Are you concerned about the potential effects of climate change on your life and livelihood? If so, you’re not alone.
According to the IPCC report published in 2022, the science is clear: temperatures worldwide are already 1.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and are quickly nearing the 1.5-degree limit agreed to in the Paris Agreement.
Scientists have long warned that crossing the 1.5-degree threshold risks unleashing severe climate change effects on people, wildlife, and ecosystems. But scientists have also warned we will feel the impacts of climate change long before crossing this threshold. From historic droughts to deadly heatwaves and catastrophic wildfires, the world is experiencing the impacts of climate change and global warming every day. As the effects of climate change become more evident, it’s essential to be prepared for more frequent natural disasters, food supply disruptions, and severe water restrictions.
Assessing Your Risk
It’s easy to become complacent and assume your life tomorrow will look much like today. I’ve studied the environment for over 20 years and sometimes catch myself thinking, “But that’s not going to happen to me.”
But the reality is, it could happen. It could happen to you and to me.
In 2020, 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters occurred across the United States. These events all broke records in one way or another.
California saw a record-breaking wildfire season with over 4.1 million acres burned. A historic derecho (a widespread, long-lived wind storm) raced 700 miles across the central United States, significantly damaging crops and infrastructure. And a record-breaking number of named hurricanes resulted in 12 that made landfall, 7 of which became billion-dollar disasters.
Yet these disasters do not tell the whole story. America also saw unprecedented heat waves and widespread drought in 2020. In fact, 28% of Americans lived in a county or state declared a disaster area by FEMA. That means nearly 1 in 3 Americans was impacted by a natural disaster in 2020.
Tools to Assess Your Risk
The first step is to assess your risk. If you live in the United States, you can use the National Risk Index Map to assess your risk for wildfire, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, and more. To use this map, simply insert your address into the search bar and hit enter. The map will then provide you with a risk rating for 18 hazard types and an overall risk rating. You can choose to view the overall risk rating for your county or census tract; I recommend viewing both.
The risk rating is calculated using the expected annual loss, social vulnerability, and community resilience. Not only will you discover potential hazards, but the map will tell you how prepared your community is for each.
Once you know your risk, read below to learn how to prepare. And while this post covers preparing for long-term blackouts, take time now to prepare for rolling blackouts.
While many of us assume a government agency will alert us before danger hits, time and again, the public is left in the crosshairs of a disaster with little-to-no warning.
In 2018, as the deadly Camp Fire reached the edge of Paradise, California, City officials gave the first evacuation order. Because leaders had never anticipated the need to evacuate the entire town, evacuation orders proceeded as they had during drills: by zone. CodeRed–the private contractor hired by the City and County–sent calls, texts, and emails to those in the zones chosen for evacuation. Unfortunately, only 30% of residents had signed up to receive these alerts, and many who signed up didn’t receive them. As power and communication lines succumbed to the fire, warnings were delivered to fewer and fewer subscribers.
But what about those federal emergency alert broadcast systems that have interrupted our radio and television shows with annoying tests for decades? Local officials must notify this national system. And, as is often the case between local and federal governments, communication breakdown happens often and quickly.
If you have a smartphone, take a moment and subscribe to the following free apps, as applicable:
And don’t let the lessons of the fire in Paradise be in vain: sign up today for emergency alerts in your city and county. To find your local emergency alert system, simply search the name of your town or county and the words “emergency alert system.” Scroll down until you find a url that ends in .gov or .org.
Prepare to Stay or Go
Most disasters have one thing in common: you will either have to evacuate your home with little-to-no notice or be able to survive in your home for an extended period, likely without emergency services. You should prepare for both possibilities.
Knowing when to leave and being able to go quickly is crucial during an evacuation scenario. Before an emergency occurs, you should:
- Subscribe to emergency alerts from your local emergency agencies
- Create an emergency plan
- Plan your primary and alternate evacuation route
- Assemble a Bug Out Bag
- Assemble a Bug Home Bag (supplies you may need to get home during emergencies)
- Keep essential documents in a fire-proof safe or upload them to an external hard drive that can be taken with you or cloud storage
- Assemble emergency supplies and store them where you can get to them quickly
In the past, experts recommended assembling a basic disaster supply kit that would enable you to remain in your home for 72 hours. As natural disasters worsen, experts suggest having enough supplies to survive for a minimum of 2 weeks. Assemble your kit well in advance of an emergency and consider adding the following items :
- Water (1 gallon per person per day)
- Food (non-perishable)
- Medicine and first aid supplies
- Clothing, bedding, and sanitation supplies
- Tools to help you manage without electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, or telephones
- Items for your family, such as infant formula or pet food
Finding your local evacuation shelter could ensure your survival. The Red Cross and FEMA apps listed above will also provide shelter location for you. Don’t forget to check for shelters that allow pets if you have furry family members you do not want to leave at home.
