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.
How will climate change effect us, there are many factors that will be affected by climate change including rising sea levels, drought and loss of agricultural land.
Increasing temperatures caused by climate change will make the water of the oceans expand; ice melting in the Antarctic and Greenland will also contribute to the sea level. Sea levels could rise by as much as 25 to 50 cm, by 2100. Greater sea levels will threaten the low-lying coastal areas such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh, millions of areas of land will be at danger from flooding; causing people to leave their homes. Low lying areas in cities will be hugely affected by the rising sea.
Changes in weather will affect many crops grown around world. Crops such as wheat and rice grow well in high temperatures, while plants such as maize and sugarcane prefer cooler climates. Changes in rainfall patterns will also affect how well plants and crops grow. The effect of a change in the weather on plant growth may lead to some countries not having enough food. Brazil, parts of Africa, south-east Asia and China will be affected the most and many people could be affected by hunger.
All across the world, there is a big demand for water and in many regions, such as the central and eastern Africa there is not enough water for the people. Changes in the climate will change the weather patterns and will bring more rain in some countries, but others will have less rain, generally dry areas will become drier and wet areas could become wetter.
As climate change takes place, our daily weather and normal temperatures will
change, the homes of plants and animals will be affected all over the world. Polar bears and seals are a good example of animals that will be affected by climate change, they will have to find new land for hunting and living, if the ice in the Arctic melts, but the fact is more real that these species could become extinct.
Climate changes will affect everyone, but some populations will be at greater risk. Countries whose coastal regions have a large population, such as Egypt and China, may have to move whole populations inland to avoid flooding. The effect on people will depend on how well we can adapt to the changes and how much we can do to reduce climate change in the world.
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.
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 2018 was the highest on record. In 2015, 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.
People and communities have many options for adapting to climate change. They can install air conditioning, or change the urban environment – for example, by planting trees to cool city streets. They may improve readiness at health care facilities, or modify public health strategies – for example, by raising public awareness of risks associated with extreme weather.
As regions adapt, one might suspect that hot places like Miami deal well with heat but struggle with cold, while cold places like Fargo, North Dakota, are ready for deep freezes but less prepared for heat waves. This is exactly the pattern we found when we separately analyzed the hottest, middle, and coldest thirds of all U.S. ZIP codes.
In hot places like Miami, cold days have a very large impact on mortality, while the impact of hot days is smaller. In contrast, hot days in Fargo have a very large impact on mortality, but an additional cold day has little effect. In fact, the effect of the hottest days (90 degrees or higher) in the coldest places is about two to three times larger than the effect of the coldest days (less than 20 degrees) in the hottest places.
“If we continue to emit these warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then the heat waves will become more frequent and more intense, [along with] droughts, wildfires and floods,” he continues. “We are seeing a taste of what’s in store and there’s no question in my mind that, in the unprecedented extreme weather that we’ve seen over the past year, we can see the fingerprint of human influence on our climate.”
Scientists have long predicted the type of events that occurred in 2017. A warming Earth and warming oceans would supply more energy to intensify hurricanes and killer storms; more moisture in the atmosphere would increase the amount of heavy rainfall leading to Harvey- and Irma-like floods; and, while it seems paradoxical, as the rainfall events become more intense, they would be fewer and farther between, creating more widespread drought.
“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” Mann says. “We are seeing them play out now in the form of these unprecedented events.”
So, even while EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt personally oversees the scrubbing of the term “climate change” from federal government websites, states, cities, towns and municipalities are planning for climate change’s costs and consequences. And taxpayers are paying the tab: $306 billion in 2017 alone — and that number is expected to increase.
“If you talk to the leading economists who study climate change mitigation, they will tell you that the cost of inaction is already far greater than the cost of action — which is to say, doing something about the problem, imposing a price on carbon emissions, is a much cheaper option than the option of not doing anything and experiencing more of these devastating $300 billion or greater annual tolls from climate change,” Mann says.
The Trump administration’s actions, through the EPA and the Departments of the Interior and Energy, increase the risk of incurring even higher costs, in lives and money, from the effects of extreme weather, Mann believes.
“Right now, here in the United States, we don’t have the support at the executive level that we’d like to see for climate action,” Mann says. “The risks are clear. They’re not subtle anymore. We’re seeing them play out. [The] extreme weather and climate-related damage this last year … had the fingerprint of human impact on climate. It doesn’t stop there. If we continue not to act, then the damages accrue.”
“Pretty soon, we commit to the melting of much of the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet,” he continues, “and sea level rise, that thus far had been limited to less than a foot, starts to become measured in feet and then pretty soon in meters and yards.”
