Climate Change: Severe Weather Impacts in North America


Last month, Detroit, Michigan experienced more rain in a single day than it had since 1925, resulting in the closure of portions of four major expressways. Baltimore, Maryland's recent rainfall totals for a day were the worst since 1933. In Islip, New York, the city received more precipitation in 24 hours than has ever been recorded anywhere in the state. Meanwhile, a hurricane formed north of the Hawaiian Islands in an area where the water is typically too cold for such activity to occur.

According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), none of this should be surprising. The section of the report addressing the effects on North America asserts with very high confidence that the continent's environment has already been impacted. Observed trends include increases in heavy precipitation over much of North America. Anecdotally, the wackiness of local patterns reminds us that memories of weather past are no guide for the future (or even the present).

Here are a few other highlights from the IPCC report:

  • Many climate stressors that carry risk will increase in frequency and/or severity in North America over the common decades, particularly those related to severe heat, heavy precipitation and declining snowpack.
  • The 21st century is projected to witness decreases in water quality, and increases in urban flooding, as well as a decline in water supplies for urban areas and irrigation purposes throughout much of North America.
  • Ecosystems are under increasing stress from rising temperatures, CO2 concentrations and sea-levels, and are particularly vulnerable to climate extremes.
  • Much of the continent's infrastructure is currently vulnerable to extreme weather events. Unless investments are made to strengthen it, our dams, roads, bridges, etc., will be more vulnerable to climate change.

Dialogue surrounding climate change is often abstract or viewed as a future concern. The time is now. The impact of a changed climate is already occurring, and businesses are advised to stay informed of near- and long-term projections for how these trends will affect their industries and operations.