The Hazard Resiliency Imperative
The hazard resiliency imperative
Much of the world has witnessed the stakes involving our changing climate. During the summer of 2021, in particular, several regions of the planet experienced unprecedented extremes.
Among the most dramatic examples is the Pacific Northwest's heat dome, which led to hundreds of deaths in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Temperatures rose to levels eclipsing all-time record high heat. The west endured another spike in wildfires fed by heat and drought. Thanks to the work of Lamont adjunct professor and bioclimatologist Park Williams, we know that there is a connection between warming temperatures, drought, and the incidences of wildfires.
This year also marked the second record-breaking hurricane season. This was also the summer Europe experienced deadly flooding.
On September 2, 2021, Tropical Storm Ida moved through the New York metropolitan area, killing dozens in extraordinary, first-time flash flooding that led to millions of dollars in damage. What does it mean? Are these extremes the new normal? The answers vary; the threat looms. The science of understanding risk is pivotal to creating a resilient future. Lamont science has continued groundbreaking work to explain to the world what to expect.
“Climate change has shifted the statistics, loaded the dice so heat waves are more frequent and more intense than they would’ve been without climate change,” said Lamont climate scientist Radley Horton.
Atmospheric science studies at Lamont have identified a trend, a marked change in the way the Jetstream behaves. (see related feature story)
“Climate models have underestimated the range of possible outcomes. From a risk management perspective, society should wake up to the plausibility of a future with very different summer weather than any experts anticipated just a decade ago,” said Horton.
“And from an impacts perspective, are we going to see transformational increases in fire risk, along with ecosystems shifts far more profound than those types of models would suggest? The scientific community used to generally agree these were low-probability, high-consequence scenarios, but in my opinion, scientific confidence about the ‘low probability’ part of this equation is eroding,” continued Horton.
The health impacts of extreme heat are known to be significant as well.
“If you increase the most extreme temperatures from say, 100 degrees to 103 degrees, and you have far more 100 degree days than you had in the past, you’re going to see major increases in human suffering and major decreases in human productivity. We have to do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, and we have to protect the most vulnerable people,” said Horton. Suzana Camargo, the Marie Tharp Research Professor at Lamont, studies climate change and its impact on hurricanes. Camargo says climate scientists that anthropogenic climate change is increasing the impacts of hurricanes for three reasons. Climate change is rising sea levels. So, flooding associated storm surge generated by hurricanes has a head start and creates more pervasive inundations. Climate change also increases the amount of rainfall and precipitation.
“In a warmer climate, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere increases, which contributes to an increase in the occurrence of extreme rainfall,” said Camargo. “We have seen an increase in the frequency of extreme rainfall events, including those associated with hurricanes.” For example, Hurricane Harvey, the devastating Category 4 hurricane that made landfall on Texas and Louisiana in August 2017, causing catastrophic flooding and more than 100 deaths. Various studies attributed an increase of six to 15 percent in storm rainfall due to climate change.
Also, while global warming isn’t necessarily triggering more hurricanes, it is "loading the dice" for more intense hurricanes based on theories and models. And while attribution science around climate's impact on hurricane frequency is ongoing and constantly evolving, Camargo asserted the importance of respecting the risk.
“If you live in coastal areas, you should always be worried. One is enough. It doesn't matter if the season is super active or calm. One category three or category five that hits where you live. That’s enough,” said Camargo. In fact, the 1992 season that delivered Hurricane Andrew—a potent and destructive Category 5 Atlantic hurricane that struck the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana—was calm in terms of the number of hurricanes.
“But you had Hurricane Andrew, which left devastation and death and all kinds of problems. So if you live in a hurricane-prone area, you should always be prepared.”
The Hazard Resiliency Imperative
THE HAZARD RESILIENCY IMPERATIVE
Much of the world has witnessed the stakes involving our changing climate. During the summer of 2021, in particular, several regions of the planet experienced unprecedented extremes.
