In 2009, the Obama Administration convened the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, and the President signed Executive Order 13514, directing agencies to improve energy and water efficiency, better manage waste and pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the Order requested that agencies identify vulnerabilities and put together a climate adaptation plan by June 2012. The plans were released in February 2013 and began implementation for FY 2013. These Adaptation Plans are often part of an agency’s broader Sustainability Plan and will be updated each year.
Highlighted Adaptation Plans
Other Federal Agency Adaptation Resources
Other federal agencies have published climate change adaptation plans as directed by Executive Order 13514. These agencies are either smaller or have provided fewer details in their adaptation plans; links to the plans are below:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $20 billion plan to safeguard New York City against a future Hurricane Sandy and other climate risks is the most ambitious effort yet by any U.S. city to prepare for the expected impacts of climate change.
The mayor last week announced “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” a comprehensive plan to protect communities and critical infrastructure, and proposed significant changes to New York’s building codes for new construction and major renovations that will help buildings withstand severe weather and flooding. Its 250 recommendations include building new infrastructure (like installing armor stone shoreline protection in Coney Island), changing how services are provided (like encouraging redundant internet infrastructure), and establishing standardized citywide communication protocols for use during disruptions.
Hurricane season officially starts June 1 and it looks like a busy one in the Atlantic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expects a well above-average hurricane season with 13 to 20 named storms. Seven to 11 of them could develop into hurricanes and three to six of those could be major (defined as category 3 or higher). The average over about the past 30 years is 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes per season.
What causes a tornado?
Tornadoes are formed by a combination of atmospheric instability and wind shear. Instability occurs when warm, moist air is wedged under drier, cooler air aloft. This warm air rises, causing the intense updrafts and downdrafts seen in strong thunderstorms — the incubators of tornadoes. Wind shear refers to changes in wind direction and speed at different elevations in the atmosphere. The combination of instability and wind shear forms the circular air flow that generates a tornado.
Why are there so many in the U.S. Midwest?
The Central United States has an abundance of the ingredients necessary for tornado formation. During the spring, warm tropical air masses from the Gulf of Mexico collide with colder, drier air at higher altitudes to spawn intense thunderstorms. Thunderstorms also form into the summer and fall, as the region’s vast plains heat up air near the surface, causing atmospheric instability. These intense thunderstorms act as incubators for tornadoes. Tornadoes occur around the world but are most common in “Tornado Alley” of the Central United States.
Is there a link between climate change and tornadoes?
It is important to keep in mind that climate change has an impact on all weather events. The effect of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere cannot be switched off – it influences our seemingly benign “everyday” or “normal” weather as well as the extreme events.
A specific link between tornadoes and climate change, however, is unclear. It is difficult to identify and diagnose trends in long-term records of tornadoes, since the population in many areas affected by tornadoes has grown (e.g., tornadoes in the early part of the 20th century may have occurred without anyone seeing them) and the technology used to observe tornadoes has improved (e.g., radars help us “see” tornadoes in ways that were not possible many decades ago).
How could climate change affect the frequency or intensity of tornadoes?
Researchers are working to better understand how the building blocks for tornadoes -- atmospheric instability and wind shear -- will respond to global warming. It is likely that a warmer, moister world would allow for more frequent instability. However, it is also likely that a warmer world would lessen chances for wind shear. Recent trends for these quantities in the Midwest during the spring are inconclusive. It is also possible that these changes could shift the timing of tornadoes or regions that are most likely to be hit.
Adding to the difficulty, tornadoes are too geographically small to be well simulated by climate models. Models can simulate some of the conditions that contribute to forming severe thunderstorms that often spawn tornadoes. Multiple studies (e.g., here and here) find the conditions that produce the most severe thunderstorms are likely to occur more often in the in a warmer world, even if the total number of thunderstorms decreases (because of fewer weak storms). However, this work does not conclusively tell us whether tornadoes should follow the same trend as their parent thunderstorms.
Extreme Weather Event Map: Click on any icon on the map above to see details on the extent of an extreme weather event between 1990 and 2012.
Extreme Weather Events Map
The events shown above are examples of four types of extreme weather that scientists say are becoming more frequent and intense because of climate change: extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and heavy precipitation. Individual events cannot be blamed on any single cause. However, the long-term trends in these types of events demonstrate that extreme weather risk is rising as a result of climate change. Each new event is an opportunity to better understand our vulnerabilities and ways to cope with these rising risks. Examined together, these events also can help us evaluate the benefits of actions and policies aimed at reducing the emissions of heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet and “juicing up the weather”.
Here are two C2ES papers taking a closer look at the trends shown in the map and how we can respond:
- Extreme Weather and Climate Change: Understanding the Link, Managing the Risk
This primer examines the link between extreme weather and climate change, presenting it in a risk management framework that can help to clarify and manage the rising risk of extreme weather and prepare for future vulnerabilities.
- A Climate of Extreme Weather Events
This background paper outlines the evidence showing the increasing risk and incidence of flooding, heat waves, wildfires and drought in the United States.
Scientific American Series on Extreme Weather, Climate Change, and the Risks We Face
Published in three parts in June 2011, this series in Scientific American provides firsthand accounts of record-breaking weather events, insights into their links to climate change, and what can be done to manage the growing risks. The articles were written by science journalist John Carey with support from C2ES.
- Part One - Storm Warnings: Extreme Weather Is a Product of Climate Change
- Part Two - Global Warming and the Science of Extreme Weather
- Part Three - Our Extreme Future: Predicting and Coping with a Changing Climate
Additional C2ES Resources
Find answers to some of the most frequently asked climate science questions and learn about the realities and misconceptions of climate change science.
Learn how Hurricane Sandy is a stark reminder of the rising risks of climate change.
See the latest on drought and climate change.
Keep up to date on current extreme weather events, climate change, and risk management.
Joseph Casola will speak on trends and projections.
President Obama’s forceful call for climate action in his inaugural address came after a year when climate change was barely whispered in the presidential campaign but its effects were loud and clear here in the United States and around the world.
As Hurricane Sandy moves out of the region, people in affected areas are beginning to take stock of the damage. Flooding in parts of New Jersey and New York from the storm surge hit record levels. The 13.8-foot surge measured at Battery Park in Lower Manhattan surpassed the all-time record of 11.2 feet set in 1821, flooding the New York subway system and two major commuter tunnels. Along the Eastern Seaboard, an estimated 7.5 million people lost power. Farther inland, blizzard conditions dropped as much as 2 feet of snow as Sandy crashed into arctic air over the Midwest. While early estimates indicate direct damages from the hurricane may be as much as $20 billion, the total economic losses, including losses in consumer and business spending, could be more than twice that amount.
A number of climate change-related factors may well have intensified the storm's impact: higher ocean temperatures, higher sea levels, and an atmospheric traffic jam that may be related to Arctic melting. Hurricane Sandy is also a clear reminder of how vulnerable our homes and infrastructure already are to extreme weather — and this risk is growing.