science

Extreme Weather

Extreme Weather Event Map: Click on any circle to learn about one of the billion-dollar weather events, or any state to learn about billion-dollar droughts. All events occurred between 2000 and 2013.

>$50 billion
$20-$50 billion
$5-$20 billion
$2-$5 billion
< $2 billion
(Note: circle sizes correspond to the map view of the continental U.S.)

This map shows billion-dollar weather events in the United States since 2000, as identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. The Top 10 costliest events are listed at the bottom of this page, along with a description of major U.S. droughts since 2000.

Floods, Tornadoes, Thunderstorms, Hail, Tropical Storms, Wildfires, and Winter Storms are all shown as circles, with the costs indicated by the area of the circles (see image to the right).  The location of the circles correspond to places where impacts were experienced (note: locations are approximate; many of the events actually impacted a large area, beyond
the boundaries of the circle). Droughts are not shown by circles, but by the shading in the states – states with darker colors have experienced more droughts since 2000, while states that are lightly shaded have experienced fewer droughts. No billion dollar events have occurred in Hawaii since 2000; some of the wildfire impacts (e.g., fire seasons in 2006, 2007, and 2008) included damages in Alaska, but the markers appear in the continental United States.

Many of these events, including heat waves and heavy rainfall, are likely to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. Climate change can also worsen the impacts of some of these events. For example, sea level rise can increase the impacts of coastal storms and warming can place more stress on water supplies during droughts. But it’s important to note that not ALL of these events will necessarily happen more frequently as a consequence of climate change. The links between climate change and tornadoes, ice storms, and hail are unclear, and represent current areas of research.

These events demonstrate ways our communities and infrastructure are vulnerable to extreme weather, and that the costs associated with impacts can be large.

More Resources on Extreme Weather and Climate Change

Fact Pages: Learn more about the links between climate change and:

 

Weathering the Storm - Extreme weather is costly. The events shown on the map above all cost billions of dollars, and several events had widespread and long-lasting implications.

C2ES has investigated how companies are perceiving the risks associated with extreme weather and climate change. Focusing on Standard and Poor’s (S&P) Global 100 companies, we found that 90 percent of these companies identify extreme weather and climate change as risks, and most have experienced climate impacts or expect to within 10 years. Although some companies have taken action, only a few have used climate-specific tools to comprehensively assess risks and develop resilience plans. Check out the report to learn more, and to learn about the steps business and government can take to close the resilience gap.

 

Related Blogs

 

Table 1: Top 10 Disasters by Cost Since 2000
Event and DateCostFatalitiesDescription
Hurricane Katrina
August 2005
$148 billion1,833The hurricane initially hit as a Category 1 near Miami, FL, then as a stronger Category 3 along the eastern LA-western MS coastlines, resulting in severe storm surge damage (maximum surge probably exceeded 30 feet) along the LA-MS-AL coasts, wind damage, and the failure of parts of the levee system in New Orleans. High winds and some flooding occurred in Ala., Fla., Ga., Ind., Ky., Miss., Ohio and Tenn.
Hurricane Sandy
October 2012
$65.7 billion159Sandy caused extensive damage across several northeastern states (Conn., Del., Mass., Md., N.J., N.Y., R.I.) due to high wind and coastal storm surge, particularly in N.J. and N.Y. Damage from wind, rain and heavy snow also extended more broadly to other states (N.C., N.H., Ohio, Pa., Va., W.Va.), as Sandy merged with a developing Nor'easter. Sandy interrupted critical water and electrical services in major population centers and caused 159 deaths (72 direct, 87 indirect). Sandy also shut down the New York Stock Exchange for two consecutive business days, which last happened in 1888 due to a major winter storm.
Drought
2012
$30.0-$30.3 billion123The 2012 drought was the most extensive in the U.S. since the 1930s. Moderate to extreme drought conditions affected more than half the country for a majority of 2012. Costly impacts included widespread harvest failure for corn, sorghum and soybean crops, among others. The associated summer heat wave also caused 123 direct deaths, but the excess mortality due to heat stress is still unknown.
Hurricane Ike
September 2008
$29.2 billion112Ike made landfall in Texas as a Category 2 hurricane. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record by size, causing a considerable storm surge in coastal TX and significant wind and flooding damage in Ark., Ill., Ind., Ky., La., Mich., Mo., Ohio, Pa., Tenn. and Texas. Severe gasoline shortages occurred in the Southeast due to damaged oil platforms, storage tanks, pipelines and refineries.
Hurricane Wilma
October 2005
$19 billion35The Category 3 hurricane hit SW Florida, resulting in strong damaging winds and major flooding across southeastern Florida. Prior to landfall, Wilma as a Category 5 recorded the lowest pressure (882 mb) ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.
Hurricane Rita
September 2005
$19 billion119The Category 3 hurricane hit Texas-Louisiana border coastal region, creating significant storm surge and wind damage along the coast, and some inland flooding in the Fla. panhandle, Ala., Miss., La., Ark., and Texas. Prior to landfall, Rita reached the third lowest pressure (897 mb) ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.
Hurricane Charley
August 2004
$18.5 billion35The Category 4 hurricane made landfall in southwest Florida, resulting in major wind and some storm surge damage in FL, along with some damage in the states of S.C. and N.C..
Hurricane Ivan
September 2004
$17.2 billion57The Category 3 hurricane made landfall on Gulf coast of Ala., with significant wind, storm surge, and flooding damage in coastal Ala. and Fla. panhandle, along with wind/flood damage in the states of Ga., Miss., La., S.C., N.C., Va., W.Va., Md., Tenn., Ky., Ohio, Del., N.J., Pa., and N.Y.
Drought
2011
$12.0-$12.4 billion95In Texas and Oklahoma, a majority of range and pasture lands were classified in "very poor" condition for much of the 2011 growing season.
Hurricane Frances
September 2004
$11.1 billion48The Category 2 hurricane made landfall in east-central Fla., causing significant wind, storm surge, and flooding damage in FL, along with considerable flood damage in the states of Ga., N.C., N.Y. and S.C. due to 5-15 inches of rain.

