hurricanes. Wind. Rain. Snow. floods. Northampton County has experienced more weather-related federal disasters in the past decade than almost any other place in Pennsylvania, a new study shows.
Northampton tied Sullivan County to six state-declared disasters between 2011 and 2021, according to a statewide study published this month by Rebuild by Design, which examines the economic and social impact of weather-related disasters down to the county level.
The more populous Philadelphia and some of its collar counties each had five disasters during this period. In neighboring New Jersey, every borough had at least that many.
Ninety percent of all counties in the United States suffered at least one weather disaster between 2011 and 2021. Some even suffered twelve. More than 300 million people – 93% of the country’s population – live in these counties.
Rebuild by Design, which published the report, is a nonprofit organization researching ways to prepare for and adapt to climate change. It was created by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development after Superstorm Sandy, the cataclysmic storm that swept across the eastern United States 10 years ago and caused $62.5 billion in damage.
Locally, Northampton County received a total of $4.9 million from the federal government for disaster reporting. There was Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a record-breaking snowstorm in 2016, and flooding in 2018. (Lehigh County received $2.4 million in state disaster relief during this time.)
Northampton County had the most disasters, but 11 other counties received more aid. Bradford County on Pennsylvania’s northern border received the most – $29.5 million, with more than $12 million for storms and flooding in 2018 alone.
(Can’t see the map? Click here.)
California, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Tennessee had the most disasters, each with at least 20, including severe storms, wildfire, flooding, and landslides. But entirely different states — Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Vermont — received the most disaster funding per person over the 11 years.
The Rebuild by Design report does not include any state-declared disasters. It is also specifically noted that extreme heat, despite its high health risk, does not qualify for federal disaster reporting because it does not result in property damage.
In the report, the authors attribute every weather catastrophe to climate change. While it’s true that climate change has charged the climate and made some hurricanes stronger and disasters more frequent, said Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to describe every disaster that we’ve experienced when to call the last 40 years a climate catastrophe.”
While not all weather disasters collected are linked to climate change, Jackson said the collection could still be valuable: “I think there’s a service that highlights that weather disasters are now affecting essentially all Americans, no matter where we live.”
The National Center for Environmental Information estimates that over $1 trillion was spent on weather and climate events between 2011 and 2021. Over the past five years, from 2017 to 2021, $788 billion was spent on weather and climate events.
In the report, Rebuild by Design recommends the federal government prevent disasters instead of waiting for events to happen. It cites the National Institute of Building Sciences, which says that every dollar invested in mitigating natural disasters through building levees or mandated burns saves the country $6.
“The key takeaway for us is that our government continues to invest in places that have already suffered, rather than investing in the areas of greatest social and physical vulnerability,” said Amy Chester, executive director of Rebuild by Design and one of the report partners – authors.
- MORE: The Lehigh Valley’s most extreme weather records
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today lehighvalleylive.com.