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May 6, 2014

Fed report says Americans feel climate change impact

The government this morning released its much-anticipated and newest assessment of climate change in the United States, concluding that Americans already are feeling the impacts of global warming.

That includes Maine, where Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps are being reevaluated to take into account rising sea waters linked to global warming that not only could change the coastline, but raise property insurance premiums as well.

The new National Climate Assessment Report details the ways climate change already is affecting and will continue to increasingly impact the lives of Americans. Included are heavy Northeast downpours from super storms such as Sandy, flooding from sea-level rise along the Atlantic Ocean from Miami north, record-setting wildfires in several western states, a crop-destroying heat wave in the Midwest and drought that has parched southern California, all of which have occurred in recent years, according to an article in The Washington Post on the report.

By region, the report says heat waves, heavy downpours and sea-level rise post growing challenges in the Northeast — where 64 million people are concentrated — to infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries and ecosystems, which it says will be increasingly compromised. Thus, many states and cities are starting to incorporate climate change into their planning.

Between 1895 and 2011, temperatures in the Northeast increased by almost 2˚F (0.16˚F per decade), and precipitation increased by approximately five inches, or more than 10% (0.4 inches per decade). On Earth Day this year (April 22), new research showed that Maine's average temperature rose more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the first Earth Day was celebrated 44 years ago on April 22, 1970. The state had the eighth-largest increase in average temperature since 1970 out of the 48 contiguous United States, according to a recent report from Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on climate science.

The new federal report also highlighted Maine's culverts in a case study on states' activities. The report said culverts and the structures they protect are receiving increasing attention because they are vulnerable to damage during the extreme precipitation events that are happening more frequently. For example, the report notes that the severe storms in the Northeast that were projected in the 1950s to occur only once in 100 years are now projected to occur once every 60 years.

The Maine Department of Transportation manages more than 97,000 culverts, the study noted, but individual property owners or small towns manage even more. Scarborough, for example, has 2,127 culverts. The report said that 71 town managers and officials in coastal Maine were surveyed as part of the statewide Sustainability Solutions Initiative, and culverts, which last 50 to 65 years, topped the wish list for help needed to adapt to climate change.

The federal report also pointed to a research initiative that mapped decisions by Maine town managers to sources of climate information, engineering design, mandated requirements and calendars. That initiative showed there are complex, multi-jurisdictional challenges for widespread adaptation for even simple actions like using larger culverts to carry water from major storms. The report said, "To help towns adapt culverts to expected climate change over their lifetimes, the Sustainability Solutions Initiative is creating decision tools to map culvert locations, schedule maintenance, estimate needed culvert size and analyze replacement needs and costs."

Read more

Study predicts more climate-related blackouts

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