 

Table 2: Drought Events since 2000

YearCostFatalitiesDescriptionStates Affected
2013N/A53The 2013 drought slowly dissipated from the historic levels of the 2012 drought, as conditions improved across many Midwestern and Plains states. However, moderate to extreme drought did remain or expand into western states. In comparison to 2011 and 2012 drought conditions the US experienced only moderate crop losses across the central agriculture states.Ariz., Calif., Colo., Idaho, Kan., Neb., Nev., N.M., Okla., Ore., S.D., Texas, Utah, Wyo.
2012$30.0-$30.3 billion123The 2012 drought was the most extensive drought to affect the U.S. since the 1930s. Moderate to extreme drought conditions affected more than half the country for a majority of 2012. Costly drought impacts occurred across the central agriculture states resulting in widespread harvest failure for corn, sorghum and soybean crops, among others. The associated summer heatwave also caused 123 direct deaths, but an estimate of the excess mortality due to heat stress is still unknown.Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Ga., Idaho, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., Minn., Mo., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.M., N.D., Okla., S.D., Texas, Utah, Wyo.
2011$12.0-$12.4 billion95Drought and heat wave conditions created major impacts for affected areas. In Texas and Oklahoma, a majority of range and pastures were classified in "very poor" condition for much of the 2011 crop growing season.Ariz., Kan., La., N.M., Okla., Texas
2009$5.0-$5.4 billion0Drought conditions occurred during much of the year across parts of the Southwest, Great Plains, and southern Texas causing agricultural losses in numerous states. The largest agriculture losses occurred in Texas and California.Ariz., Calif., Kan., N.M., Okla., Texas
2008$2.0-$2.2 billion0Severe drought and heat caused agricultural losses in areas of the South and West. Record low lake levels also occurred in areas of the Southeast.Calif., Ga., N.C., S.C., Tenn., Texas
2007$5.0-$5.6 billion15Severe drought with periods of extreme heat over most of the Southeast and parts of the Great Plains, Ohio Valley, and Great Lakes area reduced crop yields, stream flows and lake levels.Ala., Ark., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., Ky., La., Mich., Minn., Miss., Neb., N.Y., N.C., N.D., Ohio, Okla., Pa., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Texas, Va., W.Va., Wis.
2006$6.0-$6.9 billion0Severe drought affected crops in the Great Plains and across portions of the South and far West.Ala., Ark., Calif., Colo., Fla., Ga., Iowa, Kan., La., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., Neb., N.M., N.D., Okla., S.D., Texas, Wyo.
2005$1.0-$1.2 billion0Severe localized drought caused significant crop losses, especially for corn and soybeans.Ark., Ill., Ind., Mo., Ohio, Wis.
2002$10.0-$12.9 billion0Moderate to extreme drought was experienced over large portions of 30 states, including the West, Great Plains, and much of the eastern U.S.Ala., Ariz., Calif., Colo., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Idaho, Iowa, Kan., La., Maine, Md., Mich., Miss., Mo., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.J., N.M., N.C., N.D., Ohio, Okla., Ore., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.D., Texas, Utah, Va., Wyo.
2000$4.0-$5.4 billion140Severe drought and persistent heat over south-central and southeastern states caused significant losses to agriculture and related industries.Ala., Ariz., Ark, Calif., Colo., Fla., Ga., Idaho, Iowa, Kan., La., Miss., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.M., N.C., Okla., Ore., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Utah, Wash., Wyo.

