Severe weather puts millions in harm’s way each year. By 2050, severe weather and climate-related events could displace 1.2 billion people across the globe, putting communities and the businesses they support at risk. As severe weather continues to threaten more people and cause greater harm, building resilience against natural hazards and climate threats is paramount: the time for governments and enterprises to act is now.
Severe Weather Trends
Severe weather and climate-related risk events have increased five times over the last decade, causing approximately $137 billion in economic loss each year. Many locations are expected to see a substantial increase in the number of severe weather events such as extreme heat, extreme cold, wildfire, and flooding.
Extreme Heat Events
Heat waves are occurring more often in major cities across the United States and are becoming more intense. Washington and Oregon were heavily impacted: In Salem, Oregon, temperatures crested at 117°F (47.2°C). The sudden jump from an average temperature of 69.5 to 73.3°F (20.8 to 22.9°C) resulted in excess deaths across Washington State and Oregon. Both states reported that 95 people or more died from heat-related causes.
In the United Kingdom, the increase in heat waves and their duration has resulted in a change in how heat waves are classified across a band of English counties. The change is said to reflect “an undeniable warming trend” in the UK, making original thresholds obsolete.
Extreme Cold Events
Extreme cold can be just as deadly as extreme heat, especially in areas unfamiliar with cold or freezing temperatures. In addition to risk of life, freezing temperatures can also pose challenges to general infrastructure, electrical grids, and water systems. In the United States, Winter Storm Uri hit a very unprepared Texas resulting in loss of life and major infrastructure damage totaling between $80 and $130 billion. Approximately 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power as Uri peaked, devastating the electrical power grid.
In Spain, record-breaking snowfall brought Madrid to a standstill. The failure of transportation services amid the extreme cold event pushed authorities to call on military and rescue services. The extreme cold event caused approximately €1.4 billion in damages, with some victims of the storm stuck in their vehicles for 12 hours amid freezing temperatures.
The escalating climate crisis is driving a global increase in wildfires and bushfires, with a 30% increase predicted by 2050, according to a UN report. “The heating of the planet is turning landscapes into tinderboxes,” said the report: and it couldn’t be more true. From North America to South America, Europe to Africa, and across Asia and Australia, wildfires are wreaking havoc.
Consider the United States: The Bootleg Fire was one of many fires burning across a dozen states. Originating in Oregon where forests make up nearly half of all land, the Bootleg Fire transformed into a massive inferno half the size of Rhode Island. The fire burned more than 400,000 acres over nearly 40 days. “It was the largest fire in the nation [at the time],” said Technical Account Manager Sarah Batmale at Everbridge. In the United States, wildfires run rampant, with the “damage and accumulative economic loss in the billions.”
In 2021, huge wildfires ravaged large regions of Europe: claiming human lives and impacting livelihoods across Greece, Italy, and Turkey The catastrophic fires burned across an area of 130,000 hectares: approximately double the size of New York City. The burned area of the year’s fires approaches the sum of burned areas across Greece over eight years.
Like most severe weather occurrences, extreme flooding is also likely to increase as temperatures rise. From Germany to China, the United Kingdom to India, New South Wales to South Africa, and the United States to Nepal, extreme flooding is having devastating consequences.
In Germany, extreme flooding impacted around a third of the inhabitants of Ahr Valley. More than 500 buildings were swept away in the flood, and at least 165 people were reported dead across western Germany. Supply chains across the region were impacted and the total financial damage totaled approximately €1.8 billion. While Ahr Valley is in the process of being rebuilt, with the German cabinet approving €400 million in flood aid, the psychological scars of the event are likely to last forever.
Across South Africa, days of severe storms and flooding have resulted in nearly 400 deaths. More than 40,000 people were affected by the floods, which destroyed or damaged homes and roads across the region. The regional government cities the extreme flooding event as “one of the darkest moments in the history” of the KwaZulu-Natal province.
An Urgency for Action: Why Enterprises and Government Organizations Should Act Now
Climate change and severe weather events are top global emergencies for governments and enterprises. “Over the past years, we’ve collectively seen an increase in severe weather events not only in their frequency, their size, but also how they are interconnected,” says Sunita Voleppe, Product Marketing Manager for Public Safety at Everbridge. “This has a direct impact on businesses and their operations as well as government officials responsible for public safety, where the question isn’t if something will happen, but when will it happen… and are we prepared for it?”
We can’t reverse climate change overnight, but governments and enterprises can act with urgency to better protect their people and assets from harm. Since severe weather events show no sign of slowing or stopping and are currently mounting in severity and overlapping with one another, it’s important to act with urgency. By assessing severe weather risk, organizations and governments can better mitigate the impact a severe weather event has, creating a more robust approach to layered severe weather emergencies.
To read more of this post, including “How to Best Prepare for Severe Weather and Climate-Related Events” and “Severe Weather Planning Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them,” click here.