Disasters on the horizon?

Slate.com’s Daniel Gross discusses the high number of natural disasters — that is, snowstorms, tornados, and the like that are declared disasters by the federal government — during presidential election years:

…it seems plausible that during an election year, a president seeking to be re-elected or who wants to help maintain his party’s control over the executive branch will try to be seen as a hands-on executive who dispenses aid to voters. Hence, when something bad happens in an election year — the Mississippi River floods, wildfires burn in the West — the president is quicker to declare a federal disaster than he would in a nonelection year.

The sharpest jumps in the number of disaster declarations seem to have come during the re-election campaigns of Richard Nixon in 1972 and Bill Clinton in 1996 (not so much of a jump for Ronald Reagan in 1984), but it’s just as striking that the number has been generally rising since the early 1970s even in non-election years. Disaster declarations, like urban enterprise zones, may have started out as a public policy tool to be used sparingly, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to say no when local officials ask for them.

According to a handy FEMA chart, Massachusetts ranks a pretty low 36th in the number of federally declared disasters since 1953 (37th if you count the Federated States of Micronesia), with a grand total of 21. A third of them have occurred since 1996, and all of those involved coastal or river flooding.