FEMA expected to run out of disaster relief funds before summer’s end

Jun 10, 2024, 11:50 AM | Updated: 12:00 pm

The Crowder family surveys their home destroyed by a tornado on May 7 in Barnsdall, northeast Oklah...

The Crowder family surveys their home destroyed by a tornado on May 7 in Barnsdall, northeast Oklahoma. (Brandon Bell, Getty Images)

(Brandon Bell, Getty Images)

(CNN)The United States has been rocked by an extraordinary number of tornadoes and devastating storms this year that have already left a staggering price tag.

Now heading into what forecasters say will be an extreme summer – from punishing heat waves to severe weather and hurricanes – the nation’s disaster relief agency is expected to run out of money before it’s even over.

The U.S. has been thrashed with 11 extreme weather disasters with costs exceeding $1 billion so far this year, with a total price tag of $25.1 billion, according to an updated tally from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s tied for the second-most such disasters on record and doesn’t even include the extreme weather in the second half of May, said Adam Smith, an applied climatologist with NOAA.

That is worrying news for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose major disaster relief fund could slip into the red by the end of summer – a more than $1.3 billion shortfall in August, according to a May report.

Florida’s two Republican senators recently wrote a letter to FEMA asking the agency how much more money it would need to respond to hurricane season.

In a statement to CNN, a FEMA spokesperson didn’t address exactly how much funding it would need to get through hurricane season, but said the agency is continuing to work with Congress “to ensure sufficient funding is available.”

“Without additional funding, FEMA will take steps prior to funding exhaustion to ensure resources are available to support ongoing lifesaving and life-sustaining activities,” the spokesperson said. In the event of a major catastrophe like a hurricane, the agency would have a funding reserve set aside for initial response and recovery operations.

FEMA’s tenuous balance sheet reflects how many destructive storms have already lashed the U.S.

This spring produced the second-most tornadoes to-date since records began in 1950, according to the Storm Prediction Center. Tornado activity skyrocketed from late April through May, with more than 780 confirmed tornadoes cutting across the central and eastern U.S. during April and May, the SPC said.

Some storms have been deadly. An EF4 that ripped through Greenfield, Iowa, killed five. Another tornado in Cooke County, Texas, later in the month killed seven people.

Severe thunderstorms have been extremely destructive, with hail wreaking havoc across the central U.S. Severe thunderstorms blasted multiple cities with hurricane-force wind gusts in May. A derecho with 100 mph wind turned debris into projectiles and shattered glass windows in downtown Houston skyscrapers. Nearly a million homes and businesses were left without power, many for days, after violent winds mangled massive electrical transmission towers.

And scientists are warning this summer could continue the destruction as the dramatic warming of the planet and oceans from burning fossil fuels set the stage for a supercharged hurricane season and dangerous heat.

Crews work to clean up debris in Houston after a wall came down in the aftermath of a severe storm on May 17. (Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle/Getty Images)

The climate crisis’ favorite season

Summer historically is the season with the most billion-dollar disasters because it is “a transition period of many extremes historically, as the severe storm season continues while the prospect of hurricane season approaches,” Smith said.

A chorus of expert voices are calling for an above-average Atlantic hurricane season as anxiety-inducing conditions in the atmosphere and oceans align. Record-breaking ocean heat is expected to feed hurricanes, helping them form, strengthen and survive. El Niño is predicted to give way to La Niña and create more favorable atmospheric conditions for storms to thrive.

Just about every kind of extreme weather is possible during summer, including more severe thunderstorms. June is the third-most active month for tornadoes in the U.S., according to the SPC. It’s also the most-active month for destructive and costly severe hail, a 2012 study found.

While the connection between hurricanes and climate change is strong, scientists are less sure whether there’s a link to stronger or more frequent tornadoes but are sure it is making heat waves more intense and frequent.

Above-average temperatures are expected over nearly every square mile of the Lower 48 this summer, and it began early: It’s already been the hottest start to June on record in Las Vegas, as the West gets hit with a series of early-season heat waves.

Prolonged, intense heat dries out soil and can lead to drought and billions of dollars in costs due to crop losses. Last year, a series of heat domes seared the South and produced the worst drought on record for Louisiana and one of the state’s worst fire seasons on record.

Heat can dry out grass and create a tinderbox for fast-moving wildfires, particularly in the central and western U.S.

California’s fire season could get a late start because of another exceptional wet season, according to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But as heat takes its toll, wildfire activity could “really amp up” in California in late summer as the bounty of grass and brush from the wet season dries out, Swain said. He also highlighted the Great Basin in Nevada and Utah as a spot that normally doesn’t see wildfire but could, due to a “huge proliferation of grass.”

According to Swain, wildfire activity could really kick off in late summer, and if that holds up, emergency response could stretch well into the fall. It’s shaping up to be another year of year-round extreme weather.

KSL 5 TV Live


Signs advertising fresh fruit and vegetables along Box Elder County's Fruit Way along Highway 89....

Alex Cabrero

Utah farmers say a strong winter has led to an amazing crop season

Fruit and vegetable farmers in northern Utah are saying this crop season might be one of the best in recent memory.

2 days ago

Temperatures officially hit 100 degrees in Salt Lake City Thursday for the first time this year, wh...

Lindsay Aerts

Salt Lake sees first 100-degree day, here’s how it’s measured

Temperatures officially hit 100 degrees in Salt Lake City Thursday for the first time this year. The measuring of the temperature isn’t as cut and dry as you might think.

2 days ago

UDOT construction crews working on a project in Ogden. (Karah Brackin, KSL TV)...

Karah Brackin

UDOT crews battle heat while working on construction projects

As double-digit temperatures start climbing into the triple digits and breaking records, construction is still happening.

2 days ago

Salt Lake City officials issued a new warning to escalate the ozone threat in the Salt Lake Valley ...

Andrew Adams

SLC issues summer pollution warning, which experts say is more difficult to escape than the heat

Salt Lake City issued a new warning for ozone pollution levels amid rising temperatures that are supposed to keep going up.

3 days ago

With temperatures soaring, so does the chance for heat exhaustion and heat stroke to set in....

Karah Brackin

Beating the heat as record-breaking temperatures move in

With temperatures soaring, so does the chance for heat exhaustion and heat stroke to set in.

3 days ago

Kelby Diston hydrates while working on the I-215 Renewed reconstruction project in Salt Lake City o...

Adam Small, KSL NewsRadio

Triple-digit temperatures expected along the Wasatch Front

The recent heat wave is about to hit its peak, as the Wasatch Front reaches triple-digit temperatures Wednesday.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

FEMA expected to run out of disaster relief funds before summer’s end