Over the last fifty years, there has been a major increase in extreme weather, such as heat waves, droughts, and intense hurricanes. One of the most direct ways we experience the effects of climate change first-hand is when our communities are hit with extreme weather – and we can expect extreme weather events to increase in frequency and severity over time.
Climate change affects weather conditions in many ways. As the planet warms, we see much more extreme heat, with hot days coming more frequently and with higher temperatures. In the past ten years, there have been double the amount of record high temperatures as record lows and scientists are expecting an astonishing 20 more record highs for every record low by the middle of the century.
Extreme heat is the most dangerous weather condition, causing around 600 deaths annually, while damaging agriculture, and increasing the need for air conditioning, which increases energy use and the use of harmful coolants. In addition, it worsens droughts and the combination of the two can cause wildfires. Wildfire season is months longer and fires burn more area than in 1980. While wildfires are caused by humans more than 80% of the time, the extreme dryness and heat cause fires to spread quickly and easily.
Hurricanes may also be occurring more often as a result of climate change. As the air warms, so does the air’s water capacity. With every one degree the air rises in temperature, it increases its capacity for water by 7%. An atmosphere with more moisture means more precipitation, causing hurricanes, flooding, and landslides. More rain at a higher intensity also means more stormwater and wastewater discharged into waterways due to combined sewer overflows, which pollutes the environment and endangers public health.
Hurricane Harvey hit Louisiana and Texas last year, leaving behind some of the worst impacts we’ve seen from a natural disaster in years. Climate change has increased the probability of heavy rainfall like we saw from Harvey by three times. Natural disasters linked to climate change, including the hurricanes that hit the Gulf, killed 362 people in 2017, and cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. The U.S. has spent over $1.5 trillion between 1980 and 2018 to mitigate the damage caused by extreme weather, with these costs continuously rising over time. While being prepared to face extreme weather is important, working to combat climate change will reduce the frequency of these extreme weather conditions. Cutting back on driving, reducing energy use, and buying locally-grown produce are all steps we can take. Check out some of our Green Tips for more ways to reduce your carbon footprint.