Extreme weather events are costing the Pentagon billions, and things can get worse


Editor’s note: This article is part of War and Climate Week, a series of stories examining how the US military is dealing with extreme weather, sea level rise and global warming.

On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast after rapidly escalating from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 5 hurricane. Among the communities along the way was Tyndall Air Force Base. The next day, Tyndall’s leadership announced on the base’s Facebook page that they had taken a “direct hit”.

Videos showed extensive damage to the base, from destroyed shelters to overturned aircraft in static displays. Several critical structures suffered “catastrophic” damage. Of the 55 F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets then stationed at Tyndall, at least 17 failed to fly and were forced to remain at the base while the rest of the fleet was paid off to other air bases.

The military later estimated damage at Tyndall Air Force Base at $4.7 billion, and it’s not the only facility to have suffered catastrophic damage from extreme weather events in recent years.

As early as the 2010 Quadriennial Defense Review, the Department of Defense identified climate change as a threat to national security and called for reducing the threat to its facilities.

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In unreleased testimony during his confirmation as Secretary of Defense in 2017, Jim Mattis wrote, “I will ensure that the Department remains prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the impact of a changing climate on our threat assessments.” , resources and preparedness.”

While the Navy shut down its climate change task force in March 2019, designed to prepare the force for rising sea levels, the costs of extreme weather conditions continued to take their toll.

Just a month before Hurricane Michael hit Tyndall Air Force Base, Hurricane Florence made landfall over the east coast, causing storm surges of 9 to 13 feet and dumping 20 to 30 inches of rain. It caused approximately $3.8 billion in damage to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station New River, and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Brigadier General Benjamin Watson, then head of Marine Corps Installation East, described it as a “stomach punch.”

In March 2019, record flooding along the Missouri River inundated Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, home of US Strategic Command, which oversees the Pentagon‘s nuclear strategic deterrent and global strike capabilities. Flooding engulfed at least 30 buildings and damaged 30 others, including the headquarters of the 55th Wing, 55th Security Forces Squadron, 97th Intelligence Squadron and 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron. The cost estimate to repair the damage at Offutt has risen from $420 million to $800 million and could even reach $1.1 billion.

Other facilities are also at risk.

In 2018, a report by the Center for Climate and Security involving six retired generals and admirals identified numerous facilities, including the aforementioned Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Camp Pendleton, California, and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, as particularly endangered.

“If significant portions of Hampton Roads infrastructure, including Naval Station Norfolk, were to be regularly flooded, as projected in a range of scenarios for the years 2035-2100,” the report states, “the impediment would be operations for forcing the critical Atlantic and Mediterranean, and Pacific warfare and humanitarian operations – many of which are linked to core strategic goals of the United States – would matter.”

In early 2019, the Department of Defense released a report on the impacts of climate change, which identified recurring floods, droughts, desertification, wildfires and permafrost thawing as top concerns at 79 assets.

In January 2021, incoming Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that the Department of Defense would incorporate climate analysis into the national defense strategy. “Climate change will cost us resources and preparedness,” said Joe Bryan, senior climate adviser at the Pentagon, in July 2021. “The reality is that it already is.”

The Pentagon released its climate adaptation plan in September 2021, which made it clear that the problem was getting worse. “Extreme weather events are already costing the department billions of dollars and impacting mission capabilities,” the report said, adding that “failure to adapt to climate change will be even more consequential,” with failure owing to lost military capabilities and degraded infrastructure, among other things consequences are measured.

The report also found that “most climate hazards are not new; However, climate change is changing the frequency, intensity and location of hazards, adding to vulnerability and amplifying risks.”

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