When you head to a shelter, don’t forget to grab your bug out bag. Not only should it include personal items, medical supplies, and emergency gear you will want to have with you, but you never know if you will need to evacuate while at the shelter.
Brush up on Your First Aid
You should have a first-aid kit in your home and one in your car. And, you should know how to use it during an emergency.
Prepping for Heat Waves
When prepping for climate change, your first consideration must be adapting to higher temperatures. Annual average temperatures have been increasing rapidly since 1901, with the last eight years recording the hottest average yearly temperatures since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.
These increased temperatures are leading to unprecedented heat waves. In June and July 2022, heatwaves struck Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia as temperatures climbed above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and broke many long-standing records.
Because man-made structures absorb and re-emit heat from the sun more than natural environments, cities experience even higher temperatures than outlying areas. Data indicate this heat island effect increases city temperatures by nearly 7 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 5 degrees at night.
Heat waves aren’t just inconvenient and uncomfortable: they’re deadly. In the past 20 years, heat exposure has killed more people around the world than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
Heat waves lead to sudden death through heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, all forms of hyperthermia. Hyperthermia led to more than 4,600 deaths during the 2022 European heatwave and more than 900 deaths during the Pacific Northwest heat wave in 2021.
Heatwave Prepping Checklist
While heat waves are the most common and deadliest natural disaster, most of us are not at all prepared. To protect yourself and your loved ones, make a plan now for how you will stay safe during heat waves.
Consider the following updates to your home before a heat wave:
- Install interior window coverings that block sunlight and heat
- Install exterior window treatments such as shutters and shades, awnings, or solar window screens
- Install double- or triple-paned windows
- Replace exterior windows with dynamic glass (also known as smart glass)
- Replace insulation and seal any leaks
- Replace roof with tiles that reflect the sun’s energy
- Consider replacing your air conditioner with a swamp cooler
Some valuable tips that you can implement during a heat wave:
- Identify your area’s cooling centers in the event the power goes out (the Red Cross App and FEMA App mentioned above will list these sites for your location)
- Know basic hyperthermia first aid
- Drink plenty of water
- Take a cool shower
- Use standing fans or ceiling fans to create airflow
- Use your air conditioner to reduce room temperatures
- If you have central air, turn the fan to “On ” instead of “Auto” since using the fan to circulate air costs less than running the air conditioning
- Close windows and curtains as soon as the sun rises
- Turn off large appliances during the day
- Use small countertop appliances for cooking
- Wet your sheets or place refrigerated cold packs–or even plastic water bottles–in your bed before going to bed
- Once the air cools at night, open your windows and use one or more fans to blow cool air into the house and hot air out
- Turn on the exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen to blow the hot air out of the house
Prepping for Drought
Warmer temperatures also enhance evaporation, which reduces surface water and dries out soils and vegetation. These dryer soils and plants make periods with low precipitation drier than in cooler conditions.
Climate change is also altering the timing of water availability. Warmer winter temperatures are causing less snow to fall, which provides less water for reservoirs. And because snow acts as a reflective surface, less area covered in snow increases surface temperatures.
Increased evaporation and a lack of seasonal snowfall are leading to drought conditions worldwide. Nearly the entire western US is experiencing a drought in 2022, with many areas in an extreme or exceptional drought.
Unlike other natural disasters, the impacts of drought are two-fold. First are the effects on daily water use. Widespread and severe drought impacts the amount and quality of water available for drinking, bathing, and watering lawns and gardens. As of 2022, 25% of large cities around the world are experiencing some levels of water stress. This situation will only worsen as global water demand increases, and water levels in reservoirs vital for drinking water continue to fall.
Second, drought also impacts power supply, food security, wildfire risk, and product supply chains. See “Prepping for Blackouts” and “Prepping for Wildfire” below for more information.