 

That’s One Small Step for the IPCC; One Giant Leap for Understanding Our Climate Risk

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a “special report” (that’s what they call topical reports they publish in between their better known comprehensive assessments) today that is worth a close look for anyone who wants to start getting ready for a future with weirder and often harsher weather.

About a year ago I published an opinion editorial taking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to task for neglecting risk-based information to help decision makers cope with inevitable uncertainties about the future impacts of climate change:

Since uncertainty is endemic to the future, when the second IPCC assessment concluded in 1995 that ‘The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on the global climate’, the IPCC should have reconvened around the risk implications of this probable human influence. Instead, it redoubled its effort to reduce physical science uncertainties [which will not be resolved before action is required].

Global Warming Contributing to Texas Drought

This blog is co-written by Jay Gulledge

Recently, President Obama quipped about GOP presidential candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry: “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.” While this type of election jousting risks further politicizing an issue that should be totally non-partisan, it raises a legitimate question: Is climate change increasing the risk of drought and wildfires in Texas?

Crunch Time for U.S. Science Funding

Researchers must make a stronger case for funding in the face of a perfect storm of budget cuts and eroding political support, says Jay Gulledge.

This op-ed appears in Nature magazine.

September 2011
By Jay Gulledge

The current U.S. debt crisis sets the stage for a potential tipping point in federal science spending. The ideology that government-sponsored science is crucial to the well-being of society has eroded along with the cold-war security agenda, which embraced and fortified science for decades. Meanwhile, science has been pulled repeatedly into political clashes on cultural issues. Against this backdrop, the global economic crisis portends a decade-long reduction in federal budgets. To avoid a permanent retraction of government support for research, the science community must be more strategic and aggressive in conveying the value of its work to society and in gaining robust support from politicians.

US federal science spending has long been rooted in the national security agenda. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was established shortly after the Second World War “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense”. NASA was established less than 10 months after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, in a frenzied response to the Soviets’ early lead in developing ballistic missiles. Through the decades of the cold war, support for science straddled party lines.

But, after the fall of the Berlin wall, the United States stood as the sole great power and shifted its strategic emphasis from establishing scientific superiority to cultivating democratic movements in the developing world. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reinforced this shift: security analysts believed that Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the main US enemies, would be defeated by winning hearts and minds, not by building a better mouse trap.

The erosion of the cold-war security doctrine therefore removed the bipartisan backstop to science funding. The quest for economic competitiveness might reasonably have replaced it, but has not done so. For example, the America COMPETES Act, passed in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010 by Democrat-run Congresses, planned to expand the NSF’s budget from US$6.6 billion in 2008 to $8.1 billion in 2010, but appropriators froze NSF budgets   in response to the economic crisis. The current Republican-led House of Representatives is unlikely to support the increase of science budgets. Representative Ralph Hall (Republican, Texas), the recently installed chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has said that the America COMPETES Act is “just too heavily drowned in money”.

Add to this the ‘culture wars’ that have gripped the United States for some time. They split the nation into two camps along divisive issues such as abortion, gun control and gay rights. In recent decades, some of the most contentious issues have put science in the crossfire, from evolution to tobacco health effects, stem-cell research and most recently my own area of expertise — climate change. This year, an informal survey of US Earth-science teachers found that climate change was second only to evolution in evoking protests from parents and school administrators (S. Reardon Science 333, 688–689; 2011).

These divisions threaten science budgets. Hall has expressed doubts about the scientific evidence for human-induced climate change and recently sponsored an amendment to the 2011 spending bill to stop the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from spending money to set up a national climate service; the bill passed with support  from 227 Republicans and 6 Democrats.

Economic shock
In the midst of all this, the debt-ceiling deal — formally the Budget Control Act of 2011 — has the potential to administer a massive shock to science budgets. The law requires non-defence discretionary spending (which includes science funding) to be cut by $917 billion over the next ten years, an average of 15 percent per year. On top of this, an automatic trigger will reduce spending on defence and on social entitlements — the sacred cows of Republicans and Democrats, respectively, if by the end of the year Congress cannot agree on ways to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade. The two parties will therefore be strongly motivated to cut non-defence discretionary budgets as much as possible.

Whether future Congresses will soften the impact of the debt-ceiling deal depends on the pace of economic recovery, the evolution of the culture wars, and the public’s perception of the return on taxpayer investment in research. The scientific community can directly influence the last of these, but it needs a coherent strategy to do so. Like industry, it needs to document its net value to society and flaunt it. Unfortunately, through decades of cold-war complacency, the scientific community has developed a culture that runs counter to doing this.

