Archive for Monday, July 6, 2015

Disaster, damage numbers rise in Kansas

July 6, 2015

— Federal disaster declarations and damage costs are on the rise in Kansas, although it's unclear whether more severe weather is the reason.

Twenty-nine disasters were declared in Kansas from 2004 to 2013, the last year for which data is available, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The rest of FEMA's history, from 1953 to 2003, showed 27 disasters in Kansas, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Saturday.

There also was a generally upward trend in weather-related damage. The newspaper averaged claims over five years to reduce the impact of individual years with unusually high or low claims. The claims rose from an annual average of $92 million from 1994 to 1998, to $249 million from 1999 to 2003, $339 million from 2004 to 2008 and $551 million from 2009 to 2013.

Mary Knapp, Kansas state climatologist, said the increases coincide with weather watchers getting better at documenting some events, such as small tornadoes. She also noted that a flood or tornado that wasn't a disaster in earlier decades might be one if the same thing happened today because of shifting demographics.

"A flooding event that happened 30 years ago may have affected a few families and not been a disaster," she said.

Before 2000, all but one disaster in Kansas was either due to severe storms, tornadoes or flooding. The exception was a grain elevator explosion in 1998. While the severe storm-related causes still dominated in the most recent decade, the state also had declared disasters related to the Hurricane Katrina evacuation in 2005, two fires and eight winter storms.

Michael Cappannari, spokesman for FEMA's Region Seven office, which covers Kansas, said he didn't know of any trend that would explain the increase in Kansas disaster declarations, which are declared by the president.

The process starts on the county level, where emergency management officials determine if they need state help, Cappannari said. The state can then request that FEMA assists state and local officials in preparing preliminary damage assessments, he said.

"These damage assessments are the first step in helping a governor determine whether the scope of the damages are beyond what the state is capable of handling and if additional federal assistance is needed," he said.


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