North Carolina’s tourism industry generated $20 billion last year alone, and a new report predicts natural disasters, largely brought on by extreme weather, would threaten that revenue.
The report, States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card, gives the state a grade of “B+” when it comes to climate threats.
While the state performs better than most neighboring states, Dr. Gregory Characklis, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, says it’s important to stay ahead of the threats, which include the problem of drought.
“We have an opportunity now to try and put in place policies that are going to allow us to manage the next drought well because if we’re making decisions in the heat of the moment while we’re in crisis, odds are we might not make the best decisions,” he says.
North Carolina also gets low marks for preparedness against coastal flooding. The analysis estimates 120,000 people live in at-risk areas. That number is expected to increase by more than 30 percent by 2050. In addition, the number of heat wave days are expected to quadruple by 2050.
The state did receive recognition for conducting an assessment of sea level rise vulnerability and having a plan to address climate change, although the report notes there is little evidence the plan has been implemented.
Characklis says the state has started to develop models of who is using water and where, because while the southeast has historically had ample water supply, it’s not something that should be taken for granted in the coming years.
“We’ve got a growing population in this state, a growing economy. So, demand is rising, while our supply is relatively fixed,” explains Characklis. “So, periods of water scarcity, where there is not enough supply to meet demand, are going to come regardless of climate change. But climate change could certainly make things much worse.”
Nationwide, extreme weather events are taking their toll. Since the 1980s, the annual number of disasters with damages exceeding $1 billion has nearly tripled.