The story of an unseasonably warm Christmas break quickly gave way to the record flooding sowing misery across the Midwest. Though the cyclical El Niño pattern is being blamed, the terrible weather affecting many parts of the world comes as rising global temperatures threaten the planet with new risks for heavy rain, flooding, drought and other weather extremes. This season is a stark reminder of the need for a national catastrophe fund and a more serious approach by the federal government and the states to manage climate change.
Two-thirds of the country trudged through near or record highs over Christmas, ruining vacations for air conditioning contractors across the South as warming from the Pacific Ocean followed with heat and moisture, creating a punishing weather pattern into the Eastern states.
Severe flooding from northern Texas to the Ohio River Valley created some of the highest flood stages ever recorded. At least 20 deaths were blamed on flooding in Illinois and Missouri, which declared states of emergency as record downpours closed roads, water treatment plants and entire towns. Prison inmates were again filling sandbags Monday in Illinois.
This crisis is unfolding only weeks after nearly 190 nations pledged in a landmark summit in Paris to take bold new steps against climate change. While it may take years to understand the combined effects of El Niño and other impacts from longer-term surface heating, many of the very horror stories that world leaders sketched out in Paris are playing out in America's Midwest. And added to that are everyday stories from the last year about drought in California and seawater bubbling up through the streets of Miami Beach.
Weather doesn't follow state lines, which is why a national catastrophe fund should be the tool for managing these large-scale crises. The National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other public and private groups are trained and equipped to provide security and comfort in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. But the nation needs a stand-alone program to oversee any national recovery over the long haul. That's where a national catastrophe fund would come in, using the sound principles of shared risk and united effort to get hard-hit regions back on their feet.
The federal government and the states also need to show a greater urgency in addressing both large and localized impacts of climate change. President Barack Obama has made a start with a plan for reducing carbon pollution from power plants. But many states, including Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott has expressed doubts about man-made climate change, still have not advanced any overall strategy. Most of the debate in Florida in recent years has been about whether the Scott administration tried to ban state employees from using the terms "climate change" or "global warming." If anything, the leader of a coastal state should be doing what he can to draw attention to the real-life impacts that warming will bring, as the pictures on television have so vividly shown in recent weeks.