Alabama is vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, coastal storms and increasing temperatures – all which threaten the state’s agriculture and energy industries as well as human health
Unlike most of the nation, Alabama’s climate has not become warmer over the past 50 years. Alabama will become warmer in the future however, with both more flooding and drought likely. Extreme heat and decreased water availability will affect health, energy, agriculture, and more. The Southeast in general is exceptionally susceptible to extreme heat, more frequent and more intense hurricanes, and decreased water availability. Alabama is also vulnerable to sea level rise, which poses continuing threats to the state’s coastal economy and environment.
- Sea level rise: Sea level is rising more rapidly in Alabama than in other areas because Alabama is also subsiding. If the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, sea level along the Alabama coast is likely to rise eighteen inches to four feet in the next century. Rising sea level submerges wetlands and dry land, erodes beaches, and exacerbates coastal flooding. Many parts of Mobile, Alabama’s transportation system, such as roads and train tracks which are vital to the state’s economy, could soon be at risk of being damaged or submerged under rising sea levels. Statewide, storm-related damages are expected to increase by close to $30 million by 2050 as a result of sea level rise and increased intensity of extreme weather events.
- Flooding: Increasing temperatures and precipitation amplify the risk of flooding. Since 1958, the amount of precipitation falling during heavy rainstorms has increased by 27 percent in the Southeast, and the trend toward increasingly heavy rainstorms is likely to continue.
- Coastal storms: As the ocean warms, surface waters have more energy to convert to tropical cyclone winds, which scientists say is likely increasing the intensity of the most severe cyclonic events. This trend is strongest in the Atlantic, where rising ocean temperatures correlate closely to an increase in Atlantic tropical cyclone strength. More frequent storms could increase the deductible for wind damage in homeowner insurance policies. Many cities, roads, railways, ports, airports, and oil and gas facilities along the Gulf Coast are vulnerable to the combined impacts of storms and sea level rise. People may move from vulnerable coastal communities and stress the infrastructure of the communities that receive them.
- Increasing Temperatures: The southeast will likely be hit hardest by heat impacts. The number of days at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will increase from an average of 9 per year to 17-43 by mid-century. Higher temperatures will likely reduce the productivity of farms and ranches, change parts of the landscape and harm human health. In addition, warmer weather will decrease productivity in high-risk sectors like construction, mining, utilities, transportation and manufacturing.
- Adaptation: Alabama has not developed a climate adaptation plan.
Alabama residents support clean energy and climate regulations
- According to the Yale Map Project on Climate Change Communication 63% of Alabama residents recognize that global warming is happening. The project finds that 70% of residents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 79% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
Alabama shows significant potential for solar, currently untapped
- Renewables: Alabama does not have any renewable energy policy or portfolio standards. However, in 2016 Alabama ranked 14th in net electricity generation from renewable energy resources, with conventional hydroelectric power supplying 70% of the state’s renewable generation.
- Solar: Alabama ranks 28th in the nation for installed solar capacity, with 106 MW currently installed or enough to power 10,000 homes. The solar industry employs 530 people across 48 companies in the value chain.
- Wind: Alabama’s proximity to important wind energy areas, combined with manufacturing expertise, could make Alabama a manufacturing powerhouse for the wind industry. However, the state has no installed wind capacity.
- Biomass: Alabama has the third-largest timberland acreage among the Lower 48 states, and wood and wood waste were key contributors to the state’s ranking of fifth in the nation in electricity generation from biomass.
- Power sector: The electric power sector is the largest consumer of natural gas in Alabama, accounting for 63% of consumption in 2016.
- Coal: In 2016, the port of Mobile, Alabama, handled the second-largest tonnage of U.S. coal imports, as well as the third-largest tonnage of coal exports (mostly coking coal used in steelmaking).
- Nuclear: Alabama’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, with three reactors, has a total generating capacity of 3,310 megawatts, second only to Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant.