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Climate change affecting each U.S. state, web tool shows

By Wendy Koch (USA Today) - August 4, 2011

How badly is climate change affecting your state? A new web tool allows users to see how vulnerable their area has been to drought, flooding and heat extremes as well as the health problems that go along with them.

This tool, based in part on weather data gathered by the National Climatic Data Center and developed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, compares each state’s temperatures from 2000 through 2009 to those from 1961 to 1990. Users can see, for example, that the western United States has recently had more days of extreme heat than in previous decades.

“Climate change is real and in many cases is already affecting people and natural ecosystems,” said Kim Knowlton, senior scientist at NRDC, a private environmental group. “From the dangers of extreme heat and increased flooding to the spread of ragweed whose pollen causes allergies or mosquitoes that can spread disease, climate change does not discriminate and local communities need to be better prepared.”

The NRDC describes weather trends revealed by its tool:

* 20 states that have experienced the worst extreme heat are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia. This means residents in the majority of these states and in D.C. experienced more than two weeks per summer of extreme heat that was worse than in past decades.

* All but two states had at least one county that experienced more than two weeks of summer days of extreme heat.

* About 81% of those states most vulnerable to extreme heat do not have heat-health adaptation plans (AL, AK, AZ, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, ID, KS, MA, MT, NV, NM, TX, UT, WY). This highlights the lack of climate-health preparedness in many locations.

* On the positive side, 19% (4 of 21) of states in the highest heat-vulnerability group (CA, NH, OR, WA) also have heat preparedness plans. Seven “vulnerable” states have extreme heat climate preparedness plans already in place to help protect their residents’ health (FL, ME, MD, NY, PA, VA, WI).