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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Record Drought Grips U.S. in 2022 as FEMA Prepares to Open New Grant Program

Hurricane Ian was the most costly event of 2022 at $112.9 billion, and ranks as the third most costly hurricane on record (since 1980) for the U.S., behind Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Harvey (2017).

The large coverage and long duration of drought conditions across the U.S. set several records in 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said. The year was also marked by numerous severe weather events, devastating hurricanes and deadly flooding across parts of the country.  

NOAA reports that the average annual temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 53.4 degrees F — 1.4 degrees above the 20th-century average. Florida and Rhode Island both saw their fifth-warmest calendar year on record while Massachusetts ranked sixth warmest. Four additional states experienced a top-10 warmest year on record — California, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire. Alaska saw its 16th-warmest year in the 98-year record for the state.

Annual precipitation across the contiguous U.S. totaled 28.35 inches (1.59 inches below average), which placed 2022 in the driest third of the climate record. Nebraska saw its fourth-driest year on record while California had its ninth driest. Meanwhile, above-average precipitation caused Alaska to have its fourth-wettest year on record.

Drought coverage across the contiguous U.S. remained significant for the second year in a row, with a minimum extent of 44% occurring on September 6 and a maximum coverage of 63% on October 25 — the largest contiguous U.S. footprint since the drought of 2012. 

In the western U.S., drought conditions reached a peak coverage of 91.3% of the region on May 3. Drought coverage across the West shrank as the summer monsoon reduced some of the coverage in the Southwest. The multi-year western U.S. drought resulted in water stress/shortages across many locations in 2022 as some major reservoirs dropped to their lowest levels on record.

Last year, the U.S. experienced 18 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, leading to the deaths of at least 474 people. The following 18 events, each exceeding $1 billion, put 2022 in third place (tied with 2011 and 2017) for the highest number of disasters recorded in a calendar year, behind 2021 — with 20 events — and 2020, with a record 22 separate billion-dollar events:

  • One winter storm/cold wave event (across the central and eastern U.S.).
  • One wildfire event (wildfires across the western U.S., including Alaska).
  • One drought and heat wave event (across the western and central U.S.).
  • One flooding event (in Missouri and Kentucky).
  • Two tornado outbreaks (across the southern and southeastern U.S.).
  • Three tropical cyclones (Fiona, Ian and Nicole).
  • Nine severe weather/hail events (across many parts of the country, including a derecho in the central U.S). 

Damages from these disasters totaled approximately $165.0 billion for all 18 events. This surpasses 2021 ($155.3 billion, inflation adjusted) in total costs, which makes 2022 the third most costly year on record, only behind 2017 and 2005; all inflation adjusted to 2022 dollars).  

Hurricane Ian was the most costly event of 2022 at $112.9 billion, and ranks as the third most costly hurricane on record (since 1980) for the U.S., behind Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Harvey (2017).

Over the last seven years (2016-2022), 122 separate billion-dollar disasters have killed at least 5,000 people, with a total cost of more than $1 trillion in damages. Five of the last six years (2017-2022, with 2019 being the exception) have each had a price tag of at least $100 billion.

During 2022, 14 named storms formed in the North Atlantic Basin (four tropical storms, eight hurricanes and two major hurricanes), which is near the historical average. Several notable storms brought destruction and flooding to portions of the U.S. 

Hurricane Fiona brought massive flooding to Puerto Rico, with some areas receiving 12-18 inches of rain. Hurricane Ian, with 150 mph sustained winds, made landfall in southwest Florida resulting in major flooding, damage and loss of life. Later in the year, Hurricane Nicole made landfall along Florida’s eastern shore, flooding the coast and knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of people. Nicole was the first hurricane to hit the U.S. during November in nearly 40 years.

The preliminary U.S. tornado count for 2022 was approximately 9% above the 1991-2020 average across the contiguous U.S. with 1,331 tornadoes reported. March 2022 had triple the average number of tornadoes reported (293) and the most tornadoes reported for any March in the 1950-2022 record.

In addition to the active wildfire year across the western U.S., Alaska saw one million acres burned by June 18 — the earliest such occurrence in a calendar year than any other time in the last 32 years. By July 1, 1.85 million acres had been consumed — the second-highest June total on record and the seventh-highest acreage burned for any calendar month on record for Alaska.

To help communities across the United States build resilience against a changing climate, from February 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will accept applications for the Safeguarding Tomorrow Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grant program that aims to reduce disaster vulnerability and suffering. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $500 million in the Safeguarding Tomorrow RLF program over five years. For the first year of the program, FEMA will make $50 million available in capitalization grants to eligible states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, to fund low-interest loans. Fifteen Tribal Nations that received a major disaster declaration between Jan. 1, 2016, and Jan, 1, 2021, are also eligible for this first round of funding.

“FEMA remains committed to finding innovative approaches to help communities build resilience in the face of intensifying weather events driven by climate change,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “The low-interest loans provided by the STORM program will help eligible states and tribes, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, finance disaster mitigation projects that will enhance their climate resiliency before disaster strikes.”

The Safeguarding Tomorrow Revolving Loan Fund complements and strengthens FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant portfolio through which multiple grant programs support projects at the local government level to increase the nation’s resilience to natural hazards and climate change. Loans may be used to help local governments satisfy the non-federal cost share requirements of these grant programs, for which they are required to provide a cost-share of up to 25%.

Initial funding will focus on both increasing public understanding of the program and working with participating communities to learn how to enhance the program in future iterations.

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance helps communities increase resilience to extreme heat waves, drought, wildfires, flood and hurricanes by funding transformational projects that reduce risk to multiple hazards, support adaptation to future conditions and lessen the impact of all disasters on the United States’ most underserved residents and disadvantaged communities. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also provides $6.8 billion in additional funding for FEMA to invest in community-wide mitigation to reduce disaster suffering and avoid future disaster costs in the face of more frequent and severe weather events.

The Safeguarding Tomorrow RLF funding notice is available at Grants.gov. Eligible entities must apply for funding using the Non-Disaster (ND) Grants Management System (ND Grants). Applications must be received by 3 p.m. Eastern Time, April. 28, 2023.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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