Environment

Kentucky isn’t nearly as prepared as it should be to address coming risks from climate change.

That’s according to a new analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central and consultant ICF International, which found that the commonwealth faces a series of risks ranging from severe weather to wildfires.

Over the next 35 years, Kentucky has an above-average risk of extreme heat. According to the report, the state now has fewer than 10 days a year that are classified as “dangerous” or “extremely dangerous” on the National Weather Service’s heat index. By 2050, there will likely be 50 days of extreme heat each year.

Kentucky also faces a threat from inland flooding, with more than 170,000 people living in flood-prone areas, the analysis says.

The state also didn’t score well on preparedness for drought and wildfires, although compared with other states, Kentucky has a below-average threat level for both of those scenarios.

Climate Central Vice President Richard Wiles said the first step for states is to assess the risks posed by climate change, and then create and adopt a climate change adaption plan.

“And then, ultimately, you put in place rules and regulations that better prepare the state to deal with the threats that are coming down the road,” Wiles said. “And no, it’s not about adding more regulations. It’s about making sure that infrastructure is upgraded and housing is upgraded and public health plans are in place to deal with extreme events when they happen to help protect the public.”

The groups found that state government has taken action to address the current risks posed by extreme heat, inland flooding, drought and forest fires, mostly through Kentucky’s Enhanced Hazard Mitigation Plan and the Community Hazard Assessment and Mitigation Planning System database.

 

But, Wiles said, the cost of inaction in other areas will eventually add up.

“When extreme rain events happen more frequently and they blow out culverts in roads and they damage infrastructure and homes because actions to prepare weren’t taken, then those costs are typically paid by the taxpayers and by the state,” he said.

Click here for the Kentucky section of the report.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.