It may seem like spring has barely begun in Maine, but it is already hurricane season. That brings heightened worries about heavy rainfall, high winds and floods. The danger, of course, is more acute along the state’s shoreline.
A new report from Moody’s Investor Services warns that hurricanes put more than homes and businesses at risk. With increasing concentration of economic activity in coastal areas, hurricanes threaten the economic well-being — and credit ratings — of many states. Moody’s, a credit rating agency, puts Maine in the top three states with the largest increase in risk exposure because of the growth of employment and wages earned in flood-prone areas.
The Portland area, much of which fronts the ocean, accounts for more than half of the state’s economic output and more than a third of the state’s job. Regional hubs, like Rockland, Belfast and Calais also hug the coast. Even inland cities like Bangor and Augusta are prone to flooding from hurricanes and large storms.
Three Northeast states — Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey — along with Florida account for the greatest potential economic disruption from east and gulf coast hurricanes. Two-thirds of the wages earned — about $66 billion — in the 18 states in the east and gulf coast hurricane flood zones come from these four states.
Louisiana, however, has the greatest share of statewide wages vulnerable to hurricane flooding,
with nearly a third of the state’s wages earned within hurricane flood zones.
The Moody’s report comes on the heels of a in a new study, published by the National Academy of Sciences that warns that sea levels may rise more rapidly than previously predicted. Based on their new assessment, the researchers, from the United States and England, warn that nearly 2 million square kilometers of land would be lost to farming and human habitation, with as many as 187 million people displaced by 2100.
The scientists pointed out that it is difficult to predict how much sea levels will rise because ice sheets are melting faster than expected. As a result, scientists are having a hard time keeping their modeling up to date as conditions change rapidly.
Because of the melting ice, the researchers decided to take a fresh look at predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body that is responsible for assessing the science around climate change.
They found that sea levels could rise twice as fast as the IPCC warned in 2014. They found that globally, sea levels could rise by more than 2 meters (about 6 ½ feet) by 2100.
By the end of this century, nearly 2.5 million homes and commercial properties — with a value of more than $1 trillion — will be at risk of chronic flooding, the Union of Concerned Scientists warned in a study last year, before the latest revelation.
While scientists are hesitant to tie worsening hurricanes to climate change, they note that hurricanes are getting larger, stronger and slower moving. This is attributed to warming ocean temperatures and changing wind patterns. A paper published last month in Scientific Reports found that rising greenhouse gas emissions weakened a wind shear mechanism that protects the U.S. east coast from hurricane activity. Burning fossil fuels, to power our cars and factories and to heat our homes and generate electricity, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The increasing risks from hurricanes are just one more reason that national and state leaders must take action to address climate change. Maine, under Gov. Janet Mills, is doing so on many fronts from joining the U.S. Climate Alliance to the governor’s Maine Climate Council which has a charge to move Maine to 80 percent renewable electricity use by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
These are important steps, but given the scale of the risks, much more needs to be done.