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Great Lakes Article:

Global Warming Increases Flood Damages-
Great Lakes Pennsylvania Hardest Hit

BOULDER, Colorado, August 6, 2002 (ENS) - Over the last half of the 20th century, Pennsylvania led the nation in flood damages, a new review shows, and global warming could cause damages to rise even more.

Researchers from the University of Colorado's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research have compiled state and basin damage information as well as new and improved national damage estimates to provide a more accurate look at flood costs in the United States.

The new data set shows that from 1955 to 1999, Pennsylvania had flood damages approaching $12 billion. California came in a close second, with flood damages estimated at almost $11 billion.

"The data indicate that California's large damage is the sum of many damaging floods, whereas the damages suffered in Pennsylvania resulted from a few major events," said Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at CIRES. "But if you consider population, North Dakotans have suffered most per capita economic losses due to flooding."

"Despite programs intended to control the growing costs of such hazards, flooding cost the United States approximately $50 billion in damages during the 1990s alone," Pielke added.

There is no consensus on why flood costs continue to spiral, Pielke said. Potential reasons for the increase include climate change, increasing population and failed policies.

"Decision makers need to understand the roles that climate, population growth and development, and policy play in determining flood damage trends," he said.

Current policies are being crafted without adequate information, said the report's coauthor, Mary Downton of the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

"Unfortunately, available records are inadequate for policy evaluation, scientific analysis and disaster mitigation," Downton said. "There are no uniform guidelines for estimating flood losses, no central clearinghouse to collect, evaluate and report flood damage, and the data that do exist are rough approximations that have been reported in lots of different ways."

"Most damage estimates focus on national totals, but scientists need data at river basin or community scale levels to make sense of flood causes and effects," added Downton. "The National Research Council has stressed the importance of a comprehensive and consistent database because sound flood policy making depends on having a continuous time series of damage estimates. Reliable loss data are critical for cost effective hazard mitigation and planning for future disaster response."

The new report is available at:

State by state flood damage estimates, and graphs of each state's damage due to floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, are available at: Click on "Floods"

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