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Why is our Weather Getting Wackier?

A large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse.

“Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get.”*

Scientists have been pointing out the largely negative impacts on our climate of the human-induced activities for several decades now.

Do you believe that our wacky weather is connected at least in part to global warming? 

Our weather has been very wacky lately. Last month, in March 2012, a staggering total of 15,292 warm temperature records were broken all across the United States as the contiguous 48 states were an average of 6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

A major new poll released this week shows that the American public may be connecting the dots just as conclusively as scientists.**

  • Over the past several years, Americans say the weather in the U.S. has been getting worse – rather than better – by a margin of over 2 to 1 (52% vs. 22%).
  • A large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse.

In 2011, a record-breaking 14 weather and climate disasters collectively caused approximately $53 billion in damages, in addition to the incalculable loss of human life.

These 2011 disasters included Hurricane Irene along the eastern seaboard, severe drought in Texas and the Great Plains, tornadoes in the Midwest, and massive floods in the Mississippi River Valley.

For example, the poll found the following results about how Americans are connecting global warming and climate change to local weather changes.**

  • 72% of Americans believe global warming worsened the unusually warm winter of December 2011 and January 2012;
  • 70% of Americans believe global warming worsened the record high summer temperatures in the U.S. in 2011;
  • 69% of Americans believe global warming worsened the drought in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011;
  •  61% of Americans believe global warming worsened record snowfall in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011;
  • 53% of Americans believe global warming worsened the Mississippi River floods in the spring of 2011; and
  • 59% of Americans believe global warming worsened Hurricane Irene in the late summer of 2011.

Even more telling, the poll found that the impact of extreme weather has become personal for many more American than ever noted before.

  • About half of all Americans say that heat waves (53%), droughts (46%) and very heavy rain storms (43%) have become more common in their local area over the past few decades.
  • Many Americans also say that extreme weather has increased the occurrence of other problems in their local area, including: harm to crops (46%), floods (39%), problems with air quality (38%), forest fires (34%), problems with water quality (31%), and problems with transportation (23%).

For more on the difference between climate and weather, see here.

*This quote is variously attributed to Mark Twain and Robert Heinlein, among others.

**Source: Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Hmielowski, J. D. (2012) Extreme Weather, Climate & Preparedness in the American Mind. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/Extreme-Weather-Climate-Preparedness.pdf

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