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning.

Watch or warning:

What’s the difference between a hurricane watch and warning?

Here’s more on the difference.

Wilmington’s worst storms
Take a look back at hurricane activity for the worst storms to ever hit the Wilmington area. Names such as Hazel and Florence will forever be etched to the region. Also check out the list of names for the 2023 hurricane season.

Worst hurricanes:

What are the 5 worst hurricanes to ever hit the Wilmington area?

2023 names:
Here’s the list of names for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season.

Up-to-date weather
There are several webcams following weather on the coast. Here are a few of them. You can also follow a storm from its beginnings to now with this storm tracker.

Weather webcams:
Check the latest weather conditions via these webcams along the NC coast

Track the storm:
See where the storm is in real time

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Previously reported – August 2023

2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

NOAA boosts Atlantic hurricane forecast, leans toward busy season
The midseason outlook update is a dramatic shift toward what experts warn may be an above-average season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an updated hurricane season outlook Thursday morning that now speaks of a high likelihood of an above-average hurricane season. The midseason update reflects a dramatic shift in NOAA’s thinking as the agency joins a number of others in expecting a busy season. Last week, Colorado State University shared its updated outlook, projecting a total of 18 named storms, including the five that have already formed in the open Atlantic. It says the United States has a nearly fifty-fifty shot at being hit by a major hurricane, rated Category 3 or higher. AccuWeather also nudged its forecast upward. Hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and on average peaks around Sept. 15, traditionally does not perk up until mid- to late August. The season to date has featured four named storms. And an unnamed subtropical storm spun up hundreds of miles off the East Coast in mid-January. Forecasts are highlighting the potential for a season similar to last year’s.

Here are NOAA’s latest projections:

    • 14 to 21 named storms the 12-17 named storms predicted in late May. This includes the four tropical and subtropical storms that have formed, as well as Hurricane Don in July.
    • 6 to 11 hurricanes, as opposed to the May prediction of 5 to 9
    • 2 to 5 major hurricanes, boosted from 1 to 4.


The Hurricane National Center also now estimates a 60 percent chance of an above-average season — double the predicted odds in May. It also says there is a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season. It puts the odds of a below-average season at only 15 percent. At present, only the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, which oversees the operation of the “Euro” model, paints a picture of a near-average season. Its analysis suggests that 8.5 more named storms are likely. Regardless, there is a growing cause for concern, as noted by the forecasters behind NOAA’s outlook. “During active years, there’s a doubling in the chance of a hurricane hitting the East Coast of the U.S. compared to an average or below-average season,” said Matthew Rosencrans, a meteorologist and the director of NOAA’s Climate Test Bed, at a news conference Thursday.

What are the key drivers of this season’s hurricane forecast?
Meteorologists tasked with predicting how the season will play out have been juggling two deeply conflicting signals: record-high Atlantic sea-surface temperatures and a strong El Niño. High sea-surface temperatures are crucial in helping spawn and intensify hurricanes. This year, the waters are red-hot and reaching records. “One of the local conditions in the Atlantic that we monitor is the sea-surface temperature,” Rosencrans said. “The June and July sea-surface temperatures in the Main Development Region were the warmest since 1950, about [2.2] degrees above normal.” He said the formation in June of Bret and Cindy in the “Main Development Region” — the tropical zone between the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea and western Africa — probably was highly influenced by the hot seas. “Tropical development in the deep tropics in June or July is usually a harbinger of a more active season,” he said. The water temperatures will raise the odds of rapid intensification of the storms that do form, posing the danger of big lurches in strength in any potentially landfalling hurricane. Working against a busy hurricane season is the ongoing El Niño weather pattern. El Niño, which begins as a warming of water temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific, results in sinking air and hostile upper-level winds over the Atlantic. The nascent El Niño isn’t going away any time soon. “Odds are in excess of 95 percent that the ongoing El Niño will continue into autumn,” Rosencrans said. However, his team expects a delayed start to the arrival of En Niño-esque conditions — the same ones usually inhibitive of an above-average hurricane season. With El Niño’s true fingerprint taking a while to show up, the exceptionally warm ocean waters may help kick things into unimpeded overdrive. “Changes of El Niño appear to be emerging later than expected,” Rosencrans said. “If those changes move in quickly, then activity could be [near the] lower end of our predicted ranges.” In predicting seasonal hurricane activity, forecasters also consider the Saharan air layer, a stretch of hot, dry and sandy air that wafts over the Atlantic and suppresses storm growth. “Saharan air outbreaks do peak in June and July, and then fade off in area and intensity as the season goes on,” Rosencrans said, suggesting that this phenomenon will increasingly become less of an impediment to storms. An active West African monsoon, which provides a source of moisture and disturbances that can become the seeds for hurricanes, also could elevate storm activity. “During 2023, the West African monsoon rains have been robust, but the winds have been near normal, giving a bit of a mixed signal,” Rosencrans said. The bottom line NOAA is exhibiting confidence that the high sea-surface temperatures will supersede the effects of El Niño, favoring a busy season. Irrespective of how many storms do spin up, it only takes one hitting a populated zone to leave a mark. “Landfalls are only predictable up to about one week from a storm reaching a coastline,” Rosencrans said. “People should be busy preparing for the storms that this forecast implies.”
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Previously reported – August 2023
THE 5 HURRICANE CATEGORIES, EXPLAINED It’s a number attached to every hurricane, crucial to emergency response teams and city officials to mobilize preparedness: the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, characterized by five categories. The scale only measures one component of a hurricane: the wind. Each category is divided by a range of wind speeds, estimating potential damage and impacts on properties. This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above-normal hurricane season. Record-breaking warm water in the Atlantic has increased tropical storm and hurricane activity. Five hurricanes have swept through the Atlantic this year. Before the season concludes at the end of November, the Atlantic may experience a total of six to 11 hurricanes. Three of the hurricanes so far this year were considered major — Category 3 or above — and NOAA predicts that there could be up to two more. An imperfect scale The scale used to include other impacts like storm surge ranges and flooding, but they were removed to reduce public confusion, according to the National Hurricane Center. “Now the wind is the scale’s strength — but also its weakness,” said Gina Eosco, the division chief and social science expert at the Weather Program Office for NOAA. It ends up missing the myriad of other risks that are oftentimes more serious in a hurricane, such as storm surge,” she said. Scientists and forecasters are still learning how individuals perceive and adjust to risks as threats develop during hurricanes, Eosco said. Some experts hypothesize that people anchor to the storm category and don’t adjust for other risks. “It is very misleading because somebody may not evacuate for a tropical storm or a Category 1 hurricane, but we have seen time and time again that these storms have had a lot of impact,” said Jennifer Collins, a hurricane researcher at the University of South Florida. Each storm has its own personality, and there isn’t always a direct correlation between category and damage. This means a Category 1 hurricane could be more devastating than a Category 3. “A simple one, two, three, four, five scale is not sufficient to communicate the threat that a hurricane brings,” said Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert for Yale Climate Connections. Here is other extreme weather that’s associated with a hurricane: STORM SURGE As a hurricane barrels across the open ocean, strong winds drive the water forward. Once the water reaches the shore, it combines with normal tides and creates the storm surge. Storm surge is the leading cause of hurricane-related deaths in the United States, according to the National Weather Service. “The Hurricane Center realized this is a problem because [the scale] didn’t speak to storm surge in particular — which is the threat that kills the most people from hurricanes — so they introduced a separate storm surge watch and storm surge warning product,” Masters said. In some cases, storm surge is responsible for the most hurricane destruction. Hurricane Ike made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane with walloping sustained winds of 110 mph in September 2008, with hurricane-force winds extending 125 miles from the center. But the wind wasn’t what caused the most damage. The storm had a surge of more than 20 feet, the largest storm surge on record for a Category 2 hurricane. Imagine rushing water the height of two basketball hoops stacked on top of each other barreling toward homes, cars and buildings. The storm claimed 195 lives and resulted in $30 billion in damage. It wasn’t even considered a major hurricane. RAIN AND INLAND FLOODING Not to be mistaken with storm surge, the other main cause of flooding during a hurricane is rain. While some inland communities assume they are spared from the wrath coastal communities endure, storm impacts can occur tens to hundreds of miles outside of the storm’s eye. During hurricanes, excessive amounts of rain cause streams and creeks to overflow their banks and clog storm drains and sewage systems, which results in devastating flooding. Hurricane winds weaken as they move over land, but the torrential rains don’t stop. Inland cities, with vast amounts of concrete and impermeable surfaces, also have a high risk of excess runoff and flooding. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 with maximum wind speeds surpassing 130 mph in August 2017. But by the next day, the hurricane fell to a Category 1 and eventually was considered a tropical storm. Yet the storm wasn’t done. Instead of moving on, Harvey stalled over Texas for days. In the end, the slow-moving storm unloaded 33 trillion gallons of water along the Gulf of Mexico and became the second costliest storm in U.S. history. An unprecedented 60 inches of rain fell in Southeast Texas, producing devastating and deadly flash and river flooding, according to the Weather Service. A year after Harvey, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane and brought destructive flooding across the Carolinas. Florence was responsible for the heaviest rainfall ever recorded from a tropical cyclone in both South Carolina and North Carolina, according to the Hurricane Center. Twenty-two people died due to direct impacts from Florence — 17 deaths of them from inland flooding. Damage totals exceeded $20 billion. Florence, which peaked as a Category 4 hurricane over the ocean, had been downgraded to a tropical storm when it dropped most of its rain. TORNADOES The last risk people worry about when thinking about hurricanes is tornadoes. The severe spin from hurricane systems, coupled with atmospheric instability and wind shear, creates perfect conditions for tornadoes. Both hurricanes and tornadoes cause damage due to strong rotating winds, so it’s not surprising that a large rotating system could also produce twisters. Tornadoes generally start within thunderstorms embedded in the outer rain bands of hurricanes, according to the Weather Service. But sometimes they form near the eyewall, which is the ring of destructive winds that surround the storm center. In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan unleashed a damaging storm surge, inland flooding and powerful wind gusts spanning Alabama to Florida. But that wasn’t the end of its impact. The Category 3 hurricane was most notable for its unprecedented tornado outbreak. About 120 twisters touched down from Florida to Pennsylvania — across nine different states — over the course of three days. Virginia alone experienced a record-breaking 38 tornadoes across the state. Overall, the tornadoes from Ivan were responsible for eight deaths and 17 injuries, according to the Weather Service. SIZE The size of a hurricane matters. A larger hurricane will tend to produce a more severe storm surge as well as stronger winds and heavier rain over a larger area. But the storm category doesn’t take size into account. One of the ways hurricanes expand is through a process known as an eyewall replacement cycle. During this process, the inner eyewall collapses as a much larger outer eyewall forms around it, often resulting in a bigger hurricane. Not long before striking land last year, Hurricane Ian underwent an eyewall replacement cycle, enlarging the storm substantially. It made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane very close to where Hurricane Charley did at roughly the same intensity in 2004. But Ian was a much larger storm and thus had more severe impacts. Ian’s catastrophic surge, record-breaking inland flooding and damaging winds propelled it to become the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history and the third-costliest hurricane in the United States, according to the Hurricane Center.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe this hurricane season:

    • Prepare your emergency supply kit: Include nonperishable food, a generator in case of power outages, important identification information, essential medications and cash.
    • Save water: Fill your tub, sinks or containers with drinking water in case public water systems become compromised.
    • Protect your home: Board windows with storm shutters or plywood to protect them from wind damage.
    • Secure your surroundings: Clear any outdoor objects that could be picked up by the wind.
    • Trim weak tree branches that could fall on your home or car. Make sure drains, gutters and downspouts are cleared to prevent flood risks or mold.