Among the most dramatic examples is the Pacific Northwest's heat dome, which led to hundreds of deaths in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Temperatures rose to levels eclipsing all-time record high heat. The west endured another spike in wildfires fed by heat and drought. Thanks to the work of Lamont adjunct professor and bioclimatologist Park Williams, we know that there is a connection between warming temperatures, drought, and the incidences of wildfires.
This year also marked the second record-breaking hurricane season. This was also the summer Europe experienced deadly flooding.
On September 2, 2021, Tropical Storm Ida moved through the New York metropolitan area, killing dozens in extraordinary, first-time flash flooding that led to millions of dollars in damage. What does it mean? Are these extremes the new normal? The answers vary; the threat looms. The science of understanding risk is pivotal to creating a resilient future. Lamont science has continued groundbreaking work to explain to the world what to expect.
“Climate change has shifted the statistics, loaded the dice so heat waves are more frequent and more intense than they would’ve been without climate change,” said Lamont climate scientist Radley Horton. Atmospheric science studies at Lamont have identified a trend, a marked change in the way the Jetstream behaves. (see related feature story)
“Climate models have underestimated the range of possible outcomes. From a risk management perspective, society should wake up to the plausibility of a future with very different summer weather than any experts anticipated just a decade ago,” said Horton.
“And from an impacts perspective, are we going to see transformational increases in fire risk, along with ecosystems shifts far more profound than those types of models would suggest? The scientific community used to generally agree these were low-probability, high-consequence scenarios, but in my opinion, scientific confidence about the ‘low probability’ part of this equation is eroding,” continued Horton.
The health impacts of extreme heat are known to be significant as well.
“If you increase the most extreme temperatures from say, 100 degrees to 103 degrees, and you have far more 100 degree days than you had in the past, you’re going to see major increases in human suffering and major decreases in human productivity. We have to do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, and we have to protect the most vulnerable people,” said Horton.
Suzana Camargo, the Marie Tharp Research Professor at Lamont, studies climate change and its impact on hurricanes. Camargo says climate scientists that anthropogenic climate change is increasing the impacts of hurricanes for three reasons. Climate change is rising sea levels. So, flooding associated storm surge generated by hurricanes has a head start and creates more pervasive inundations. Climate change also increases the amount of rainfall and precipitation.
“In a warmer climate, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere increases, which contributes to an increase in the occurrence of extreme rainfall,” said Camargo. “We have seen an increase in the frequency of extreme rainfall events, including those associated with hurricanes.” For example, Hurricane Harvey, the devastating Category 4 hurricane that made landfall on Texas and Louisiana in August 2017, causing catastrophic flooding and more than 100 deaths. Various studies attributed an increase of six to 15 percent in storm rainfall due to climate change.
Also, while global warming isn’t necessarily triggering more hurricanes, it is "loading the dice" for more intense hurricanes based on theories and models. And while attribution science around climate's impact on hurricane frequency is ongoing and constantly evolving, Camargo asserted the importance of respecting the risk.
“If you live in coastal areas, you should always be worried. One is enough. It doesn't matter if the season is super active or calm. One category three or category five that hits where you live. That’s enough,” said Camargo. In fact, the 1992 season that delivered Hurricane Andrew—a potent and destructive Category 5 Atlantic hurricane that struck the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana—was calm in terms of the number of hurricanes.
“But you had Hurricane Andrew, which left devastation and death and all kinds of problems. So if you live in a hurricane-prone area, you should always be prepared.”
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Writer/Editor: Marie DeNoia Aronsohn I Contributing Editors: Tara Spinelli and Marian Mellin I Contributing Writer: John Palmer I Design: Carmen Neal
Columbia Climate School Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Annual Report FY2021
© 2021 by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. All rights reserved.
Writer/Editor: Marie DeNoia Aronsohn Contributing Editors: Tara Spinelli and Marian Mellin Contributing Writer: John Palmer Design: Carmen Neal
Columbia Climate School Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Annual Report FY2021

© 2021 by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. All rights reserved.