In a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters on Monday, President Joe Biden announced he would add $1 billion to the agency’s budget aiding communities preparing for natural disasters, as climate change worsens the storms and wildfires that hit the United States and extends their season further into the year.
“Now is the time to get ready for the busiest time of the year for disasters in America,” Biden told reporters of his decision to double FEMA’s preparatory budget, which funds local- and state-government programs to build seawalls and other mitigation efforts. As Biden noted, this period includes “hurricane season in the South and East and the fire season out West,” both of which now effectively extend into May. In the West, a study published in Nature last month asserted that the wildfire season “has advanced to May,” as a blaze caused around 1,000 people to evacuate in eastern Los Angeles County last week. In the Atlantic, though June 1 remains the official start of the hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center now begins storm forecasting on May 15. On Saturday, the development of subtropical storm Ana marked seven straight years of named storms prior to the June 1 season opener.
The doubling of the program known as Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities is a step in the right direction for an administration hoping to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. But alone, it is a very small step. According to a White House fact sheet released on Monday, 22 separate natural disasters surpassed $1 billion in damages and together made up almost $100 billion. But elsewhere, the administration is planning more substantive efforts, including an executive order signed last week requiring the federal government to calculate the economic damage that weather events worsened by climate change could do to the financial system. As part of his infrastructure proposal being hashed out in Congress, the president has also requested $50 billion for climate-resilience projects, like weatherizing electric grids, a substantial improvement, if achieved, on the BRIC expansion announced on Monday.
Major efforts will be necessary to address worsening natural disasters in the United States: Due to low rainfall this past winter and a hotter-than-average summer forecast, the California wildfire season is expected to be worse than average as the state recovers from its worst season in recorded history. And in the Atlantic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates there may be as many as 20 named storms, coming off a year in which the National Hurricane Center had to switch to Greek letters because it ran through its 21 alphabetized storm names.