President Obama praised the work of public servants's help in responding to natural disasters in the wake of recent deadly storms across the Midwest. (May 28)
MIAMI — President Barack Obama said Thursday that deadly flooding in Texas and Oklahoma is a reminder that the U.S. needs to toughen its response to the effects of natural disasters. He said climate change is affecting both the pace and intensity of storms.
Making his first visit as president to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Obama said that, while the nation is more prepared than ever for today's storms, "the best scientists in the world are telling us that extreme weather events, like hurricanes, are likely to become more powerful."
"When you combine stronger storms with rising seas, that's a recipe for more devastating floods," he said.
Obama said storm forecasting has improved along with the means to get warnings out, but the U.S. must stay focused on "becoming more resilient to the impacts of a changing climate that are having significant effects on both the pace and intensity of some of these storms."
He spoke one day after government weather forecasters predicted six to 11 storms this season, with three to six of them developing into hurricanes. That suggests this year's hurricane season may be slower than average: From 1981 to 2010, the average has been 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes per year. The season starts Monday.
Storms and severe flooding this week in Texas and Oklahoma have left at least 21 people dead and at least 10 others missing. Obama said a lot of rebuilding will be needed and the federal government will work to ensure a quick response.
Obama said climate change didn't cause 2012's powerful Hurricane Sandy but "it might have made it stronger," as he pointed to higher sea levels in New York harbor that made the storm surge worse.
As he toured the hurricane center, Obama checked out giant screens showing maps of the Eastern Seaboard and asked questions about the science used to develop forecasts, warnings and storm surge predictions.
Obama's past hurricane briefings took place in Washington. Thursday's visit was arranged to highlight tools the government has developed to help communities prepare for hurricanes and other emergencies. The visit came a day after Obama helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Democratic Party at a pair of Miami fundraisers.
During remarks after the briefing, Obama noted that Miami Beach, which has suffered high-tide flooding due to rising sea levels, is adjusting building codes and spending $400 million over five years to install pumping stations.
Obama stayed at the hurricane center afterward to participate in his first Twitter Q-and-A under his new @POTUS handle.
Obama responded to a wide variety of questions during the half-hour or so he spent at the computer keyboard, touching on climate change, Arctic drilling, a pending trade deal between the U.S. and Asia-Pacific countries, higher education, renewable energy, the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls and more.
"The heart of the Cavs is Lebron," Obama, an avid basketball fan, replied to one questioner. LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers, his former team, from the Miami Heat in 2014 and helped lead Cleveland into this year's NBA Finals.
Obama also said he was sorry about Thursday's firing of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
"Love Thibs and think he did a great job. Sorry to see him go but expect he will be snatched up soon by another team," Obama said.
Before returning to Washington, Obama visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity. The White House said he was honoring the sacrifices by Cuban Americans in their pursuit of liberty and recognizing their contributions to the U.S.
The U.S. and Cuba are negotiating to re-open embassies in each other's country for the first time since the U.S. severed diplomatic relations in 1961.
Associated Press writer Nancy Benac in Washington contributed to this report.
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