Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change
2012 has been another year of unparalleled extremes and disastrous weather events, including:
The worst drought in 50 years across the nation's breadbasket according to NOAA, with over 1,300 US counties across 29 states declared drought disaster areas Wildfires burned over 9.2 million acres in the US, and destroyed hundreds of homes. The average size of the fires set an all-time record of 165 acres per fire, exceeding the prior decade's 2001-2010 average of approximately 90 acres/fire.5 Hurricane Sandy's storm surge height (13.88 feet) broke the all-time record in New York Harbor, and ravaged communities across New Jersey and New York with floodwaters and winds. Besides the 131 deaths that have been already attributed to Sandy in the US and countless injuries, there are health impacts including respiratory illnesses and mental health effects resulting from the stress and trauma of losing homes and being displaced that could be much longer-term. flooding on highway
FEMA News Photo
1094 days of record rainfall
The cost of Hurricane Sandy reached an estimated $79 billion for federal aid to cover damages, recovery and measures to cope with future storms in New York and New Jersey. However that price tag doesn't include health-related impacts like hospital visits, which would boost the damage tally even higher. In 2011, a first-of-its-kind study published in the journal Health Affairs estimated $14 to 40 billion in health costs resulted from just six extreme events—types of events that climate change is expected to worsen in terms of frequency, intensity, duration, or geographic extent.6
Climate scientists are saying that these events likely represent a climate-induced trend.7 International insurance giant MunichRe recently concluded that from 1980 through 2011, the frequency of weather-related extreme events in North America nearly quintupled, rising more rapidly than anywhere else in the world.8 A recent analysis by the International Panel on Climate Change, the world's most respected scientific body on the subject,9 further concluded that climate change will likely amplify extreme heat, drought, heavy precipitation, and the highest wind speeds of tropical storms.
Solutions to Limit Climate Change's Worst Effects and Increase Community Resilience
We need to be prepared. As the experience of Hurricane Sandy starkly reminds us, US communities—coastal communities in particular—are vulnerable to the damaging health effects of climate change. And moreover, there are disparities in climate-health vulnerability among regions and neighborhoods, depending on economic advantage, age and level of mobility, underlying health conditions, and whether people have strong social networks of people to help get them out of harm's way.
By limiting carbon pollution, which the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for under the Clean Air Act, we can protect our health and prevent the worst effects of climate change and future extreme weather events. Another milestone was hit in 2012, when 3 million-plus Americans sent comments to EPA supporting limits on carbon pollution from power plants. That's the kind of record-breaker we can all live with—one that's about protecting our children's health and creating healthier, more secure communities.
Recommendations: strategies to enhance climate-health preparedness
Emergency planning must incorporate risks from climate change. For example, maps describing areas at risk for flooding need to account for increased risks caused by extreme rainfall and sea level rise that are increasingly fueled by climate change. While these plans are made at the local level, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must also prioritize addressing and preparing for climate change by providing guidance and resources to state and local governments, and making sure that states include climate change considerations in their state Hazard...
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