WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- A top U.S. Senate Democrat said Thursday the federal government is not prepared to handle "catastrophic" weather events.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip, chaired a hearing of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee to examine the federal government's preparedness for the economic impact of weather events, which he said are growing in frequency and severity.
After hearing testimony from Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, Durbin said the federal government should follow the lead of the private sector and begin to focus strategically on the long-term budgetary impacts of severe weather events.
"We are not prepared," Durbin said in remarks provided by his office. "Our weather events are getting worse, catastrophic in fact. The private sector is prepared, but the federal government is ignoring the obvious. We need to do more to protect federal assets and respond to growing demands for disaster assistance on an increasing frequency."
After a record-setting 2010, "the U.S. has already experienced eight natural disasters this year -- the previous record was nine," Durbin said. "Chicago, in my home state of Illinois, has seen some of the worst weather in history."
In February, Chicago was shut down as 2 feet of snow and 20 mph winds hammered the city, killing 36 people and causing $3.9 billion in damages, Durbin said, and last weekend, the city was hit with the largest recorded single-day rainfall in history. "Combined with last night's severe rainstorms, July 2011 is now the wettest month in the 122 years of Chicago's recorded history."
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration testified in 2011 alone, nearly $28 billion in damages already have been caused by catastrophic events, and 2011 is tied for fifth as the deadliest tornado year for the United States since modern record-keeping began in 1950, with 537 casualties. Wildfire conditions in the Southern Plains and Southwest have led to a record breaking 1.79 million acres burned, she said, and record-setting rain caused historic flooding throughout the Midwest that is forecast to rival the Great Flood of 1993.