Weather Eye

The Weather Eye disaster readiness project looks at weather-related disasters in the United States, telling the stories of disaster-ready communities – and communities that need to be ready.

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“Keeping a weather eye” on a problem is an idiom that means staying highly alert to danger or a sudden shift, especially in the weather. The Resource Security program created the Weather Eye Project to better understand how American communities deal with weather disasters, from response to resilience. 

Since 1980, there have been 200 weather-related natural disasters in the United States that each cost over one billion dollars, affecting thousands of lives and livelihoods. The frequency of these billion dollar disasters is trending upwards, with 2016 being one of the worst years to date. Community readiness (the military defines readiness as having the right personnel, equipment, and training to accomplish a given mission), is increasingly important when it comes to dealing with these disasters. 

But this disaster data does not tell the full story. First, it's by no means clear that weather is the only culprit: in some places, for example, the infrastructure may be aging or expensive, raising the costs of an incident. And the numbers don't reveal the human costs of a disaster or the long history some communities have in building resilience to bad weather. 

The New America team used public data to do original research on and visualization of the recent history of bad weather in the United States. The Weather Eye map allows users to choose a storm or other event at a local level and see the details. A separate disaster declaration map shows the counties that have had a nationally-declared disaster. The Resource Security program is using these maps to designate county-level “disaster impact zones,” which we plan to explore in greater depth, asking why these particular locations are vulnerable and how the towns and cities in these areas prepare for and respond to weather-related disasters. Over the next year, we will release these stories and case studies on this site, showcasing community readiness and resilience strategies.

Weather Eye focuses on past trends and current weather disasters, and so is not looking directly at climate change. In the course of this project, we do hope to look at projections for where the weather is likely to get worse and what that means for future community readiness.

Contents

Billion Dollar Disasters

Weather disasters in the United States are becoming more costly.

Severe Weather on a County Level

Communities and families are on the front line of weather disasters.

Frequency of Disaster Declarations

Bad weather can happen anywhere, but history shows it happens more often in certain counties.

Disaster High Impact Zones

We identified ten counties at high risk for severe weather, with important lessons on readiness -- and on barriers to resilience.