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Juiced by Climate Change: Extreme Weather On Steroids

by Stephanie Hanson Damassa and Noreen Nielsen, CAP

The brutal summer of 2012 is what climate change looks like. It’s only the beginning of August, and yet nearly every corner of the United States has suffered through extreme weather such as oppressive heat waves, damaging storms, and devastating droughts and wildfires. 2011 saw the most billion-dollar disasters on record in the United States, and 2012 may be similarly as costly. Insurance claims from wildfires in Colorado have already reached nearly $500 million, and experts fear costs from the current drought may reach tens of billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, this rise in extreme weather isn’t just a coincidence. Like steroids to a baseball player, climate change fuels extreme weather. Scientific organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and more all point to industrial pollution as the cause of climate change. Some key facts on recent extreme weather and climate change:

  • More than 25,000 new record highs have been set this year alone across the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • The current drought, the worst in a generation, covers more than half of the continental United States.
  • January-June 2012 was the warmest first half of any year on record in the contiguous United States.
  • Extremely hot summers around the world, like the one we’re experiencing right now in the United States, are now 40 times more frequent than they were 40 years ago.
  • Extreme downpours in the United States are now happening 30 percent more often than in the mid-twentieth century.
  • In 2011 alone, the United States experienced 14 weather disasters totaling over $50 billion in damage.
  • During the last 10 years, the United States has experienced twice as many record highs as record lows. By 2050, scientists project that record highs will outnumber record lows by 20 to 1.
  • Each new decade since the 1970s has been hotter than the last, with 2000–2010 the hottest on record so far.
  • 4 out of 5 Americans now live in counties where recent natural disasters have occurred, with twice as many people living in a county where an official disaster was declared last year compared to 2001.

Stephanie Hanson Damassa, Climate Nexus and Noreen Nielsen, Center for American Progress

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