Previously reported – November 2023
Hurricanes have always struck the shores of the United States. But in recent decades, the combination of climate change and growing coastal population has made them far more damaging – particularly in one corner of the Atlantic coast. Roughly 150 Atlantic hurricanes have approached or directly hit the United States in the last seven decades. Gulf Coast regions like coastal Louisiana and Florida frequently encounter powerful hurricanes, of course. But some of the most hurricane-prone parts of the country lie further northeast, on the Carolina coast. Between 2016 and 2022, the Carolinas were hit by five hurricanes: Matthew, Florence, Dorian, Isaias and Ian. At the crossroads of these hurricanes lie the metro areas of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C. These two metros, known for their striking coastlines, have been regularly battered by hurricanes this century. They also have something else in common: Both are among the fastest-growing coastal metros in the United States since 2000. Why do so many people decide to move here despite the risks? And what does that mean for everyone else?A Beautiful Place That Has a Dragon’: Where Hurricane Risk Meets Booming Growth The hurricanes keep coming, and the people, too: The fastest-growing places along the Atlantic coast this century are also among the most hurricane-prone. Between 2016 and 2022, the five hurricanes that hit the Carolinas cost the two states over $33 billion in damages in current dollars, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to the deaths of more than 90. There’s every reason to expect more damage in coming years: A warming climate adds moisture to the air, unlocking the potential for wetter and more powerful storms. And rising sea levels make storm surges more damaging and coastal flooding more frequent.  And the newcomers will keep coming: One 2022 study projected that by 2050, population growth will increase the number of Americans exposed to flooding nearly four times as much as climate change will alone. Simply put, there are many more people living along the paths of hurricanes than ever before. And this booming coastal population is, by many accounts, a larger contributor to rising hurricane risks than climate change. “It’s always climate change plus something, and we’re moving more people into harm’s way than out,” said Kathie Dello, North Carolina’s state climatologist. Local officials say they are struggling to keep up with the growth. They can try to manage the floodplain, communicate the risks, regulate construction and prepare for disasters. But the one thing they can’t seem to do is stop people from moving here. Many retirees are drawn to the Carolinas’ beaches and waterways, moderate temperatures and low taxes. Between 1990 and 2020, the number of people 65 and older grew by nearly 450 percent combined in Horry County, S.C., and adjoining Brunswick County, N.C. When Gail Hart moved from Arizona to retire in Wilmington, N.C., in 2017, she hadn’t considered the hurricane risk. “I wanted to be near a beach,” she said. “I wanted a community.” The next year, Hurricane Florence made landfall in the Wilmington metro area. Many neighborhoods flooded. In some places, three feet of water entered homes. Emergency officials rescued over a thousand residents. Ms. Hart evacuated. She was fortunate: Her home suffered only minor wind damage. But the experience changed her view of living there. She installed storm shutters and a generator and bought flood insurance. And yet, like so many others, she has stayed despite the storm risks. “I don’t let it affect my life unless there’s a hurricane coming,” she said. Ms. Hart is far from alone. When she arrived, there were about a dozen homes in her retirement community. Today there are over 500. In a retirement community being built across the road, acres of pine forests have been cleared to develop homes along the Cape Fear River. Nearby, marshland with ghost forests of dead trees was up for sale as “riverfront condo land.” Wilmington is part of New Hanover County, the most densely populated of the state’s coastal counties. Nearly 40 percent of its homes risk being severely affected by flooding in the next 30 years, according to the First Street Foundation. “There’s just not a lot of area left,” said Steven Still, director of emergency services for the county. “So, you’re developing in the fringe areas.” The escalating costs of storms raise a difficult question for these growing coastal communities: How do you balance growth with safety? The combination of climate change and development in risky areas is making it “a huge challenge” to keep residents safe, said Amanda Martin, North Carolina’s chief resilience officer. It’s not just that people are moving to hurricane-prone areas. The growth itself can make flooding worse. Cutting down trees and paving over wetlands takes away open land that would otherwise absorb rainfall. “We just seem to be going through this vicious cycle that is becoming more vicious with the amount of people and infrastructure we put in these areas,” Mr. Still said. Federal law permits people to build in flood zones, so long as they meet certain minimum standards. In return, the government offers them flood insurance through a federal program that is over $20 billion in debt — largely due to escalating hurricane damages. While the National Flood Insurance Program was originally intended to discourage floodplain development, in practice it has done the opposite by removing a lot of the financial risk involved, said Jenny Brennan, a climate analyst at the Southern Environmental Law Center. States have a few options to discourage people from building in flood zones. They can create more stringent building requirements, or they can buy up and preserve undeveloped land. But these measures are expensive and rely on political will or the willingness of landowners to sell. One way that states can move residents out of harm’s way is by offering to buy out their homes and permanently converting that land to open space. But a study this year found that for every home bought out in North Carolina between 1996 and 2017, more than 10 new ones were built in the state’s floodplains. The growth also makes it more difficult to evacuate when storms strike. In these booming coastal counties, residents and local officials say that roads and bridges are not keeping pace with the growth. “Our biggest problem is our infrastructures not being able to keep up,” said David McIntire, the deputy director of emergency management for Brunswick County, the fastest-growing coastal county in North Carolina this century and part of the Wilmington metro. The state has undertaken a multiyear project to add two lanes to Highway 211, the main evacuation route for the region. Mr. McIntire said the state and local departments were “having to play catch-up” after years of failing to plan ahead. In neighboring New Hanover County, his counterpart Mr. Still is grappling with a shortage of affordable housing, which he said was making it “exponentially difficult” to shelter people displaced by disasters. After a disaster, the surge in demand for short-term housing drives up already high rents. Poorer residents often rely on the state and local governments for assistance with evacuation and housing. The problem lies in where to house them. “If there is zero housing availability in the community right now,” Mr. Still said, “where do you put 100,000 people?” The housing crunch is one of many tensions playing out between wealthy coastal communities and those who live nearby. April O’Leary lives in Conway, S.C., an inland city in Horry County, a half-hour drive from Myrtle Beach. The county makes up the Myrtle Beach metro area, which was the fastest-growing coastal metro nationally between 2000 and 2020 and is one of the fastest-growing places in the country annually. And the growth is projected to continue. Horry County is large and flat: Nearly a quarter of its land lies within a floodplain. After Hurricane Florence made landfall, it took about a week for the rainwater to flow down to Conway. But the water stayed for over a week. “It sits for a while and it just destroys everything,” Ms. O’Leary said. Water entered her home, flooding the first floor and a bedroom. Her husband and son evacuated to Myrtle Beach, while she stayed for a few days to document the floods. Afterward, there were large piles of debris lining street after street in her neighborhood, filled with ruined flooring, kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures. When her son’s elementary school reopened and he saw the devastation in the neighborhood, she said he stopped smiling and became quieter for months. After the flooding, Ms. O’Leary founded Horry County Rising, a political organization that campaigned for the county to adopt stricter regulations for floodplain construction. Much of the flooding in the Carolinas during Hurricane Florence occurred outside of federal flood zones, where few people have flood insurance or homes that are protected from flooding. In 2021, the county expanded its flood zone boundaries to include places that flooded during Hurricane