An institution representing the U.S. science community is needed to undertake a broad, ongoing, quantitative assessment of the overall contribution of science to society and the economy and communicate these effects to the public and politicians through the media and other channels. As ever, the contribution to national security is a good place to start. Neutralizing today’s threats — terrorism, biological and chemical weapons, nuclear proliferation, and cyberwarfare — is an intensely scientific undertaking. Social sciences are needed to tackle joblessness, food and energy insecurity, financial   disruptions and climate-change-induced destabilization of developing countries. Economic development, cost savings through innovation and efficiency enhancement, environmental quality, mental health and happiness are all affected by scientific research and development.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the traditional home for such cross-cutting efforts, and its work is laudable. But the ongoing public misunderstanding of science shows that the established approaches are inadequate.

There are signs of new ways of thinking. In March, the American Geophysical Union hosted a gathering of the presidents and top administrators of 17 US scientific societies and research consortia, from a broad spectrum of fields, to discuss how they might cooperate to improve public understanding of climate science — a unique and remarkable effort that should be expanded.

At the same time, science institutions need to enhance their value to society by incorporating socioeconomic benefits into their missions. Although some branches of academies already embrace this role to some extent — medical, law and engineering schools, for example — basic-science and social-science schools traditionally eschew it. In part this is because the production of social benefits is scantily rewarded. In the words of Anthony Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park, at a 2009 meeting of the Center for a New American Security in Washington DC: “Nobody asks me, ‘How many policy decisions did your work inform?’ Instead they ask, ‘How many papers did you publish and how much grant money did you raise for the institute?’” Both should matter.

Peer-reviewed publications, research grants, and professional impact should remain the core metrics of success in academia. But the remit should be broadened so that recognized publications include assessment reports and science-based articles in public-policy, interdisciplinary, and business journals. Recognized grants should include those from mission-oriented agencies, foundations, and non-governmental organizations. And recognized impact must include influence on government, business, and civil-society decision makers.

The drive for international superiority during the cold war passively nourished a wide spectrum of sciences, the true value of which manifested in an array of benefits outside defence. In today’s chillier strategic and political climate, the scientific community must work hard to enhance and advertise those benefits. Those in academia who worry about the erosion of curiosity-driven science should have a greater fear: the erosion of science in general.

Jay Gulledge is the Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

by Jay Gulledge--Published in Nature magazine

Irene’s Impacts Hit Home

During the last weekend of August, the Eastern U.S. braced for a walloping. Hurricane Irene spiraled up the Atlantic coast, ripping trees out of the ground in North Carolina and drenching much of the rest of the coast. When I heard that Irene was making her way up toward my hometown of Ridgewood, NJ, I had flashbacks to Hurricane Floyd, a devastating storm in 1999 that brought us much destruction and devastation.

Climate Debate in Word Clouds: The Conflicting Discourse of Climate Change

Like it or not, climate change is now part of the “culture wars.” Like abortion, gun control, and health care, climate change divides conversations along political battle lines of left versus right. But if you listen closely to what is being said, you will find that people are talking past each other, engaged in a debate that has little to do with an evaluation of climate science. Instead, it is a clash about values, beliefs, and worldviews. Opinions are based largely on ideological filters that people use to understand complex issues, influenced strongly by the cultural groups of which they are a part and the opinions of thought-leaders and pundits whom they trust. The arguments are constructed around the frames by which people view the science, not the science itself.

Hurricane Irene: Climate Connection?

“Don’t wait, don’t delay, we all hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” President Obama’s statement on Hurricane Irene urges the public to take precautions before one of the most significant northeast hurricanes in recent history. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for much of the Atlantic seaboard, including coastal areas of New York City. All lanes of one major highway in New Jersey are headed in one direction only – west. The safest course of action is always to get out of the way of an approaching storm – to minimize the risk of harm when you can.

The 2011 Texas Drought in a Historical Context

Texas climatologists have recently stated that the ongoing dry spell is the worst one-year drought since Texas rainfall data started being recorded in 1895. The majority of the state has earned the highest rating of “exceptional” drought and the remaining areas are not far behind with “extreme” or “severe” ratings by the U.S. Drought Monitor. So far, Texas has only received 6.5 inches of the 16 inches that has normally accumulated by this time of year.

Excessive Heat Across Eastern U.S.

Over the weekend, the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning across a huge swath of the country, putting 132 million people under a heat alert. This warning is only issued when a heat index of at least 105°F is expected for more than three hours per day on two consecutive days or when the heat index is expected to rise above 115°F for any length of time. Recently in Iowa, the heat index reached  131°F, a level normally found only along the Red Sea in the Middle East. Scientists warn that these types of events could become much more common in the future, thanks to climate change.

Pew Center, Scientific American Team Up to Explain Climate Change, Extreme Weather Link

We are teaming up with Scientific American to explain the link between climate change and extreme weather. In a new three-part series featured on Scientific American.com, award-winning science journalist John Carey dissects the science, impacts, and actions to take regarding the record-breaking floods, heat waves, droughts, storms, and wildfires experienced across the United States and the world in the past year. The first installment appears today.

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