Torrential hurricanes, devastating droughts, crippling ice storms, and raging heat waves—all are extreme weather phenomena that can claim lives and cause untold damage. Climate change influences severe weather by causing longer droughts and higher temperatures in some regions and more intense deluges in others, say climate experts. Among the most vulnerable are communities in exposed mountain and coastal regions. In those settings worldwide, citizens are adjusting to new weather realities by strengthening warning, shelter, and protection systems.
Catastrophes on the Rise
Meteorological records show a rise in weather-related disasters since 1980. Climate change affects some weather, but experts caution against blaming it for every extreme event.
A fierce cyclone hits Bangladesh about every three years. In 1991 Cyclone Marian killed 140,000. In 2007 Cyclone Sidr flattened 565,000 homes, but a warning system and fortified shelters helped limit deaths to 3,500. Today restoring coastal mangroves and hillside forests aims to stave off surging seas, landslides, and floods during future storms.
SUCCUMBING TO HEAT
The global average temperature in May 2015 was the highest on record. In India some 2,200 people perished during a ten-day heat wave when reported highs hit 113°F (45°C). To cope, the city of Ahmadabad offered potable water and cooling centers in high-risk areas and trained health aides to treat heat-related illness.
RISING SEAS, RISING CONCERNS
Climate change may not cause a particular storm, but rising sea levels can worsen its impact. In 2012 a nine-foot storm surge from Hurricane Sandy hit New York City at high tide, making the water 14 feet higher than normal at the tip of Manhattan. Flooding destroyed neighborhoods and beaches in outer boroughs. The sea level in this area is rising by more than an inch each decade—twice as fast as the global average—and is predicted to rise 11 to 21 inches by 2050. To prepare, the city is implementing coastal resiliency measures: A multiuse project will create more green spaces for city residents as well as a system of floodwalls, berms, and retractable barriers for enhanced storm protection.
THE PRICE OF NATURAL CATASTROPHES
Costly storm and flood damage to burgeoning coastal infrastructure is growing. Innovations such as building floating villages and relocating vulnerable assets away from rising seas can reduce risk and losses.