NOAA/FEMA Earth Day 2000
Contact: Maureen O'Leary

FEMA Reports Numbers and Cost of Declared Disasters have Nearly Doubled

The United States has just experienced the warmest January - March period ever according to 106 years of record-keeping compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center. The latest weather data also shows that June 1999 - March 2000 was the warmest June - March on record. NOAA Administrator D. James Baker and FEMA Director James Lee Witt released the latest figures at an Earth Week news conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, which focused on global climate change and links between a warming atmosphere and more severe weather.

"Our climate is warming at a faster rate than ever before recorded. Ignoring climate change and the most recent warming patterns could be costly to the nation. Small changes in global temperatures can lead to more extreme weather events, including, droughts, floods and hurricanes," NOAA Administrator D. James Baker said. "We will continue to provide the best possible data and forecasts to the policy makers to help them as they deal with these difficult issues."

"There is no doubt that the human and financial costs of weather related disasters have been increasing in recent years. It is time to increase our efforts in applying prevention strategies to reduce the impacts of the changes in weather climates," said FEMA Director James Lee Witt.

At the news conference, FEMA reported that damage from more frequent and severe weather calamities and other natural phenomena during the past decade required 460 major disasters to be declared, nearly double the 237 declarations for the previous ten-year period and more than any other decade on record. Financially, comparing a three-year period of 1989 through 1991, and 1997 through 1999, the federal costs of severe weather disasters rose a dramatic 337 percent in the later part of the decade.

With the increased knowledge that the weather continues to become more intense, NOAA and FEMA are working closely together to mitigate the impacts of these seasonal storms. NOAA will continue to coordinate the work of federal, international, and private scientists to bring to the table current data, outlooks and forecasts. FEMA will continue to place an emphasis on disaster prevention with the desire to cut the economic and emotional costs of disasters. The two agencies intend to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in the future to work cooperatively on issues related to climate change.

"As our coastal areas continue to grow, we will feel a greater likelihood of increased property damage and the need for widespread, and more costly, protection of that property," Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) said. "Rising sea levels will allow storms to penetrate further inland, meaning more people, more buildings and more infrastructure will be at risk."

The record-breaking warmth from January - March 2000 averaged 41.7 degrees F, 1.0 degree F warmer than the previous record set in 1990. During this period, every state in the continental U.S. was warmer than its long-term average; 30 states from just west of the Rocky Mountains to New England ranked much above average. Oklahoma, Iowa, and Wisconsin all experienced their warmest January - March on record with Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska experiencing their second warmest.

Warmer than normal conditions during the first half of March contributed to the overall warmth of the three month period. Many locations across the Upper Mississippi Valley, Great Lakes, and Northeast set records for the earliest date with temperatures reaching 80 degrees and a few sites set all time March warm temperature records during this period. Buffalo, NY reported their harbor sea water temperature at the end of March equaled the record warmest (39 degrees) set in 1998.

During January - March 2000 drought continued to have serious impacts in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley. This was the third driest such period for Louisiana and the fifth driest for Mississippi. The northern and central Rockies and central Plains had near record wet conditions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which consists of the world's leading climate researchers, has just released a draft of the latest scientific report on the science of climate change, projected impacts and vulnerability, and options for mitigation. Their previous report, which was released in 1996, concluded that the balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global climate.

"The IPCC previously ranked New Orleans as the North American city most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. At the University we are doing what we can to understand our local climate system, rising sea levels, and impacts to costal communities for better mitigation," said Gregory O'Brian, Chancellor, University of New Orleans.

Scientists widely believe that long-term climate changes such as global greenhouse warming could have major impacts on human health, the environment, the economy, and society. It could affect everything from energy use and transportation to water resource management and agriculture to international trade and development.

According to the latest seasonal forecast for most of the U.S., the rest of the spring and summer will bring warmer than normal temperatures and some Midwest and Great Plains states will continue to experience drier than normal conditions.

For more information, check out NOAA's Web Site at and FEMA's Web site at

Weather and temperature statistics, compiled by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, are available on the center's World Wide Web site at:
Click onto for "What's Hot."