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Your Environment. Your Health.

Weather-Related Morbidity and Mortality & Climate Change

 
Global Environmental Health

The United States experiences a variety of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, flood, blizzards, and droughts.  These events can lead to severe infrastructure damage and high rates of morbidity (illness) and mortality (death).  Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of these events, including floods, droughts, and heat waves.  The health impacts of these events can be severe, and include direct impacts such as injury, deaths, and mental health impacts, as well as indirect, such as population displacement and outbreaks of waterborne diseases.  Preparation has a significant impact on the outcomes of extreme weather events, as it can reduce illness and deaths, as well as lower economic costs associated with recovery. While some of these strategies can be costly, implementing them over time reduces their cost.  However, adaptation can be difficult in heavily affected areas where population growth will continue to increase, such as the U.S. Eastern seaboard that are vulnerable to storm surges and sea-level rise.

 

Two men in a boat after flood. Highway full of cars in snow storm.

 

Health Impacts

  • More intense and frequent precipitation events leading to flooding, increasing exposure to toxic chemicals in runoff, waterborne diseases, and ecosystem changes such as loss of wetlands
  • More intense and frequent hurricanes resulting in death and injury, infrastructure damage, and increases in stress and anxiety in vulnerable populations

 

Mitigation and Adaptation

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions through changes in land use, transport, and energy production
  • Early warning systems
  • Zoning and planning to avoid building in at-risk areas
  • Reinforcing the built environment against hazardous weather events
  • Evacuation planning and awareness

 

Research Needs

  • Developing strategies for linking health databases with real-time monitoring and prospective assessment of weather, climate, geospatial, and exposure data in order to better characterize the health impacts of extreme weather events
  • Improving the predictive power of modeling of health effects of extreme events such as droughts, wildfires, and floods
  • Developing and validating techniques for downscaling global climate models to provide regional and local input into health early warning systems
  • Evaluating and improving the effectiveness of health alert warning systems and other health risk communication tools

For more information, please visit the chapter on Weather-Related Morbidity and Mortality in A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change (Full Report)(4MB) .

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