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Harsh political reality slows climate studies despite extreme year

This past year, 2011, witnessed a number of extreme weather events in the United States that far exceeds numbers from previous years.  On average, the United States experiences three to four weather disasters a year that incur costs in excess of $1 billion per event.  In 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identified a dozen extreme weather events with a total cost that will exceed $50 billion.  These expensive climate calamities include flooding in the Mississippi River Valley, extreme droughts in Texas, wildfires in the Southwest, and increased tornado activity in the Midwest and Southeast.  While the extreme events themselves were not unprecedented, the large number of extreme events in a given year was unusual.  Researchers have predicted this rise in extreme weather event frequency as an anticipated result of climate change. The past few years have shown a statistical rise in extreme climate events that corroborates these predictions both in the United States as well as internationally.

In 2011, NOAA appealed to Congress for a reorganization of the department to better provide climate forecasts for businesses and the general public alike.  NOAA has recently been overwhelmed with information regarding future climate risks from many interested parties from insurance companies to local governments.  Unfortunately, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked this effort that would have cost the government no extra money on the grounds that such a reorganization would set the stage for an inundation of climate change propaganda.  At a time when the federal government is slashing funding for many public projects, an already overburdened NOAA will be hard-pressed to satiate the demand for future climate information, let alone develop the ability to effectively predict extreme climate events into the future.

Nick Hudson

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