Florence. And it required new homes built there to have their lowest floor three feet above the high water mark. The changes applied to all unincorporated parts of the county. But they faced pushback from local developers because of raised building costs. The county recently voted to lower the height requirements to two feet, after legal pressure from a developer. The flooding and growth also affect rural communities that have been rooted in the Carolinas for generations. In Bucksport, S.C., a small inland town in Horry County, Kevin Mishoe is a third-generation farmer and former chair of the Association for the Betterment of Bucksport. He said the newer building codes would pay dividends in future floods, but they would also make home ownership far more expensive for people in lower-income communities like Bucksport. Bucksport sits between two major rivers, nestled against wetlands and tidal forests. Mr. Mishoe lives with his wife in a mobile home that flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. Mr. Mishoe says he believes banks are denying loans to residents because of their location in a floodplain, a phenomenon he called “bluelining.” Meanwhile, he said, locals are being “bombarded” with offers from developers and private equity companies to buy their land. “All of a sudden land that you’re telling us is almost worthless because you’re in a flood zone, everybody’s trying to buy,” he said. The area is considered prime real estate because of its access to water. This year, the county expressed support for a highway that would connect Myrtle Beach to inland parts of the county. The highway is expected to cut through Bucksport and its adjoining wetlands and bring added development to the region. The town’s residents emphatically do not want to sell their land, Mr. Mishoe said. Their ancestors have held on to this land for generations, and they intend to stay. Bucksport’s flooding problem began in 2015. But there are coastal Carolina communities that have endured regular hurricanes for over a century. Karen Willis Amspacher lives on Harkers Island in Carteret County, N.C. — one of the most hurricane-prone counties in the country. The island is part of a string of low-lying rural communities near the Outer Banks that locals call Down East. The communities are connected by Highway 70, a dredged road that floods several times a year. Ms. Amspacher is a fifth-generation resident of the island and the director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum. There are a lot of newer residents, she said, moving into large houses on stilts, with generators and flood insurance. Some houses are second homes or vacation properties. The construction boom has driven up costs for locals. “The fear and threat of sea level rise or storms doesn’t hinder any of it,” she said. While the new homes may be safer, Ms. Amspacher said, many of the newcomers are isolated from the emotional trauma that her community experiences during a hurricane. “This is a piece of property to them,” she said. “It’s not their family inheritance. It’s not their home. It’s not where they hope their children will stay and grow up.” Ms. Amspacher has had to evacuate her home in three past hurricanes. But she’s not planning to leave for the next one. She said staying during storms was a way to protect property from damage and was part of her community’s cultural identity. “These hurricanes make these communities what we are,” she said. Back in Wilmington, Sharon Valentine is also no stranger to hurricanes. She owned a large animal farm near Fayetteville, N.C., which was devastated by Hurricane Fran in 1996. So, when she and her partner decided to retire in Wilmington’s Del Webb community in 2017, they knew the risks. Many others have followed since. “There’s a mass migration down here,” she svvv Atlantic hurricanes intensifying faster, more frequently, research finds The list of major hurricanes that rapidly intensified before hitting the United States in recent years is long and memorable: Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Laura, Ida, Ian and Idalia. All of those storms, starting in 2017, developed explosively over the Atlantic Ocean. Generally, this rapid escalation is increasingly recognized as part of a global phenomenon related to climate change and its associated warming of ocean waters — but until the past couple of years, the Atlantic’s inclusion in the trend was somewhat murkier. Now, research shows that this rapid intensification is on the rise across the Atlantic basin at multiple time scales. The author of a study published Thursday, Andra Garner, an assistant professor at Rowan University in New Jersey, also highlights regions in which this intensification has become more likely, such as the western Caribbean Sea. “These findings really just serve to quantify a phenomenon that is very much expected in a warmer climate,” Garner told The Washington Post. “The increased likelihood for hurricanes to transition from weak storms into major hurricanes in 24 hours or less was particularly striking.” Studies like this will be crucial in unlocking puzzles regarding intensity fluctuations in tropical cyclones. Even as hurricane forecasting improves, intensity and rapid changes in storms are still poorly understood but understanding them is critical for saving lives and property. The United States has seen a remarkable increase in economic damage from hurricanes over the past century because of coastal development and population growth, according to the National Hurricane Center. When it comes to hurricanes and climate change, the most readily detectable shifts can be seen in higher storm surges — or the wind-driven increase in ocean water above normally dry land at the coast — because of sea level rise, heavier rainfall rates and greater occurrence of the most intense types of storms. The study of rapid intensification — generally defined as an increase in peak winds of at least 35 mph in 24 hours — is still in relative infancy. While many storm studies are limited to a portion of an ocean basin, Garner examined the North Atlantic as a whole. Using historical data from 1971 to 2020, she was able to assess intensification rates achieved by storms during a 12-, 24- or 36-hour window. By breaking the data into periods running from 1971 to 1990, 1986 to 2005 and 2001 to 2020, Garner was able to examine intensity changes in different eras. “Results indicate broad increases to observed [tropical cyclone] intensification rates over the past 50 years,” the study finds. More specifically, Garner finds that the average maximum intensification rates increased by nearly 29 percent in the 12-hour window, more than 27 percent at 24 hours and more than 26 percent in the 36-hour time frame. Putting actual wind numbers behind the idea makes it even more stark. The study finds that it’s now as likely that storms see peak winds increase at least 57 mph in 24 hours as it was during a 36-hour period several decades ago. It was also found that certain parts of the Atlantic have become more prone to rapid intensification in recent decades. This includes much of the Caribbean Sea, Atlantic waters to the west of northern Africa, and areas near the southeastern U.S. coast. While changes are perhaps most notable in the 24-hour period, they are relatively consistent across all windows. On the flip side, Garner’s research suggests that rapid intensification has become less frequent in much of the Gulf of Mexico and in an area just east of the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the toasty waters are still engines of explosive development. Another study published in Geophysical Research Letters recently also addressed the topic. “Comparing 1980-2000 versus 2001-2021 … the basin wide number of [rapid intensification] events has increased by 36%,” the authors wrote in the article published in late August. That separate research found that the increase in rapid intensification was greatest in the Yucatán and western Caribbean Sea region, as well as the southern North Atlantic. More broadly, it was concluded that intensification rates are faster in the western Atlantic than other parts of the basin. Sam Lillo, a meteorologist and co-developer of a computer program that can analyze tropical activity worldwide — the Tropycal package in the programming language Python — generally concurs with the findings. “I can definitely corroborate that there has been an increase in the number of category 1 hurricanes rapidly intensifying to category 3 and stronger,” Lillo wrote in an email. “The message in the western Caribbean is certainly consistent.” Lillo thinks the trends are driven largely by warmer waters but pointed to additional factors such as whether La Niña (which tends to increase storm activity) or El Niño (which tends to decrease storm activity) is dominant. In most of the regions frequented by tropical cyclones, Lillo calculated an increase in rapid intensification at 24-hour time scales. Garner, the author of the study released Thursday, hopes to continue investigating changes in intensification, given its increased importance in discussions about preparation. Opening the study up to other basins may also be possible.

