(HorizonPost.com) – The United States faces a wide variety of natural disasters like hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts or blizzards that strike the northeast and midwest (or hybrids of both like “Superstorm” Sandy was in 2012). We can track some of these storms days or even weeks ahead of time, allowing people the opportunity to prepare. However, earthquakes, tornadoes, hail storms, and wildfires often strike with little or no warning, randomly devastating different areas of the nation.
Researchers from the University of Colorado and Boise State University collaborated on researching the potential for damage of these life-altering events. Considering the current cycle of increasing temperatures around the globe, they’ve estimated that over half of all buildings within the country are at risk.
Using various data sources, they calculated that “hazard hotspots” consist of roughly 31% of all land area in the continental United States (CONUS) and that 57% of structures in the country fall within those zones. They also determined that if cities continue to grow, the potential for disastrous events expands with them.
Urban Heat Islands (UHI)
Logically speaking, as cities continue to grow, the green areas, like grass, trees and other vegetation, shrink while concrete, asphalt, and other heat-absorbing materials take their place. Atlanta is a good example because of its rapid growth. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, the metropolitan area saw a loss of 500 acres of green space per week on average in 2005.
These UHI areas absorb much of the sun’s energy during the day and then release it into the cooler atmosphere at night, causing an increased risk of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. The same convection process of the warm air lifting and the cool air sinking also works over water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the “average global sea surface temperature” has increased approximately 0.75° F since 1980. According to a paper by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, this thermal increase has caused a marked increase in the average strength of typhoons (Pacific Ocean) and hurricanes (Atlantic Ocean basin), increasing the threat to property and lives. One example is Hurricane Harvey that slammed into Texas on August 25, 2017 — estimates of the cost of damage caused by the storm were approximately $125 billion.
These are just two of the increased threats that led researchers to conclude how much of the United States is at risk. That figure has spawned a search for ways to mitigate the impact, such as increasing rooftop green areas in UHI areas.
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