No matter where your home is located, there will always be the threat of some kind of natural disaster. You won’t always be able to predict when they will occur, but you can take steps to protect your home, and in turn, your family. The following guide will provide advice and resources on securing your house against damage from these acts of nature, as well as considerations to keep in mind for special audiences like children, seniors and people with disabilities.
Ask your utility to switch your account to clean, renewable power, such as from wind farms. If it doesn’t offer this option yet, ask it to.
The global push for cleaner, healthier energy is on. With costs dropping dramatically, renewable energy is becoming the best choice for the environment and the economy. It’s time for countries like Canada to seize the opportunity and propel us to a stable, promising future.
Stockpile Food and Rotate Your Pantry
Many of us only have a few days to a week worth of food in our refrigerators, freezers and pantries, but it’s a good idea to stockpile as much non-perishable food as you can reasonably store. Not only is it smart to have backups for emergency situations or loss of power, but also in the event of a financial setback. Rather than purchasing expensive MRE’s and other long-term nonperishables, it may be best to focus on storing the food you actually eat on a regular basis. Then, just be sure to rotate through these items and replace them as necessary so they don’t go bad. Canned goods, peanut butter, crackers, cereal, rice, oats, white rice and freeze-dried foods are just a few ideas.
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Emergencies might just be the only good reason to ever buy bottled water. Keep at least a few gallons on hand per person, stored in a cool and dark location. An alternative to buying water is to purchase non-disposable, preferably BPA-free water containers and rotate through the water inside them on a regular basis. You can also re-use food-grade containers that previously held beverages, like 2-liter soda bottles.
Build a Basic Emergency Kit
When an emergency hits, there are certain items that you’ll need to safely hunker down in your home, evacuate or find your way to safety. FEMA provides a list of recommended items including flashlights, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a first aid kit, a whistle to signal for help, a manual can opener and mess kits.
Consider Medical and Special Needs
Whether you just need an extra pair of prescription glasses or you’re on a ventilator, medical needs are one of the most important things to consider when preparing for an emergency. Diabetics should always have extra insulin on hand, and those who need oxygen tanks should have a backup source of power and a backup ventilator (get more information about that at VentUsers.org [PDF]). Special needs aren’t always medical in nature – for example, infants require certain back-up items as well.
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As destructive as they are unpredictable, tornadoes occur throughout the world. With the cyclones themselves come strong winds and often hail that can cause serious damage to your home and property. Major protective modifications include replacing windows, doors, and even roofing with more durable materials or damage-resistant designs. Minor changes might be limiting (or removing) lawn ornaments and patio furniture that could become dangerous debris in a storm, as well as trimming back tree branches from windows.
You should designate a safe space within the house that everyone will go to in the event of a tornado watch — ideally a storm cellar. For homes without, families should plan to move as far from windows and exterior doors as possible and use a sturdy piece of furniture or a mattress as protection against flying debris. Parents and older siblings should plan to help seniors, young children, and family members with disabilities move to safety, and should run practice drills regularly to avoid unexpected problems. Also designate someone to bring the pets to the safe space. Stay put with your home emergency kit until the all-clear is given, and then be extremely careful navigating your home if there is damage.
Earthquakes strike quickly and often without warning. If your home is in an area that’s prone to them, you can take precautions like bolting heavy bookshelves, mirrors, and art to the walls, and adding latches to cupboard doors to keep items inside secure. Keep as many decorative items off the wall as possible, especially around beds, cribs, couches, and other high-use furniture. Heavy appliances will also need secured, as will any medical equipment for a senior loved one or person with special needs.
In the event of an earthquake, you’ll want to take shelter under a heavy table, desk, or a staircase. Talk to children about safe places to hide in their bedroom in case the shaking begins in the middle of the night. For loved ones with limited mobility, installing grab bars near the bed can make it easier to get to safety. If you have pets, the family member closest at the time of the earthquake should take responsibility of grabbing the pet and bringing it to the same safe place; however, if the pet runs away, it’s safer to wait until the shaking stops to find it. Have practice drills on what to do, reminding all to be wary of aftershocks after the initial quake.
In some parts of the world an earthquake may bring on another dangerous natural disaster: a tsunami. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to prevent damage to your home if a tsunami strikes. You may be able to elevate it or take precautions against water, wind, or rain damage, but you’ll need to consult an expert. Your home may have specific needs based on its location, age, or even the material it’s built from, so keep in mind that what has worked for other homes in the area might not be ideal for yours.
