It has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. Deaths from major weather events are hard to quantify and, sadly, no one knows how many people died in Katrina. While it is challenging to accurately ascribe illness and death directly to climate change, this should not prevent us from promoting the solid health and climate research findings we do know. The “2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change: Policy Responses to Protect Public Health and the White House Summit Report on Climate and Health come to mind. Along the same lines, we can also be moving to do what we can to prevent the potential for growing impacts and worsening consequences. This includes advocating for clean air measures and strong environmental protections for our patients, families and communities. At the very least, we ought to learn from the disasters that devastate countless numbers of lives.
By Andrea Thompson I Aug 27, 2015
In the days after Aug. 29, 2005, when the world watched Hurricane Katrina become one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, a question reverberated through the public consciousness: Was climate change to blame?
This question arose in part because of a desire after such terrible events to understand why they occur. Katrina killed an estimated 1,200 people and caused more than $100 billion in damage. But the question was also driven by an emerging public awareness of the changes that global warming might mean for the world’s weather, including hurricanes.
At the time, scientists had few easy answers. There was clear evidence that temperatures around the globe had risen and expectations that this would shift weather patterns and make some events more extreme in the future, but no clear accounting had been done of whether those effects were discernible in the weather happening to us today.
Ten years later, there is still no straightforward answer for this or other storms. Partly this is because the question itself is flawed, belying the complexity of these weather events and their relationship to the climate. But scientists have found other ways to probe the role of warming, by asking, for example, how sea level rise has made flooding worse or how warming has influenced entire hurricane seasons.
Such studies can tell us something valuable about how climate change is impacting the world we live in, even if they can’t give us a clear “yes” or “no” answer.
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