Water Conservation Checklist
Even before drought impacts your location, you should conserve water:
- Turn off the water when brushing your teeth or shaving
- Turn off the water when rinsing vegetables
- Keep drinking water in the refrigerator (this eliminates letting the water run to cool it for drinking)
- Don’t rinse dishes before putting them into the dishwasher
- Only run your dishwasher or washing machine when full and use the shortest cycle possible
- Be judicious about flushing the toilet
- Put a plastic water bottle in your toilet tank (add an inch or two of sand or pebbles in the bottle and then fill with water first)
- Water your lawn properly
Once you’ve mastered the tips above, consider these more complex water conservation measures:
- Fix any leaks, including leaky toilets
- Install water-efficient shower heads
- Limit showers to no more than 5 minutes
- Install low-flow toilets
- Install a composting toilet
- Install high-efficiency faucets
- Recycle indoor water to use on plants, lawns, or gardens
- Replace your lawn with drought-resistant landscaping
- Add compost to your lawn, trees, or garden to increase water retention
- Collect greywater from your home for irrigating your landscaping, washing your car, etc.
Drought Prepping Checklist
Your first concern when prepping for should be storing enough drinking water for emergencies. Experts recommend 1 gallon per person per day for at least two weeks. Drinking water can be stored in the following ways:
In addition to drinking water, use a rain barrel to store water for your lawn or garden or flushing your toilets. If you live in an area where water availability is seriously at risk, consider installing a home water storage system.
Finally, know how to recognize dehydration and basic first aid response.
Prepping for Wildfire
As temperatures increase and drought expands, the risk of wildfire increases dramatically. Projections indicate the current increase of 1.1°C will increase the median burned area per year by as much as 600% in the western US. The changing environment is also extending fire season and making fires harder to fight after they start.
These factors are leading to more fires ignited every year and more acres burned. Six of California’s largest wildfires occurred in 2020. The largest fire in California history, the August Complex wildfire in 2020, destroyed nearly 160 structures and burned 1,032,600 acres. But, it was not California’s deadliest fire. The Camp Fire in 2018 burned 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures, and resulted in 85 civilian fatalities.
Wildfire Prepping Checklist
If you live in an area susceptible to wildfire, prep your home before a wildfire:
- Create a defensible space around your home
- Install metal doors that unroll when they detect intense heat
- Install fire-rated windows
- Install fire-rated doors
- Replace your roof with fire-resistant materials
- Seal your eaves
- Clean your gutters and downspouts
- Install gutter guards
- Install sprinklers around your home
- Install screens on attic and basement vents to keep embers from entering your attic and crawlspaces
- Install a spark arrestor on your chimney to keep embers out of your home
- Seal the garage door to protect it from water damage and reduce ember entry into the home
- Replace your wooden deck with fire-resistant composite material
- Replace a wooden fence with vinyl or metal to slow fire from reaching your home
- Choose fire-resistant landscaping
- Install a home fire sprinkler system
Prepping for Blackouts
Weather-related events have historically posed the greatest risk to the power grid. And, as extreme weather increases, so do the number and duration of outages. Since 2000, the United States has seen a 67% increase in major power outages (an outage impacting more than 50,000 people) from weather-related events.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, customers experienced an average of 8 hours of power interruption in 2022, the most since they began collecting these data in 2013. Also of note was that when major events were excluded, the average time of power disruption remained consistent at 2 hours. One can hypothesize that time without power is increasing following major events because those events are becoming more destructive and causing widespread outages.
The President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council warned in 2018 that existing national plans, response resources, and coordination strategies would be outmatched by a catastrophic outage. The Council reported that a catastrophic outage could leave large parts of the nation without electricity for weeks or months and cause service failures in other sectors, including water and wastewater, communications, transportation, healthcare, and financial services.
Blackout Prepping Checklist
Like any other disaster, the time to prep for a power outage is before it happens. Do the following to prepare weeks or months before an outage:
- Follow the Prepping Basics listed above:
- Stock up on nonperishable food that does not need to be cooked
- Stock up on extra water
- Inventory any electrical devices you rely on daily and consider backup and non-power alternatives for the following:
- Communication–if you do not have a landline in your home, have a backup method for charging your cell phone
- Medical devices or refrigerated medicine
- Garage doors
- Consider how you might cool or heat your home or have a plan to evacuate to a nearby shelter
- Store these essentials together so they are easy to locate
- Portable radio
Do the following if an outage is possible within the next day or hours:
- Charge any devices you may need such as cell phone or laptop
- Charge any portable chargers for your devices
- Fill bottles with water and put them into the freezer to help keep food cold during an outage
- Fill your gas tank since many pumps need electricity to function
- Keep money on hand since ATMs may not work during an outage
- Conserve energy if an outage is possible because of strain on the electrical grid
Do the following during a blackout:
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold or frozen
- Do not use a gas stove to heat your home
- Only use a generator outdoors and away from windows
- Unplug all appliances to prevent damage from electrical surges
Advanced Blackout Prepping Checklist
The most reliable defense is an alternative source of power for your home. If you’ve been considering upgrading your home with solar panels or backup battery system, now is the time. Some options include:
- Installing a backup power system such as a generator
- Installing solar panels
Prepping for Flooding
Types of Flooding
Global sea levels have risen about 8 to 9 inches since 1880, with about a third of that rise occurring in the last 25 years. Rising levels are due to water melting from glaciers and ice sheets as the air and ocean temperatures increase and thermal expansion of the ocean as it warms. In 2020, global sea levels were 3.6 inches above the 1993 average, making it the highest annual increase since satellites have been measuring and recording sea levels.