You should move two directions if a tsunami is drawing near: inland and upward. Move your family as far away from the coast as possible, and get to the highest ground you can. Make sure you assist children, seniors, and pets; instruct everyone to hold onto one another as you travel. Plan out a fast, simplified way to move your loved ones with limited mobility, and try not to rely on too much electronic equipment (like a motor chair) that might be up against the elements.
Though they can be tracked and somewhat predicted, hurricanes can still be plenty destructive, and even deadly. Adding storm shutters or reinforcing doors and roofing are all wise investments for coastal region homeowners. Rocks and gravel can be used in landscaping to keep flooding waters away from your foundation, but bags of sand are a helpful last-minute solution if a flood-causing hurricane is predicted for your area. Trim trees and shrubs away from windows and power lines, calling a professional as necessary. If you or your loved ones have any electronic medical equipment, a generator will guarantee that their care can continue in the event a hurricane knocks out electricity in the area.
There should be someone in charge of handling the pets, a designated adult to gather and evacuate the children, and at least one person who can assist a senior loved one or person with a disability. In some cases, there will be an evacuation order issued following a hurricane warning. Always obey these orders immediately, and follow the specified evacuation route exactly — no detours. Keep the radio on for updates, and only return when the emergency order has been lifted.
A major snowstorm can keep families holed up in their homes for days at a time and could cause more damage than you might think. Homeowners in areas with particularly brutal winters should protect their property by insulating pipes, replacing worn siding and roofing, and regularly cleaning out gutters to avoid ice buildup. Insulting exterior doors and windows is also important, especially in bedrooms. You might also want to have the capacity of your roof checked to make sure it can withstand the weight of heavy snow.For areas where blizzards may occur, home emergency kits should contain plenty of backup medications and necessary care supplies for people with disabilities, children, seniors, and pets, at least a week’s supply. Extra blankets and clothing should also be included.
A generator will be necessary in any homes where family depends on electronic medical equipment, and extra tanks of oxygen and other supplies should be kept on-hand, as well.
Your strongest ally in protecting your home from wildfire damage will be smart landscaping: the idea is to create a burn path away from or around your house. Clear your yard of debris like sticks and leaves, especially within at least 30 feet of your house. Remove any dead or rotting foliage, keep gutters clear, and make sure your lawn stays trimmed. Some houses, patios, dog houses, and even children’s outdoor playgrounds can be treated with flame-resistant products. Be sure to check with local laws and regulations on wildfire precautions, as some areas may have more specific guidelines to follow.
Wildfires usually call for evacuations, and it’s important that the entire family knows what to do if the order is issued. Talk to your teens about heading to a trusted neighbor or family member’s house if you aren’t home, and make sure younger children know to obey their older siblings in these situations. If you have a loved one with a disability that would need help getting out of the house, talk to at least two neighbors (one to call first, another as a backup) about lending a hand should the need arise. Family members with disabilities and seniors with mobility issues should have mobile phones kept on them at all times so they can quickly call for help.
Reducing irrigation around your home, especially around slopes, is one of the few ways you can protect your house from a landslide. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other precautions you can take aside from being observant. It’s crucial that you pay close attention to your immediate environment: keep an eye out for signs of shifting land like leaning trees or light poles, new cracks in the sidewalks, outdoor stairs or walkways pulling away from the house, or new, unexplained plumbing leaks.
Landslides may occur after a great amount of precipitation, an earthquake, or even a wildfire, so talk to your family about being extra vigilant following these kinds of events. If you aren’t sure if something is truly moving (if the fence seems to be shifting slightly, for instance, but you can’t tell for certain), take photos of it each day to track it. Don’t leave young children or pets outside unattended in landslide-vulnerable areas, especially if you suspect there could be one in the near future. Evacuate only if you are directed to do so, and have a clear path to safety; avoid low-lying areas and be particularly wary around rivers and streams. Be prepared to carry small children and pets to safety, and have a plan for how you’ll help seniors and people with disabilities; you likely won’t have the time, opportunity, or loading space to bring their necessary equipment, so plan to bring only what is immediately necessary.
Preparation is vital when it comes to disaster safety. Take the relevant precautions for your own home and talk to your family about how to handle each situation. Make sure your emergency network understands how to use and transport equipment your loved ones with special needs require, as well as any important information about the care of your kids or pets. Practice emergency drills at least once a year and look for opportunities to make the process smoother and evacuations quicker. The more disaster preparation is a conversation in your home, the better your family will handle the situation in the moment, and the safer everyone will be.
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