Extreme Weather during a Pandemic

Extreme Weather during a Pandemic

COVID, CLIMATE and FOOD Series

Climate change is not only making extreme weather events more intense but they are also occurring more frequently. This phenomenon is not necessarily new, but during the current pandemic, these events are coming at a time when resources, manpower and economies are already stretched thin. Responding to duel crises of a pandemic and extreme events such as flooding or wildfires will continue to push response teams to the limit and test the ability of officials to plan ahead. 

These issues point to the strong need to make data-driven decisions to understand the risks of extreme weather and put in place adaptation plans before these events compound with already stressed economies leading to food insecurity, disease (vector borne or infectious diseases) and infrastructure failure. When a dam recently failed in Michigan under the strain of heavier than normal floodwaters, it was a wakeup call to how ageing infrastructure poses an even higher risk under the current circumstances of the coronavirus. There are new challenges on how to safely provide socially-distanced shelter and refuge for the thousands who have been evacuated from their homes.

Which hazards are likely for the rest of 2020?

Many climate hazards are looming and the weather certainly won’t wait until the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed. The map below from a recent article in Nature shows the prevalence of global extreme weather events that are likely to occur during the pandemic; every region will be impacted.

Likely upcoming climate hazards during the COVID-19 pandemic

Additional climate threats are looming including the threat of heat waves increases across Europe and South Asia, wildfires in the western US and Australia, and water shortages in South America and Southern Africa where drought is already creating food insecurity (New York Times). Drought in Southern Africa can also impact the availability of electricity as many are dependent on hydro-power which could impact the response to COVID-19. We’ve already seen the impacts of the locust infestation in East Africa and India that has been largely fueled by abnormal rainfall due to a warming Indian Ocean.

The Gulf Coast of the US is also bracing for a severe hurricane season while places like Louisiana battle large outbreaks of COVID-19.

While the risks are different from region to region, taken together, “they should be seen as a sobering signal of what lies ahead for countries all over the world,” a group of scientists and economists warned this month in Nature.

Prepare now with better information

While immediate steps can be taken to decrease the loss of life from weather events, there are larger initiatives that need to be undertaken for climate change adaptation, especially in the face of a pandemic. A recent Stanford study revealed that the common approach for predicting extreme weather events by looking at their frequency in the past has led to significant underestimates which could have significant negative consequences for millions (Stanford).  Economies that are reeling from the impacts of COVID-19 cannot afford to be caught off guard when the next extreme weather event occurs. Disaster risk management teams would benefit greatly from more visibility around how the climate is changing and where new risks due to flooding or other weather extremes can cause loss of life. aWhere’s observed historical data is effective in revealing how the environment has changed from national to local levels. 

Climate resilience and preparedness is built with better data. Improved long-term planning based on climate trends is more cost effective than ad hoc reactions to weather extremes. aWhere’s global dataset provides critical insight for planning in advance of extreme weather and building resilience to climate change.

Food Security Tracker

As part of the COVID, CLIMATE and FOOD series, we will provide an updated Global Food Security Tracker which shows the forecast of precipitation over potential evapotranspiration (P/PET) across aWhere’s 1.9 million virtual weather stations. Much of Europe, parts of Southeast Asia, parts of South America, the Midwest and South of the United States, and parts of Central Africa will experience drier than normal conditions next week.



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