In Pennsylvania, flooding presents one of the greatest climate threats. According to the Climate Impacts Assessment released by the Pennsylvania DEP this past spring, flooding is currently the highest-risk hazard facing the state. This risk will only increase as temperatures continue to rise. In September, Hurricane Ida provided a preview of the kinds of storms that could become more common in coming years, as warmer air traps more moisture in the atmosphere, leading to heavier rains. The storm’s remnants caused severe flooding throughout much of Pennsylvania, resulting in $100 million in infrastructure damage.
“When Pennsylvania lawmakers voted late last month to extend Gov. Tom Wolf’s disaster declaration for the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Ida, they weren’t responding to events that were happening in a vacuum,” wrote John Micek in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. “Rather, they were on the frontlines of an environmental battle that’s being fought on multiple fronts across the nation. And it’s one that policymakers can ill afford to lose.”
This kind of damage may become more common if action isn’t taken to protect infrastructure against severe weather events. A new report from First Street Foundation found that 25% of critical infrastructure nationwide is at risk of flooding today. This includes airports, fire stations, hospitals, police stations, ports, power stations, superfund/hazardous waste sites, water outfalls, and wastewater treatment facilities. The report found that 23% of roads nationwide are also at risk. In Pennsylvania, 32.8% of infrastructure facilities are at operational flood risk, where in a flood event they are at risk of being flooded to a point where they could no longer be safe or used as intended.
“The United States is ill-prepared for the extreme weather now becoming common due to our changing environment, evident by the flood cataclysms that wrought destruction to much of the country in the past decade. Reliable infrastructure is essential to the economic prosperity, sustainability, and security of communities across the United States,” according to a summary of the report.
“This report clearly demonstrates the risk climate change poses in Pennsylvania if we don’t act. Pennsylvanians are increasingly seeing the impacts of flooding and the effects uncontrolled climate change can have on their daily lives, safety, and prosperity,” Mandy Warner, director of Climate and Clean Air Policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Capital-Star in an email.
It’s important for Pennsylvania to take steps to ensure our roads and infrastructure can withstand future severe weather events. Even more important, however, is preventing additional warming that will cause more frequent floods. Adopting regulations to cut climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, like joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and strengthening methane emission standards, will be an essential first step.