White House Carves Out $1 Billion for Upcoming Storm Season

President Joe Biden announced the doubling of U.S. emergency spending Monday as the country heads into what has been forecast to be a hot and very wet summer.

An infographic from the NOAA’s 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. (NOAA via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — With the 2021 hurricane season bearing down on the U.S. and the most active one on record in American history in the rearview, President Joe Biden announced Monday that his administration will direct $1 billion to states to prepare for disasters.

The figure is twice what was granted last year to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities initiative but is still only a drop in the very large bucket of responding to weather and climate-related disasters. Last year, the country suffered a record 22 storms with loses each surpassing $1 billion, for a cumulative price tag of nearly $100 billion. 

It was in the middle of this storm season, September 2020, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency started the BRIC initiative to shore up hard-hit communities.

While June 1 is considered the official start of hurricane season, and Nov. 30 the end, last year’s season started early and proved unrelenting. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ultimately reported 30 named storms, 13 of which were hurricanes — so many that, for only the second time in recorded history, meteorologists exhausted the alphabet and began using Greek letters to name them.

The last time that happened was in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, causing $81 billion in damage and killing more than 1,800 people. Though 2005 was a banner year for storms with its record of 28 tempests tallied, it still fell short of last year’s frenzy.

“Our effort is to get ahead of that internally and use every lever we have in government,” White House press secretary Jenn Psaki said of the $1 billion federal investment on Monday.

A summary graphic showing an alphabetical list of the 2021 Atlantic tropical cyclone names as selected by the World Meteorological Organization. (NOAA via Courthouse News)

The NOAA published its predictions for the upcoming year just last week, estimating a 60% chance that activity will be “above normal.” The likelihood that it will be a quiet, below-normal season is just 10%. Of the 20 or more major storms expected, the NOAA says anywhere from six to 10 of those could become full-blown hurricanes.

“As climate change threatens to bring more extreme events like increased floods, sea level rise, and intensifying droughts and wildfires, it is our responsibility to better prepare and support communities, families, and businesses before disaster – not just after,” the White House said Monday.

White House officials say they are committed to shoring up communities this year before it’s too late.

“The program seeks to categorically shift the federal focus from reactive disaster spending and toward research-supported, proactive investment in community resilience so that when the next hurricane, flood, or wildfire comes, communities are better prepared,” the White House said.

Part of the federal government’s latest approach to mitigating the impact of natural disasters will also include the development and launch of a new program by NASA known as the Earth System Observatory.

“New architecture” for the observatory will eventually be spacebound, the White House said.

The observatory’s primary purpose will be to provide the world with real-time insight and understanding into the interactions of the planet’s oceans, lands and icecaps, and how climate change unfolds at regional and local levels over short and long periods of time.

White House officials link the observatory to the Biden administration’s focus on mitigating the impact of climate change.

In addition to monitoring sea level rise and deforestation, the observatory will also help scientists understand the mechanics and impact of wildfire and drough.

It is a serious departure from the previous administration’s take on climate change and extreme weather. Beyond generally declaring global warming a hoax and rejecting most if not all scientific data on the subject, former President Donald Trump and some of his administration officials pressured the NOAA in 2019 to issue a statement that went against the recommendations of its experts.

President Trump shows reporters an altered hurricane map in the Oval Office on Sept. 4, 2019. (AP photo/Evan Vucci)

Hurricane Dorian had been tearing through the Bahamas when Trump tweeted without evidence that Alabama was in the pathway. As the storm made U.S. landfall on Sept. 6 at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, some 600 miles away from Alabama, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service assured its residents there was no reason to worry.

The situation culminated in the 45th president holding a press conference where he brandished a map of Dorian’s storm path in U.S. that had been physically altered with a Sharpie to include Alabama.

Biden on Monday paid a visit to the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss the challenges looming ahead of what is expected to be a long, hot and potentially very wet summer.

“We have to be ready. We have to be ready when disaster strikes,” Biden said at the meeting, flanked by senior ranking officials from the nation’s Homeland Security Department, the Commerce Department, NOAA, NASA and others. Notably, Kenneth Graham, director for the National Hurricane Center, and Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser, were also in attendance.

Reflecting on lessons learned from the last few years Biden said preparedness was “not about red states and blue states.”

“It’s about having people’s backs,” he said.

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