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Washington, D.C. — Today the Center for American Progress released “The Year of Living Dangerously: 2010 Extreme Weather Cost Lives, Health and Economy,” with an accompanying map, by Daniel J. Weiss, Valeri Vasquez and Ben Kaldunski. This April, Americans have experienced southeastern storms and tornadoes that took hundreds of lives, “supercell thunderstorms” in Iowa, severe drought and record wildfires in Texas, and heavy rains in the Mississippi River valley, which could cause the most severe, damaging floods there in nearly a century.
This continues the extreme weather of 2010, that exacted a huge human and economic toll, and may be the new normal. In 2010, more than 380 people died and 1,700 were injured due to weather events in the United States throughout the year, leading to a record 81 disaster declarations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and total damages in excess of $6.7 billion. The average year has 33 declarations.
This report gathers, condenses, and synthesizes scientific data regarding extreme weather and its links to global warming to provide context to the recent surge in extreme weather events. In addition to cataloguing the extreme U.S. weather in 2010, the consequences on our health and economy are also examined.
Some of the recent findings examining the linkages between extreme weather and global warming include:
- A report by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which shows that “if temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead … record high temperatures far outpace record lows across the U.S.”
- A 2010 Duke University-led study, which found, “Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse”
- The “first major paper of its kind” tracking global climatic trends from 1951 to 1999, which confirmed a human contribution to more intense precipitation extremes with very high confidence
- A study published in the 2011 Journal of Climate, which presents “evidence of a significant human influence on the increasing severity of extremely warm nights and decreasing severity of extremely cold days and nights”
Estimates of the cost to the economy include:
- A February 2011 special report from Reuters, which noted that it’s been rough going for the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business, explaining that “storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen”
- A 2010 report from Sandia National Laboratories, which estimates that “the climate uncertainty as it pertains to rainfall alone [puts] the U.S. economy is at risk of losing between $600 billion and $2 trillion, and between 4 million and 13 million U.S. jobs over the next 40 years”
As noted in the conclusion, conservatives remain eager to dismiss these weather extremes by claiming they are solely due to natural variability. What’s more, the House of Representatives voted to defund federal science programs that gather and analyze the data essential to understand changes in global weather patterns and other climate impacts. But all this denial cannot make this threat disappear and we must act before the human and economic cost of our inaction rises.
Download the full report (pdf)