In its latest monthly weather analysis the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported that the US has set a record with a dozen billion-dollar weather disasters this year, causing total damage of $52bn. The monthly analysis is based on records dating back to 1895.
This 2011 disaster count breaks the previous record of nine such events in one year, which happened just three years ago in 2008. And 2011 is not even over yet. There have been other extreme events this year, including the winter storm that impacted the Northeast and the wind/flood damage from Tropical Storm Lee, but, as yet, these events are not over the $1bn threshold.
The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the US environmental action group, has gone even further by saying that in 2011, there were at least 2,941 monthly weather records broken by extreme events that struck communities in the US.
The organisation has released an interactive extreme weather mapping tool to show what events hit what areas from January to October 2011. It “allows Americans to draw the connections between climate change and extreme weather in the cities and towns in which they live”.
NRDC weather survey found at least 1,302 heat-related records, 1,090 rainfall records and 549 snowfall records were broken in counties across the US. Especially hard-hit regions include the Midwest and Northeast, which endured heavy flooding and the greater Texas region, which endured an extended period of wildfires, extreme heat and drought.
All this is after the recent release of a summary of the Special Report on Extreme Events from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) – the full report is due in February. The summary report concludes, with varying degrees of confidence, that by the end of the 21st century there will be substantial warming in temperature extremes, the frequency of heavy precipitation will increase, tropical cyclone wind speed will increase and droughts will intensify.
The evidence and warnings of extreme weather are now coming from all directions and make scary reading. It’s interesting to note that at least the impacts are being recorded in the US, although it’s only the NRDC that makes the climate change connection. (Maybe if the final episode of the recent David Attenborough ‘Frozen Planet’ TV series, which showed the dramatic impact of global warming on the North and South Poles, had actually been shown in the US the message may have got across).
But the point is that the world has to manage this increasing number of extreme weather events as the climate changes. The IPCC report included the graphic below, which shows options for managing the risks posed.
ICT has a significant role to play in most of these strategies, enabling organisations of all sorts, governmental or commercial, to continue to function.
Globalisation has been a business driver in recent years, but globalisation also increases vulnerability to these disasters as supply chains spread across the world. An important aspect of green IT is to support businesses in managing the risk that global climate change brings through greater resilience and adaptability. That includes weather monitoring and reporting, risk management systems, impact assessments, business continuity, and so on.