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Extreme weather sets record in 2011, ‘bare-knuckle’ years ahead

By Lynn Herrmann     Dec 1, 2011 in Environment
Cambridge - Extreme weather events in the US this year have caused more than $10 billion in damages, with recent events likely to drive the figure skyward as experts say climate change will cause even greater destruction in years to come.
This year alone the US has experienced extreme heat, exceptional droughts, heavy precipitation, record flooding, and record-setting early snowfalls. These disasters are making local governments and international businesses reassess weather’s impact.
The National Climatic Data Center is considered the nation’s scorekeeper on extreme weather, recording 10 major disasters between January and August, with each inflicting more than $1 billion in damages. It notes recent events this fall could put 2011 on course to a record-breaking 14 weather disasters combining to create a staggering $53 billion in damages, recent information from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows.
“Mother Nature has made it abundantly clear this year the gloves are off,” said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist at Weather Underground and responsible for preliminary analysis of extreme weather, in a UCS news release. “And, with climate change likely to boost the destructive power of storms, heat waves and droughts, we can expect an increasing number of these bare-knuckle years in the decades to come.”
The extreme weather events and their consequences for communities and businesses are forcing some to take a new look at global warming.
In addition to lives lost and property damages, insurers are also feeling the brunt of extreme weather and are looking at 100-year and 200-year events in a new light as their frequency increases. These increasing disasters are likely to alter the insurance landscape, forcing insurers to shift the amount of money they have on hand.
“There is an emerging and very important link developing between climate science and finance and relevant areas of financial regulation,” said Rowan Douglas, Chairman of Willis Research Network (WRN), according to the UCS release. He is also CEO of Willis Analytics which, along with WRN, is part of the UK-based global insurance brokerage firm Willis Group Holdings. “And it’s being driven increasingly by the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.”
From washed out bridges to downed power lines to dried up water supplies, local governments have begun bearing the brunt of these extreme weather events. A recent survey by ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, found 59 percent of its 298 members are currently engaged in climate preparedness work, with hazardous weather impact reductions among the top reasons for such work.
Brian Holland, Climate Program Director for ICLEI, told UCS: “Cities and counties are increasingly engaged in preparing for climate change. Many are approaching it from the angle of responding to extreme weather. Despite some real challenges in identifying resources to do climate adaptation, we expect to see continued growth in the number of communities attempting to build resilience to climate change and extreme weather.”
For more information on extreme weather events in the US, UCS has prepared a detailed backgrounder which includes data on the events along with policy developments regarding the National Climate Service and the National Climate Assessment.
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