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Cracked Mud

Extreme Weather Events

Extreme weather events, commonly called disasters, are rare destructive weather events including floods, droughts, and wildfires.   Extreme events can cause injury, death, and lasting devastation to individuals, families and communities.  Some examples of extreme weather in recent history include The European Heatwave of 2003, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and the California Wildfires of 2017-2020.  The frequency of extreme weather events is increasing due to climate change.  Extreme weather events are a dramatic and deadly consequence of destabilizing the climate.

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Drought Status

About Extreme Weather Events

Why are these extreme events a problem?

An increasing frequency of extreme climate events due to climate change brings an onslaught of immediate acute injury and illness to as well as long lasting effects on mental and physical health, infrastructure, communities and political structures.

What are droughts?

A drought in a long period without rain in a region.












What are the health impacts of drought?

For individual humans, going without water causes death from dehydration in a matter of days. However, in a region, the health impacts of drought usually accumulate over longer periods of time when rainfall is inadequate for agriculture and other human activities.


When there isn’t enough water to grow or process normal foods, people are forced to eat less nutritious or even toxic foods. There are many examples of this. One example is Cassava, a staple food in many parts of the world. Cassava is normally a safe and delicious starch, however it must be processed properly to remove the cyanogenic compounds- compounds that turn into cyanide in the body. During drought, there may not be adequate water and other resources to process the cassava, which leads people to have ongoing overexposure to cyanide. In this way drought causes outbreaks of the neurologic disease Konzo, which causes permanent weakness and paralysis in its victims. People can also have toxic exposures directly from consuming contaminated water in times of drought.

In addition to toxins, lack of clean drinking water exposes people to infectious diseases caused by viruses like hepatitis A virus, bacteria like Typhoid, e.Coli, and Salmonella, and parasites such as flatworms called schistosomes.

Finally, drought may lead to famine, starvation and eventually make certain areas uninhabitable leading to increased competition over scarce resources, war and political destabilization. These effects extend outward from the directly affected region to the entire world.

Understanding the importance of floods

Floods are the most frequent weather disaster. Flooding is difficult to predict, sudden, and causes immediate and long lasting devastation.

What are the health impacts of floods?

The first immediate health impact of floods is death due to drowning and traumatic injury during the flood.  After the flood, health is affected by the destruction of healthcare infrastructure and exposure to toxins and infectious disease.  In addition to water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, flooding provides breeding areas for mosquitoes which leads to vector borne illnesses such as malaria.  The aftermath of flooding also includes grief for survivors, PTSD, anxiety, depression and suicide.  Like other extreme weather events, flooding can make regions uninhabitable, force migration, and create resource strain and negative health consequences extending beyond the flood region.

How do we protect ourselves from extreme events?

On a short term basis, we can all consider emergency preparedness in our lives. If we ourselves, a loved one or a neighbor has special medical needs like being on oxygen or needing dialysis, we can consider what our emergency healthcare plans would be.  We can consider sources of clean water, food, and transportation that we would use in different extreme weather events in our particular regions.  In addition to considering our immediate vulnerabilities, we can all consider the sustainable efforts we can make over the long term to reduce the disruption to our ecosystem that leads to the increasing number and severity of extreme climate events.  We won’t know for sure the date or nature of the extreme weather event that our actions prevented, but we will know the peace, prosperity and health that blooms in its absence.

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