National Guard chief: Climate change possibly causing 'bigger, larger, more violent' storms

The National Guard's top general said Tuesday that climate change may be causing storms to become "bigger, larger, more violent," which he said underscores the need to keep service members spread across the country to respond.

"I do think that the climate is changing, and I do think that it is becoming more severe," Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Tuesday morning in response to a question from The Hill. "I do think that storms are becoming bigger, larger, more violent. You know, I never know if this one speck of time is an anomaly or not, but, you know, we've all seen now three Category 5 storms that popped out in a period of a month."

The National Guard has activated thousands of members in recent weeks to help with recovery efforts during and after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The Guard is also preparing to respond to Hurricane Maria, which is expected to reach Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, by Thursday.

At its most severe, Harvey reached a peak of Category 4, while Irma became a Category 5. Maria was declared a Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday.

Asked Tuesday how climate change has affected his preparations for natural disasters, Lengyel said recent storms underline the need to have a robust Guard presence in each state.

"It impacts me because the National Guard does provide - we are the military domestic response force. We keep that as part of our job jar," he said at the Defense Writers Group breakfast. "For us to do that job, we have to have some force structure that's located were the events might happen.

"So whether that's in Oklahoma, where you have a lot of tornadoes, or whether that's in the northwest, where you have a lot of fires, or whether that's in the Gulf or along the East Coast, we need force structure that is in all 50 states, the territories and the District of Columbia, so that we can respond."

The Pentagon first called climate change a national security threat during the Obama administration. Defense Secretary James Mattis also cited climate change as a national security threat during his confirmation process.

But President Trump has called climate change a hoax. And Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said in the wake of Harvey that it was "insensitive" to discuss the role climate change played might have played in the destruction.

Asked later in the breakfast whether climate change might require the Guard to get more boats, high-water vehicles or other specialized equipment, Lengyel did not rule out that possibility, but said the Guard will focus first on getting equipment to use in combat.