The potential impacts of climate variability and change on health impacts of extreme weather events in the United States
Extreme weather events such as precipitation extremes and severe storms cause hundreds of deaths and injuries annually in the United States. Climate change may alter the frequency, timing, intensity, and duration of these events. Increases in heavy precipitation have occurred over the past century. Future climate scenarios show likely increases in the frequency of extreme precipitation events, including precipitation during hurricanes, raising the risk of floods. Frequencies of tornadoes and hurricanes cannot reliably be projected. Injury and death are the direct health impacts most often associated with natural disasters. Secondary effects, mediated by changes in ecologic systems and public health infrastructure, also occur. The health impacts of extreme weather events hinge on the vulnerabilities and recovery capacities of the natural environment and the local population. Relevant variables include building codes, warning systems, disaster policies, evacuation plans, and relief efforts. There are many federal, state, and local government agencies and nongovernmental organizations involved in planning for and responding to natural disasters in the United States. Future research on health impacts of extreme weather events should focus on improving climate models to project any trends in regional extreme events and as a result improve public health preparedness and mitigation. Epidemiologic studies of health effects beyond the direct impacts of disaster will provide a more accurate measure of the full health impacts and will assist in planning and resource allocation.