Floodwaters surround homes and vehicles in the community of Pajaro in Monterey County, Calif., March 13, 2023. Credit: Noah Berger / AP

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Often, when we think of extreme weather catastrophes, we think of disasters in other parts of the world. Those events are devastating for sure, but it turns out that the U.S. is a hot bed for extreme weather, according to a recent analysis by the Associated Press.

The AP did not assess the death toll or damage of weather-related disasters around the world. Rather it focused on the fact that the U.S. has been hit recently by nearly every type of extreme weather. Blizzards? Check. Heat waves? Check. Flooding and drought are both prevalent, as are tornadoes and wildfires.

“It is a reality that regardless of where you are in the country, where you call home, you’ve likely experienced a high-impact weather event firsthand,” Rick Spinrad, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the AP.

There are many reasons for America’s extreme weather disasters. Geography is one: Oceans on either side and the Gulf of Mexico in the south; mountains slicing through the west; and peninsulas like Florida jutting into the sea. Where we live and build – close to seashores, near flood-prone rivers, in tornado and hurricane prone corridors – makes many regions particularly vulnerable.

Add in climate change, which contributes to rising sea levels, extreme temperatures and increasingly severe storms, and Spinrad encourages Americans to “buckle up.”

“More extreme events are expected,” he said.

Weather and climate are not the same things. But, it is becoming increasingly clear that they are inextricably linked.

For example, a study published in a recent edition of the journal Science Advances predicts that the east coast of the U.S. will be hit by more and stronger hurricanes because of warming and changing air patterns.

By the end of the century, the number of hurricanes that hit the east coast will likely increase by a third, the authors said. The increase in hurricanes that are expected to hit Florida will be even larger.

Already, weather and climate disasters that cause costly damages and losses are becoming more common in the U.S. Between 1980 and 2022, there were an average of eight events a year that caused more than $1 billion in damages and losses. In the last five years, there have been an average of 18 a year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The total cost of these events has been more than $2.5 trillion, with nearly a quarter of those costs incurred in the last five years.

Last year’s most costly global weather event, with losses topping $100 billion, was Hurricane Ian, which decimated parts of Florida, and also hit other southern states and Cuba.

Scientists globally have warned  for years that greenhouse gas emissions, especially from burning fossil fuels, must be reduced to avoid even worse climate disasters. In addition, scientists who spoke to the AP emphasized the need to restrict and change building practices in areas most prone to the impacts of extreme weather, such as along coastlines and in tornado and flood-prone areas.

“It’s sad that we have to live these crushing losses,” Kim Cobb, a Brown University professor of environment and society, told the news agency. “We’re worsening our hand by not understanding the landscape of vulnerability given the geographic hand we’ve been dealt.”

It is a reminder that, while we take steps to minimize climate change, we must also be prepared for its increasingly damaging impacts.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...