  • Read more » click here 
    Hurricanes have always struck the shores of the United States. But in recent decades, the combination of climate change and growing coastal population has made them far more damaging – particularly in one corner of the Atlantic coast. Roughly 150 Atlantic hurricanes have approached or directly hit the United States in the last seven decades. Gulf Coast regions like coastal Louisiana and Florida frequently encounter powerful hurricanes, of course. But some of the most hurricane-prone parts of the country lie further northeast, on the Carolina coast. Between 2016 and 2022, the Carolinas were hit by five hurricanes: Matthew, Florence, Dorian, Isaias and Ian. At the crossroads of these hurricanes lie the metro areas of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C. These two metros, known for their striking coastlines, have been regularly battered by hurricanes this century. They also have something else in common: Both are among the fastest-growing coastal metros in the United States since 2000. Why do so many people decide to move here despite the risks? And what does that mean for everyone else? A Beautiful Place That Has a Dragon’: Where Hurricane Risk Meets Booming Growth The hurricanes keep coming, and the people, too: The fastest-growing places along the Atlantic coast this century are also among the most hurricane-prone. Between 2016 and 2022, the five hurricanes that hit the Carolinas cost the two states over $33 billion in damages in current dollars, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to the deaths of more than 90. There’s every reason to expect more damage in coming years: A warming climate adds moisture to the air, unlocking the potential for wetter and more powerful storms. And rising sea levels make storm surges more damaging and coastal flooding more frequent.  And the newcomers will keep coming: One 2022 study projected that by 2050, population growth will increase the number of Americans exposed to flooding nearly four times as much as climate change will alone. Simply put, there are many more people living along the paths of hurricanes than ever before. And this booming coastal population is, by many accounts, a larger contributor to rising hurricane risks than climate change. “It’s always climate change plus something, and we’re moving more people into harm’s way than out,” said Kathie Dello, North Carolina’s state climatologist. Local officials say they are struggling to keep up with the growth. They can try to manage the floodplain, communicate the risks, regulate construction and prepare for disasters. But the one thing they can’t seem to do is stop people from moving here. Many retirees are drawn to the Carolinas’ beaches and waterways, moderate temperatures and low taxes. Between 1990 and 2020, the number of people 65 and older grew by nearly 450 percent combined in Horry County, S.C., and adjoining Brunswick County, N.C. When Gail Hart moved from Arizona to retire in Wilmington, N.C., in 2017, she hadn’t considered the hurricane risk. “I wanted to be near a beach,” she said. “I wanted a community.” The next year, Hurricane Florence made landfall in the Wilmington metro area. Many neighborhoods flooded. In some places, three feet of water entered homes. Emergency officials rescued over a thousand residents. Ms. Hart evacuated. She was fortunate: Her home suffered only minor wind damage. But the experience changed her view of living there. She installed storm shutters and a generator and bought flood insurance. And yet, like so many others, she has stayed despite the storm risks. “I don’t let it affect my life unless there’s a hurricane coming,” she said. Ms. Hart is far from alone. When she arrived, there were about a dozen homes in her retirement community. Today there are over 500. In a retirement community being built across the road, acres of pine forests have been cleared to develop homes along the Cape Fear River. Nearby, marshland with ghost forests of dead trees was up for sale as “riverfront condo land.” Wilmington is part of New Hanover County, the most densely populated of the state’s coastal counties. Nearly 40 percent of its homes risk being severely affected by flooding in the next 30 years, according to the First Street Foundation. “There’s just not a lot of area left,” said Steven Still, director of emergency services for the county. “So, you’re developing in the fringe areas.” The escalating costs of storms raise a difficult question for these growing coastal communities: How do you balance growth with safety? The combination of climate change and development in risky areas is making it “a huge challenge” to keep residents safe, said Amanda Martin, North Carolina’s chief resilience officer. It’s not just that people are moving to hurricane-prone areas. The growth itself can make flooding worse. Cutting down trees and paving over wetlands takes away open land that would otherwise absorb rainfall. “We just seem to be going through this vicious cycle that is becoming more vicious with the amount of people and infrastructure we put in these areas,” Mr. Still said. Federal law permits people to build in flood zones, so long as they meet certain minimum standards. In return, the government offers them flood insurance through a federal program that is over $20 billion in debt — largely due to escalating hurricane damages. While the National Flood Insurance Program was originally intended to discourage floodplain development, in practice it has done the opposite by removing a lot of the financial risk involved, said Jenny Brennan, a climate analyst at the Southern Environmental Law Center. States have a few options to discourage people from building in flood zones. They can create more stringent building requirements, or they can buy up and preserve undeveloped land. But these measures are expensive and rely on political will or the willingness of landowners to sell. One way that states can move residents out of harm’s way is by offering to buy out their homes and permanently converting that land to open space. But a study this year found that for every home bought out in North Carolina between 1996 and 2017, more than 10 new ones were built in the state’s floodplains. The growth also makes it more difficult to evacuate when storms strike. In these booming coastal counties, residents and local officials say that roads and bridges are not keeping pace with the growth. “Our biggest problem is our infrastructures not being able to keep up,” said David McIntire, the deputy director of emergency management for Brunswick County, the fastest-growing coastal county in North Carolina this century and part of the Wilmington metro. The state has undertaken a multiyear project to add two lanes to Highway 211, the main evacuation route for the region. Mr. McIntire said the state and local departments were “having to play catch-up” after years of failing to plan ahead. In neighboring New Hanover County, his counterpart Mr. Still is grappling with a shortage of affordable housing, which he said was making it “exponentially difficult” to shelter people displaced by disasters. After a disaster, the surge in demand for short-term housing drives up already high rents. Poorer residents often rely on the state and local governments for assistance with evacuation and housing. The problem lies in where to house them. “If there is zero housing availability in the community right now,” Mr. Still said, “where do you put 100,000 people?” The housing crunch is one of many tensions playing out between wealthy coastal communities and those who live nearby. April O’Leary lives in Conway, S.C., an inland city in Horry County, a half-hour drive from Myrtle Beach. The county makes up the Myrtle Beach metro area, which was the fastest-growing coastal metro nationally between 2000 and 2020 and is one of the fastest-growing places in the country annually. And the growth is projected to continue. Horry County is large and flat: Nearly a quarter of its land lies within a floodplain. After Hurricane Florence made landfall, it took about a week for the rainwater to flow down to Conway. But the water stayed for over a week. “It sits for a while and it just destroys everything,” Ms. O’Leary said. Water entered her home, flooding the first floor and a bedroom. Her husband and son evacuated to Myrtle Beach, while she stayed for a few days to document the floods. Afterward, there were large piles of debris lining street after street in her neighborhood, filled with ruined flooring, kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures. When her son’s elementary school reopened and he saw the devastation in the neighborhood, she said he stopped smiling and became quieter for months. After the flooding, Ms. O’Leary founded Horry County Rising, a political organization that campaigned for the county to adopt stricter regulations for floodplain construction. Much of the flooding in the Carolinas during Hurricane Florence occurred outside of federal flood zones, where few people have flood insurance or homes that are protected from flooding. In 2021, the county expanded its flood zone boundaries to include places that flooded during Hurricane Florence. And it required new homes built there to have their lowest floor three feet above the high water mark. The changes applied to all unincorporated parts of the county. But they faced pushback from local developers because of raised building costs. The county recently voted to lower the height requirements to two feet, after legal pressure from a developer. The flooding and growth also affect rural communities that have been rooted in the Carolinas for generations. In Bucksport, S.C., a small inland town in Horry County, Kevin Mishoe is a third-generation farmer and former chair of the Association for the Betterment of Bucksport. He said the newer building codes would pay dividends in future floods, but they would also make home ownership far more expensive for people in lower-income communities like Bucksport. Bucksport sits between two major rivers, nestled against wetlands and tidal forests. Mr. Mishoe lives with his wife in a mobile home that flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. Mr. Mishoe says he believes banks are denying loans to residents because of their location in a floodplain, a phenomenon he called “bluelining.” Meanwhile, he said, locals are being “bombarded” with offers from developers and private equity companies to buy their land. “All of a sudden land that you’re telling us is almost worthless because you’re in a flood zone, everybody’s trying to buy,” he said. The area is considered prime real estate because of its access to water. This year, the county expressed support for a highway that would connect Myrtle Beach to inland parts of the county. The highway is expected to cut through Bucksport and its adjoining wetlands and bring added development to the region. The town’s residents emphatically do not want to sell their land, Mr. Mishoe said. Their ancestors have held on to this land for generations, and they intend to stay. Bucksport’s flooding problem began in 2015. But there are coastal Carolina communities that have endured regular hurricanes for over a century. Karen Willis Amspacher lives on Harkers Island in Carteret County, N.C. — one of the most hurricane-prone counties in the country. The island is part of a string of low-lying rural communities near the Outer Banks that locals call Down East. The communities are connected by Highway 70, a dredged road that floods several times a year. Ms. Amspacher is a fifth-generation resident of the island and the director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum. There are a lot of newer residents, she said, moving into large houses on stilts, with