2011 will go down as one of the most active and expensive years for extreme weather events in recent memory, but the record-breaking year will likely be outdone as climate change picks up pace.
To underscore this point, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a map yesterday to give communities, companies and individuals a visual tool with which they can study weather patterns which may be intensified by climate change, such as drought, wildfires and heatwaves.
"We wanted to do this because 2011 is drawing to a close but we did not want people to forget this has been a stunning year for record-setting weather events," said Kim Knowlton, a health and climate scientist with the NRDC.
In addition to massive disasters like the February "snowpocalypse" and the April tornado swarm, the tool tallied at least 2,941 monthly weather records broken in the U.S. between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, based on information from the National Climatic Data Center. The tool will be updated with information from the last two months of the year in early 2012.
Companies can use the tool to prepare for disruptions and extreme weather events that are most likely to happen in the regions in which they or their suppliers operate, or areas to which they may expand. Don't be surprised to see insurance premiums increase in regions that have experienced severe weather events, Knowlton warned.
"Insurers are really taking note of 2011 as the year in which they're adjusting their strategies," she said, adding that Allstate boosted its home insurance premiums by 7 percent this year in response to more extreme weather events.
Insurer Munich Re painted a grim portrait of 2011 in an analysis [PDF] focused on the first six months of the year, finding that global losses from natural disasters topped $265 billion. A large chunk of that stems from earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, but 2011 also saw the deadliest thunderstorm season in more than 50 years, with insured losses exceeding $16 billion.
"We're all going to feel the cost of these extreme events," Knowlton said. "With climate change boosting the intensity and frequency, in a way, we're all going to be paying the price."