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New web tool shows how climate change will worsen extreme heat, drought

August 4th, 2011

From Green Right Now Reports

Climate change is expected to lead to worsening drought conditions and greater heat extremes, along with myriad health problems. And a new web tool created by the Natural Resources Defense Council lets you see read just how badly your state could be impacted by climate change.

Based on an analysis of weather station data gathered by the National Climatic Data Center and other sources, NRDC’s new “Climate Change Threatens Health” webpage lets users see the effects of climate change at a regional and state level. On the site, you can view local data and maps detailing extreme weather patterns throughout the country, as well as learning about the local climate change vulnerabilities and health problems facing your own community.

For example, the NRDC web tool compares temperature data in each state from 2000 through 2009 to local temperatures from 1961 to 1990. You’ll see that residents of the western United States experienced more days of extreme heat than in previous decades and a frequency of drought conditions from 2000 through 2009.

This extreme heat can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease, while drought can lead to lower crop yields and contaminated drinking water. Many communities do not have plans in place to address these problems.

Among the key findings:

  • 20 states that have experienced the worst extreme heat are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia. This means residents in the majority of these states and in D.C. experienced more than two weeks per summer of extreme heat that was worse than in past decades.
  • All but two states had at least one county that experienced more than two weeks of summer days of extreme heat.
  • About 81 percent of those states most vulnerable to extreme heat do not have heat-health adaptation plans (AL, AK, AZ, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, ID, KS, MA, MT, NV, NM, TX, UT, WY). This highlights the lack of climate-health preparedness in many locations.
  • On the positive side, 19 percent (4 of 21) of states in the highest heat-vulnerability group (CA, NH, OR, WA) also have heat preparedness plans. Seven “vulnerable” states have extreme heat climate preparedness plans already in place to help protect their residents’ health (FL, ME, MD, NY, PA, VA, WI).

“Climate change is real and in many cases is already affecting people and natural ecosystems,” Kim Knowlton, senior scientist in NRDC’s health and environment program, said in a statement. “Our analysis will help people across the country find out exactly how climate change affects their state. From the dangers of extreme heat and increased flooding to the spread of ragweed whose pollen causes allergies or mosquitoes that can spread disease, climate change does not discriminate and local communities need to be better prepared.”

Dan Lashof, director of NRDC’s Climate Center, said these threats, aggravated by increased levels of carbon pollution, illustrate the danger of congressional efforts to dismantle the Clean Air Act and its public health protections.

“Climate preparedness should be better funded, and the states that don’t have public health preparedness strategies in their climate adaptation plans definitely need to add those,” Lashof said. “Our maps show this is an ongoing problem, and the health effects of this summer’s heat waves have not even been fully measured yet.”


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