generators and flood insurance. Some houses are second homes or vacation properties. The construction boom has driven up costs for locals. “The fear and threat of sea level rise or storms doesn’t hinder any of it,” she said. While the new homes may be safer, Ms. Amspacher said, many of the newcomers are isolated from the emotional trauma that her community experiences during a hurricane. “This is a piece of property to them,” she said. “It’s not their family inheritance. It’s not their home. It’s not where they hope their children will stay and grow up.” Ms. Amspacher has had to evacuate her home in three past hurricanes. But she’s not planning to leave for the next one. She said staying during storms was a way to protect property from damage and was part of her community’s cultural identity. “These hurricanes make these communities what we are,” she said. Back in Wilmington, Sharon Valentine is also no stranger to hurricanes. She owned a large animal farm near Fayetteville, N.C., which was devastated by Hurricane Fran in 1996. So, when she and her partner decided to retire in Wilmington’s Del Webb community in 2017, they knew the risks. Many others have followed since. “There’s a mass migration down here,” she said. Ms. Valentine organizes annual hurricane training for these newer arrivals. The community members have evacuation plans and look out for one another. She, too, said the local infrastructure hadn’t kept up with growth. There are two small bridges on either end of River Road that serve as the main evacuation routes for her community. She is concerned that they may flood in a major storm. “If we really ever have a bad one, we’re going to have to get out of here,” Ms. Valentine said. Still, when she thinks about all the newcomers, she sympathizes with their reasons for moving here. “It is a beautiful place that has a dragon emerge periodically,” she said. “And so, you weigh your risks.”
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Previously reported – December 2023
2023 Atlantic hurricane season ranks 4th for most-named storms in a year NOAA advances modeling and observation capabilities during the season The above-normal 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially ends on Nov. 30, was characterized by record-warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures and a strong El Nino. The Atlantic basin saw 20 named storms in 2023, which ranks fourth for the most-named storms in a year since 1950. Seven storms were hurricanes and three intensified to major hurricanes. An average season has 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Hurricane Idalia was the only U.S. landfalling hurricane in 2023. It made landfall as a category-3 hurricane on Aug. 30 near Keaton Beach, Florida, causing storm surge inundation of 7 to 12 feet and widespread rainfall flooding in Florida and throughout the southeast. Tropical Storm Ophelia made landfall as a strong tropical storm with 70 mph winds on Emerald Isle, North Carolina, on Sept. 23 causing widespread heavy rainfall, gusty winds and significant river and storm surge flooding in portions of eastern North Carolina. Hurricane Lee made landfall as a post-tropical cyclone in Nova Scotia, Canada, on Sept. 16. Swells generated by Lee caused dangerous surf and rip currents along the entire U.S. Atlantic coast. Strong winds with hurricane‑force gusts from Lee caused extensive power outages in Maine and in parts of Canada. The 2023 Atlantic seasonal activity fell within the NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s predicted ranges for named storms and hurricanes in the August updated outlook. “The Atlantic basin produced the most named storms of any El Nino influenced year in the modern record,” said Matthew Rosencrans, lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center — a division of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “The record-warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic provided a strong counterbalance to the traditional El Nino impacts.” The eastern Pacific basin hurricane season was also above normal with 17 named storms, of which 10 were hurricanes and eight of those major hurricanes. From Aug. 16 to 21, Tropical Storm Hilary brought widespread heavy rainfall and flooding to Southern California, with some areas receiving up to 600% of their normal August rainfall. Hilary resulted in the first ever issuance of Tropical Storm Watches and Warnings for the Southern California coastline by NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. In addition, the Center distributed key hazard focused messages for Hilary in Spanish through the agency’s new language translation project. Hurricane Otis made landfall near Acapulco, Mexico, on Oct. 25 as a category-5 hurricane with sustained winds of 165 mph. Otis holds the record as the strongest landfalling hurricane in the eastern Pacific after undergoing rapid intensification in which wind speeds increased by 115 mph in 24 hours. The central Pacific basin had a near-normal season with four tropical systems traversing the basin. Hurricane Dora, a category-4 storm, passed south of Hawaii in early August, marking the first major hurricane in the central Pacific basin since 2020. The strong gradient between a high pressure system to the north and Dora to the south was a contributing factor to the wind-driven, fast-moving wildfires in Hawaii. Hurricane season activity for the eastern Pacific and central Pacific fell within predicted ranges. “Another active hurricane season comes to a close where hazards from the storms extended well inland from the landfall location,” said NOAA National Hurricane Center Director Michael Brennan, Ph.D.  “This underscores the importance of having a plan to stay safe whether you’re at the coast or inland.” NOAA’s new Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System helped National Hurricane Center forecasters improve intensity predictions this season. NOAA’s intensity forecasts showed Hurricane Idalia as a major hurricane impacting the coast of Florida as early as Aug. 28. This lead time gave those in threatened areas more time to prepare and respond, and there were no storm surge fatalities from Idalia despite storm surge inundation of as much as 12 feet above ground level in some areas. Further, extending the National Hurricane Center’s tropical weather outlook product from five to seven days, this season provided emergency managers more time to prepare and stage resources before a storm. NOAA’s hurricane research and response This season, NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew 468 mission hours to collect atmospheric data that is critical to hurricane forecasting and research, passing through the eye of a hurricane 120 times and deploying over 1,400 scientific instruments. Since 2020 through this 2023 season, NOAA’s two Lockheed WP-3D Orion have flown 40% more hurricane mission flights than the preceding four years (2016-2019). NOAA celebrated the first operational launch of a Black Swift drone from a NOAA WP-3D Orion to gather atmospheric data in and around Hurricane Tammy. Further, the first successful coordination of a low-flying drone (Anduril’s Altius 600), atmospheric profilers (dropsondes), and ocean profilers (bathythermographs) also launched from a NOAA WP-3D Orion. Observations and information from these deployments are being evaluated to determine the feasibility of using the data to help with hurricane forecasting in the future. NOAA’s Beechcraft King Air flew 28 mission hours to collect aerial imagery used for emergency response after Hurricanes Idalia and Lee. Following Hurricane Idalia, NOAA’s National Ocean Service provided support to enable safe maritime navigation, gathering survey data for 36.8 linear nautical miles and identifying 29 potential obstructions along Florida’s coastal waterways. NOAA also worked to identify hazards caused by capsized vessels, damaged docks and piers, parts of homes and other types of marine debris, and shared findings with Florida’s debris task force following Hurricane Idalia.  NOAA’s geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites provided vital information for monitoring and forecasting the hurricanes and tropical weather that threatened our lives and property this season. Forecasters used one-minute geostationary satellite imagery to assess structure changes during the rapid intensity of storms such as Idalia, Lee and Otis. NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellites orbit the Earth from pole to pole 14 times a day, providing full global coverage twice daily. Throughout the hurricane season, these satellites made sophisticated and precise observations of the atmosphere, ocean and land, which were critical to developing daily and 3-5 day forecasts. The National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Reports for 2023, including synoptic history, meteorological statistics, casualties and damages, and the post-analysis best track, will be published on the 2023 Tropical Cyclone Report site in March 2024. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, will issue its 2024 hurricane seasonal outlook in May 2024. The hurricane season officially begins on June 1.
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Previously reported – January 2024
Why a hot Atlantic has hurricane forecasters very worried Hurricane season is still more than three months away, but in parts of the tropical Atlantic, it feels like we might as well already be in the thick of it. Across a strip of ocean where many cyclones are born, February ocean temperatures are closer to what scientists expect in July. The ominous warmth is stirring concerns of yet another hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season. Seven of the last eight seasons have been above normal. Last year, similarly unusual warmth fueled a storm season that was significantly more active than meteorologists might have expected given the presence of the El Niño climate pattern, which emerged last spring and creates conditions that tend to inhibit Atlantic cyclone formation. As meteorologists look ahead to this hurricane season, which begins June 1, they see an increasing likelihood that a La Niña pattern will replace El Niño by late summer or early fall. That is another bad sign for the U.S. coastline — La Niña is associated with active patterns in the tropical Atlantic. It’s still too early to say whether the warmth will persist into hurricane season, or when La Niña might arrive. But, especially together, the trends suggest that an active season could be difficult to avoid, said Michael Lowry, a meteorologist with WPLG-TV in Miami and a former National Hurricane Center scientist. “There’s plenty of time ahead before we get to the meatiest part of the hurricane season,” Lowry said. “But a lot’s going to have to change … for forecasters to feel much more comfortable going into hurricane season.” A persistent trend of record warmth Last spring, the strongest climate signal scientists know of — El Niño — gave every indication of a slowdown in Atlantic hurricane activity in the summer and fall. El Niño’s signature is a surge of warm waters and towering clouds in the central and eastern Pacific. It triggers changes in atmospheric circulation that, on the other side of the planet, can make it harder for tropical storms to form and strengthen: Areas of high pressure with sinking air are more common over the Atlantic, and wind shear, when wind speed and direction vary at different altitudes, increases. The expectation of El Niño prompted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters to predict a mostly typical Atlantic hurricane season, a downgrade from years of increased storm activity. But as El Niño developed, and unusual warmth appeared well beyond the Pacific zones the climate pattern is known for, forecasters warned that a quieter season was far less than certain. By August, it became clearer: The ocean warmth was likely to counteract El Niño’s typical effect in the Atlantic, and NOAA upgraded its forecast. The season ended up with about 20 percent more activity than average, as measured by a statistic known as accumulated cyclone energy. Now, with a new tropical weather season ahead, Atlantic temperatures are perhaps even more remarkable. Why meteorologists have reason for concern In a zone of the Atlantic known as the main development region for hurricanes, sea surface temperatures are running well above normal — and 1.1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) higher than in any other year on record, said Philip Klotzbach, a tropical meteorologist at Colorado State University. If that trend persists into hurricane season this summer, it could mean a ripe environment for tropical waves flowing from Africa to develop into cyclones. “Basically, it is the perfect recipe for hurricanes to form and strengthen,” Alejandro Jaramillo, a meteorologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said in an email. “The warmer waters provide extra fuel available for hurricanes, potentially leading to the formation of stronger storms.” One factor behind the Atlantic warmth: weak winds over the ocean, Klotzbach said. That discourages evaporation, which would allow the waters to cool by transferring heat into the air. Models suggest weaker-than-normal winds continuing into March, Klotzbach said. Beyond that, longer-term models predict that surface temperatures will remain elevated, and that by the heart of hurricane season, from August through October, precipitation will be above normal across the tropical Atlantic, something that suggests a strong pattern of waves flowing off Africa, Klotzbach said. If those predictions come to pass, “I’d expect a very busy season in store,” he said in an email. Meanwhile, climate scientists predict that La Niña is more likely than not to develop by August. While El Niño increases wind shear — which acts to disrupt hurricanes’ columns of rotating winds — La Niña tends to discourage it, clearing the way for storms to organize and strengthen. The warm water in the tropical Atlantic is part of a global pattern of record sea-surface temperatures, fueled by both El Niño and human-caused climate change. The planet’s average sea surface temperature reached an all-time record of 70.2 degrees Fahrenheit (21.2 Celsius) on Feb. 9, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. Why it’s too soon to panic Meteorologists stressed that it is far too soon to say how the hurricane season may play out. Official seasonal forecasts from NOAA, Colorado State and other sources won’t arrive for months, and even they carry plenty of uncertainty. And there is still much scientists don’t understand about how the ocean behaves and what triggers longer-term changes in tropical weather. For example, it wasn’t immediately clear what was behind an unusual drought of Atlantic hurricanes in the 1970s and 1980s — until scientists realized that a surge in air pollution from Europe was acting to cool the tropical Atlantic by blocking sunlight, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Similarly, it isn’t yet clear why the Atlantic is warming more dramatically than other oceans, or for how long it will continue, he said. Even if scientists could predict an active hurricane season with more certainty, “that’s not what you want,” Emanuel said. “You want the number of destructive landfalling storms.” That is outside meteorologists’ capabilities — it was just last year that NOAA extended its tropical outlooks to seven days. But Lowry said the state of the Atlantic is such that, even if ocean temperatures trend closer to normal, there is still far more heat in the waters that could be available for storms come summer and fall. “This is such an extreme case that it doesn’t bode well,” he said.
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Previously reported – April 2024
‘Alarming’ Ocean Temperatures Suggest This Hurricane Season Will Be a Daunting One
An early forecast from one set of experts sees an above-average hurricane season that may rival the busiest years on record. A key area of the Atlantic Ocean where hurricanes form is already abnormally warm, much warmer than an ideal swimming pool temperature of about 80 degrees and on the cusp of feeling more like warm bathtub water. These conditions were described by Benjamin Kirtman, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami, as “unprecedented,” “alarming” and an “out-of-bounds anomaly.” Combined with the rapidly subsiding El Niño weather pattern, it is leading to mounting confidence among forecasting experts that there will be an exceptionally high number of storms this hurricane season. One such expert, Phil Klotzbach, a researcher at Colorado State University, said in his team’s annual forecast on Thursday that they expected a remarkably busy season of 23 named storms, including 11 hurricanes — five of them potentially reaching major status, meaning Category 3 or higher. In a typical season, there are 14 named storms with seven hurricanes and three of them major. Dr. Klotzbach said there was a “well above-average probability” that at least one major hurricane would make landfall along the United States and in the Caribbean. It’s the Colorado State researchers’ biggest April prediction ever, by a healthy margin, said Dr. Klotzbach. While things could still play out differently, he said he was more confident than he normally would be this early in the year. All the conditions that he and other researchers look at to forecast the season, such as weather patterns, sea surface temperatures and computer model data, are pointing in one direction. “Normally, I wouldn’t go nearly this high,” he said, but with the data he’s seeing, “Why hedge?” If anything, he said, his numbers are on the conservative side, and there are computer models that indicate even more storms on the way. The United States was lucky in 2023. Last year was unusual. Though only one hurricane, Idalia, made landfall in the United States, 20 storms formed, a number far above average and the fourth most since record keeping began. Typically, the El Niño pattern that was in force would have suppressed hurricanes and reduced the number of storms in a season. But in 2023, the warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic blunted El Niño’s effect to thwart storms. That left Idalia as the one impactful storm of the season in the Atlantic, with 12 deaths attributed to it and over $1 billion in damage. It hit in the big bend of Florida, where few people live, and the prevailing thought among hurricane researchers is that the East Coast got lucky, Dr. Klotzbach said. That luck may change this year. The El Niño pattern is dwindling now, and the likelihood of a La Niña pattern emerging during the hurricane season could also cause a shift in the steering pattern over the Atlantic. During an El Niño weather pattern, the area of high pressure over the Atlantic tends to weaken, which allows for storms to curve north and then east away from land. That’s what kept most of the storms last year away from land. A La Niña weather pattern would already have forecasters looking toward an above-average year. The possibility of a La Niña, combined with record sea surface temperatures this hurricane season, could create a robust environment for storms to form and intensify this year. Just because there are strong signals during an El Niño year that one thing will occur, it doesn’t mean the opposite happens during a La Niña year, Dr. Kirtman said. But if the high pressure strengthens and shifts west, it will mean more hurricanes making landfall. The region where storms are most likely to form is often called the “tropical Atlantic,” stretching from West Africa to Central America and between Cuba and South America. During a La Niña year, Dr. Klotzbach said, there’s a slight increase in hurricanes forming in the western side of this main development zone — closer to the Caribbean than to Africa. When a storm forms there, it is more likely to make landfall because it’s closer to land. And while it is difficult to predict specific landfalls this far ahead of the season, the sheer odds of more storms increases the expected risk to coastal areas. Sea surface temperatures also affect the hurricane season. Over the past century, those temperatures have increased gradually. But last year, with an intensity that unnerved climate scientists, the warming ratcheted up more rapidly. And in the main area where hurricanes form, 2024 is already the warmest in a decade. “Crazy” is how Dr. Kirtman described it. The main development region is, right now, warmer than it’s historically been,” he said. “So, it’s an out-of-bounds anomaly.” There is little doubt in his mind that we are seeing some profound climate change impacts, but scientists don’t know exactly why it is occurring so quickly all of a sudden. But it is happening, and it is likely to affect the season. “The chances of a big, big hurricane that has a large impact making landfall is definitely increased,” he said. Early forecasts aren’t always right. It’s reasonable to take this forecast with a grain of sea salt; the seasonal forecast in April hasn’t always been the most accurate. Colorado State University’s April forecast for the 2023 hurricane season called for a slightly below-average season with 13 named storms. Instead, there were 20. Even Dr. Klotzbach admits the April forecast isn’t always the best prediction, but its accuracy is improving. The weather can be fickle, and much can change before the season officially begins on June 1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue its own forecast in late May. But for now, Colorado State and a few other forecasting groups have all called for one of the busiest seasons on record. By year’s end, Dr. Klotzbach said, he’ll be writing a scientific paper on one of two things: the incredibly active hurricane season of 2024, or one of the biggest head fakes in Atlantic hurricane season history. But he’s pretty confident it will be the former. “If it turns out to be two hurricanes,” he said, “then I should just quit and do something else.” Read more » click here The 2024 hurricane season could be busy. Here’s what to expect in North Carolina. “This is the highest prediction for hurricanes that (Colorado State University) has ever issued with their April outlook.” The start of the 2024 hurricane season is sneaking up just as the weather warms, and forecasters are already out with their early-season predictions. But with climate change warming the oceans and air temperatures seemingly hitting new highs every month, with the European Union’s climate service declaring March to be the 10th consecutive month of record worldwide temperatures, is it only a question of how bad things will be this year? Or will Southeastern North Carolina be able to (mostly) dodge the proverbial storm bullet for another year? What are forecasters saying? According to forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU), who have been releasing April predictions since 1995, the 2024 season will be “an extremely active Atlantic hurricane season.” The researchers are predicting 23 named storms, with 11 becoming hurricanes and five of those becoming Category 3 or stronger systems. That’s about 170% of the usual storm activity of an average year. “This is the highest prediction for hurricanes that CSU has ever issued with their April outlook,” stated the researchers in a release.  The probability of one of those storms making landfall on the mainland U.S.:

    • 62% for the entire U.S. coastline (average from 1880–2020 is 43%).
    • 34% for the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida peninsula (average from 1880–2020 is 21%).
    • 56% probability a hurricane will come within 50 miles of the N.C. coast, 85% for a named tropical storm.

The researchers added that the predicted storm activity is exhibiting characteristics similar to the 2010 and 2020 seasons. How bad were 2010 and 2020? For the Wilmington area, the 2010 hurricane season didn’t bring too many impacts although Tropical Storm Nicole did drop more than 22 inches of rain on the Port City, flooding more than 100 roads in Brunswick County and leaving chunks of Pleasure Island underwater. But for the Atlantic basin as a whole, it was very busy, with some of the more brutal storms, particularly Alex and Karl, hammering the Caribbean and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A pair of Category 4 monsters, Danielle and Earl, also luckily stayed out mostly at sea. A decade later, 2020 proved to be the most active hurricane season ever with 30 named storms, 14 of which developed into hurricanes. That list included a record 12 U.S. landfalling storms, including Hurricane Isaias, which raked the Brunswick County beaches and knocked out power to nearly 400,000 customers in the Carolinas. What about El Niño & La Niña in 2024? While El Niño conditions have dominated for the past year or so, that should transition into La Niña by the time hurricane season rolls around. Dr. Michael Mann, a meteorologist and scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, said that will mean decreased wind shear in the tropical Atlantic and a more favorable environment for tropical cyclones. Did we learn anything from the 2023 season? Unfortunately, Mann said one of the lessons that last season reinforced was that in a world buffeted by climate change forecasters continue to have a tendency to under predict the actual number of named storms. He added that while ocean surface temperatures are somewhat retreating from the record heat we’ve seen recently, his team is still expecting to see abnormally warm water temperatures in the main development region of the Atlantic for storms. In other words, it could be a long, stormy season so buckle up and be prepared. “It takes only one storm near you to make this an active season for you,” said CSU meteorologist Dr. Michael Bell. Hurricane season starts June 1 and runs through November.
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