The Impact of Extreme Weather Patterns on Society

Between record heatwaves and catastrophic cold fronts, extreme weather patterns dominate the current news cycle. Stories of city-wide floods, generational hurricanes, and historic droughts litter local news as climate change increasingly tampers with the earth’s atmosphere. Solving the problems of extreme weather requires a long-term plan. In the meantime, meteorologists have developed new ways to motivate individuals and communities to take action.

Flooding on a road in Wisconsin. Flooding in the Midwest is becoming more frequent and severe due to extreme weather patterns caused by climate change.

Flooding on a road in Madison, WI, after heavy rain. Photo by Jim Gade on Unsplash.

For years, the field of meteorology grew in its ability to predict the weather accurately. Today, the public can see high-resolution forecasts of an area up to 48 hours in advance. However, accurate forecasting can only go so far in protecting people when it comes to natural disasters. Knowing a storm is coming is one thing. Getting people to take it seriously and get out of harm’s way is another.

Jacob Feuerstein, an atmospheric sciences student and contributing author for the Washington Post, focuses part of his studies on how to turn meteorological data into social action. In a podcast interview with Climate Clear by AreaHub, Feuerstein described two schools of thought regarding protecting people from natural disasters.

The Importance of Impact-Based Weather Forecasting and Communication Strategies#

“On one hand, there’s actually the forecasting . . . where you’re trying to take what we know about the atmosphere and use it to learn more about predicting damaging, extreme events,” Feuerstein explained.

“On the other side,” he continued, “there’s communicating extreme event forecasts to people. Every year in the meteorological community, there is a massive amount of work done in understanding social sciences and how to turn a forecast into an actual impact-based report.” 

Every year sees another generational natural disaster. Right now, the meteorological community is searching for new ways to inform the public about the dangers of these events. As a result, they are now using their data to educate and inform.

“The most exciting thing that’s happening now is that the weather service as a whole is transitioning to something of an impact-based focus on weather forecasting rather than a forecast-based approach,” exclaimed Feuerstein.  In other words, forecasters are not just telling people what the size of a storm is likely to be, or where it might land, but estimating impact as well. 

How Communities Can Mitigate Damage & Help Preparedness#

Today, weather announcements, news stories, and other media outlets all promote disaster awareness on a seasonal basis. However, an impact-based approach to extreme weather relies on public understanding and implementing action in response to a warning message. Beyond safety kits and educational videos, communities and their infrastructure must be ready for the worst. Developing better mitigation strategies can help reduce some of these impacts and create a more resilient society in the face of climate change.

Take last winter’s cold front in Texas, for example. The was the most costly winter storm in modern history. However, proper measures could have been taken beforehand to prevent the catastrophe.

“This wasn’t quite an atmospherically unprecedented event,” explained Feuerstein. “What it was, was a terrible social reaction to the atmosphere and a failure to prepare that led to such a catastrophe from something that, atmospherically, has happened before.”

Modern meteorology tells people when and how to prepare for the threat of extreme weather events. It is the community’s job to prepare accordingly. Regarding what an individual can do to protect themselves, though, Feuerstein brought up a hefty but necessary suggestion.

“Right now, it would be a prudent exercise for everybody . . . to think about what potential hazards could impact their area and think ‘How do I actually stay safe if this happens?’”

Whether it is calling the local weather service, setting up a regional safety kit, or moving out of the area, Feuerstein believes people should thoroughly evaluate their living situation. In a time when unprecedented events are common, nowhere is safe from Mother Nature’s growing threat.

Learn more about Feuerstein’s research on extreme weather patterns by listening to episode 4 of AreaHub’s Climate Clear podcast, Weird Weather: What’s Going On

Links from the Episode & Other AreaHub Resources: