Environment

Guess What Extreme Weather Fears Keep Americans Up at Night—It's Probably Not What You Think

Hurricanes don't even make the top five.

Photo Credit: Zabavna/Shutterstock

The Southeast often makes headlines for hurricanes. In the Midwest, twisters tear across the open plains. Earthquakes rattle the West Coast, while blizzards in the Northeast are legendary. It seems almost every part of the United States contends with extreme weather. But how do these weather events compare? Which region has the worst weather? And if something were to happen, how prepared are most Americans?

We conducted a survey of more than 2,000 people across the country to find out which types of extreme weather are the most worrisome. Continue reading to see what we discovered.

Weather Worry

We asked our survey respondents to tell us how concerned they are about a variety of extreme weather events on a scale of 0 to 3, ranging from “not at all concerned” to “very concerned.” The graph above shows the average score for each hazard.

Extreme heat waves are the No. 1 biggest weather concern for Americans, which is not too surprising. Heat waves can be extremely deadly and are often the catalyst for body dehydration, wildfires and power outages. Temperatures above 100 degrees with a brutal combination of humidity and heat count as a heat wave. In July 2016, the central U.S. experienced a dangerous triple-digit heat index (120 degrees in some areas).

A combination of heat and humidity over a 48-hour period is a warning sign of a lasting heat wave, which can cause life-threatening heat-related illnesses like heat stroke. However, recent coverage of a record-breaking sizzling heat wave in the Northeast was overshadowed by numerous tropical storm and hurricane warnings in the Southeast.

Because of their unpredictability, lightning strikes and flash floods are the second- and third-most worrisome weather events. Last year, 2016, was ranked third for the most lightning strike fatalities (36 to date) in the past 10 years. Many floods have occurred in the Midwest in recent years due to heavy rain and thunderstorms. One or more different types of flooding can occur in almost every part of the country at some point in a given year.

Organize, Don't Agonize

About a third of Americans surveyed admitted they were not very prepared for an extreme weather event. When it comes to Mother Nature, nothing is guaranteed. Preparing for the worst is always a safe bet.

The majority of respondents have flashlights and basic tools like screwdrivers and hammers. Almost 80 percent have extra batteries, and nearly 70 percent have a first aid kit. But less than 40 percent of survey takers have enough cash or water to get through a sudden disruption.

Further, while 80 percent of all power outages are caused by severe weather events, only a little more than 10 percent of respondents have a portable generator. Weather-related power outages cost Americans $25 billion to $70 billion per year, so a portable generator may save you money over time.

Mother Nature at Her Most Unforgettable

Thinking back to the long hours without power, water or sunlight, which weather event had the greatest impression on you? According to our survey, the most memorable weather events were Hurricane Sandy in 2012; an earthquake in Northridge, California, in 1994; and a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011.

While Hurricane Sandy blacked out an estimated 8.5 million homes in 2012 for about two weeks, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the costliest hurricane in history, with $81 billion in damages and almost 2,000 casualties. In comparison, the 1994 earthquake in Northridge cost $42 billion in damages and economic loss.

The Most Memorable Weather Events

While Hurricane Sandy, the Northridge quake and the Joplin tornado were the most memorable weather events overall, other extreme events are more clearly remembered by certain age groups.

Respondents aged 30 to 39 years old recalled Hurricane Katrina in 2005 most vividly, while participants between the ages of 18 and 29 remembered the earthquake in South Napa, California, in 2014.

While most age groups recalled the tornado in Joplin, Missouri, survey takers aged 40 to 49 felt that the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, in 2003 was more noteworthy. Similarly, those aged 60 and older most remembered the tornado in Washington, Illinois, in 2013.

Which Crisis Would You Rather Have?

Despite all of the attention mosquito-borne diseases, like Zika virus and dengue fever, have gotten in recent years, just over 61 percent of survey takers were more concerned about extreme weather than mosquito-related diseases. As of October 2016, around 4,000 people in the U.S. have contracted Zika virus, including 899 pregnant women. However, most of these cases are confined to the southernmost parts of the country, with only one life taken so far. Extreme weather events tend to directly impact much greater swaths of the population and have deadlier consequences.

When comparing gun violence and extreme weather, about 52 percent of our respondents were more concerned about guns. In 2014, 33,599 people died from firearm injuries in the U.S., even more than traffic accidents, which killed 32,744 people in the same year.

The most distressing prospect, by far, was another economic downturn. Nearly 74 percent of participants indicated they were more concerned about another Great Recession than an extreme weather event.

Hierarchy of Hazards

When we looked at which crises Americans were most concerned about by region, we found that survey takers across all regions were more worried about an extreme weather event than a mosquito-borne disease.

However, when it came to gun violence or extreme weather, the Midwest was the only region that was concerned more about extreme weather. All regions were most fearful of another economic downturn.

Sweater Weather or Sweating Together?

More than 60 percent of our survey respondents agreed that it was worse to be hot than cold.

When we asked which they would rather experience, nearly 60 percent chose days of rain over a huge snowfall. And 55.5 percent stated they rather deal with a hurricane than an earthquake.

This might have to do with the fact that modern radar technology has greatly improved weather prediction; today, hurricanes typically come with at least three days of advanced warning, whereas earthquakes tend to happen suddenly.

Time to Prepare

While extreme weather events are a major concern, many Americans believe they can withstand the heat, rain and snow better than gun violence or an economic downturn.

The accuracy of modern technology gives us ample time to stock up days before some extreme weather events occur, and modern construction methods have made us somewhat better prepared for unpredictable events. This survey concluded that, while Mother Nature wields tremendous power over all of us, experience and preparation make the uncertainty of climate calamities easier to bear.

Infographics courtesy SaveOnEnergy.

Katie Forsythe is a writer covering environmental and energy issues.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Election 2018
Environment
Food
Media
World