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Advocacy group's extreme weather map brings climate change home

December 8, 2011 |  2:36 pm

Climate change much? A new map published today by the Natural Resources Defense Council makes it plain that extreme weather attributable to climate change isn’t something that only happens in other parts of the world. Chances are you’ve had your own Hurricane Irene, or drought, or something like it in your own backyard.

The interactive map lays out 2,941 monthly weather records broken in communities throughout the U.S. from January thru October of this year, and traces an onslaught of severe storms, drought, flooding and calamity. The point is to show how climate change is affecting your community every day.

“We did this analysis because we wanted to aggregate state-by-state what had happened for people, so they could see it on the map,” said Kim Knowlton, senior scientist in the Health and Environment program at the NRDC. “I think it’s pretty stunning: One can see in the Northeast how much record-breaking rainfall; in the South, in particular, how much record-breaking heat. We have icons, too, for drought and wildfire. For snowfall, all over the Midwest and the Northeast.”

An interesting interactive element plays the entire year like a video, showing rain, flood and storms surging across the country.

So what? A weather map of any year might look like this, right?

Not necessarily. These are all record events, so they didn’t happen quite this way before. One of the criteria for the data was that it had to break records at a weather stations with a data record of 30 years or more.

The map, Knowlton said, shows “how climate change could increase either the frequency or the intensity or the extent of some of these unfortunately rather damaging extreme events, and the kind of preparedness steps we need to be taking. Because there is a heck of a lot we can be doing to prepare ourselves to better meet these challenges.”

Like, for instance, pass meaningful climate change legislation. Or, at least, prepare for the consequences of these big events on the health of the populace. Knowlton points out that illness and injury to humans, which can add billions of dollars to the cost of a major weather event, are often not included in damage reports. The NRDC just published a report about this in collaboration with the University of California.

“In concert, the extreme weather map from 2011, plus the climate-health vulnerability map, together give a very rich picture of what we need to think about in the future,” Knowlton said.


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Graphic: An interactive map produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows 2,941 record-breaking weather events recorded across the U.S. from January through October. Credit: Natural Resources Defense Council