Rising sea levels are a risk because 8 of the world’s largest 10 cities are near a coast. In the United States alone, nearly 30% of the population lives in densely populated coastal areas where sea level is already contributing to flooding and shoreline erosion.
While coastal flooding may seem like a far-in-the-future threat, storm surges, such as those associated with hurricanes, are already pushing farther inland than they once did. In fact, it was the storm surges that led to much of the destruction during Hurricane Katrina. Buildings designed to withstand hurricane-level wind velocities are not necessarily designed to withstand accompanying storm surge.
Not only are residents at risk from rising sea levels, but roads, bridges, subways, nuclear power plants, oil and gas wells, sewage treatment plants, water treatment plants, and landfills are at risk of flooding and storm surge damage.
The influence of climate change on inland flooding is complex and driven by extreme precipitation, increased volumes of total precipitation, intensifying storm precipitation, and increasing rates of snow and ice melt.
River flooding occurs when a river or stream overflows its bank and begins flowing across normally dry land. Most common in the spring, river flooding is often caused by rapidly melting snow or ice jams. River flooding can also occur during severe storms and heavy rainfall.
Flash floods are caused by heavy rains over a short period of time. This type of flooding can occur anywhere, although low-lying areas are most vulnerable.
Finally, urban flooding occurs when heavy rainfall overwhelms local stormwater drainage capacity in a populated area. This happens when rainfall quickly runs through and off of impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, roads, and building rooftops.
According to a recent report, flood frequency has increased in the Mississippi River valley, across the Midwest, and in the Northeast. Meanwhile, flood frequency has decreased across the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, and Southeast.
The greatest driver of these changes is frequency and severity of heavy rain. Extreme precipitation events have become more frequent and more intense in many parts of the United States, with the eastern half of the country seeing increases of 50% or more in extreme rainfall event frequency. The western half, meanwhile, has seen a decrease in rainfall events as evidenced by widespread drought across the West.
Flooding Prepping Checklist
The first step is to understand your risk. You can find your home’s risk by entering your address in FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center.
If you live in an area at risk of flooding, consider purchasing flood insurance. Typical homeowners insurance does not cover damage from flooding. And, according to FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program, even one inch of water can cost $25,000 of damage to a home.
In addition to knowing your risk and purchasing flood insurance, do the following to prepare for a flood:
- Sign up for emergency alerts
- Monitor local news and weather reports
- Take a household inventory of major household items and valuables
- Take photos of major household items and valuables for a possible insurance claim
- Store important documents in a watertight safety deposit box
- Upload digital copies of important documents onto cloud storage
- Clear debris from gutters and downspouts
- Stockpile protective materials such as plastic sheeting and sandbags
- Elevate and anchor critical utilities, such as electric panels, propane tanks, electrical sockets, wiring, appliances, and heating systems
- Install a water alarm in your basement
- Install a sump pump in your basement
- Install a battery-operated backup pump in your basement
Do the following when a flood is imminent:
- Be prepared to evacuate by keeping a bug out bag packed
- Be prepared for a possible power outage
- Move furniture or valuables to the highest floor in your home
If you are experiencing repeated flooding or if you’re home has been severely damaged by a flood, you may be eligible for a government grant to make the following upgrades to your home:
- Raise HVAC systems, plumbing, and electrical meters from the ground level or basement to above flood levels
- Elevate your house above flood levels
Prepping for Hurricanes
While the total number of hurricanes and the number reaching the United States do not indicate an overall trend up or down since 1878, hurricane intensity (cyclone strength, duration, and frequency) has risen noticeably over the past 20 years.
In other words, while climate change may not be causing more hurricanes, it is likely causing more destructive storms. In fact, 8 of the 10 most active years since 1950 have occurred since the mid-1990s.
These trends have been associated with increasing sea surface temperature, a key factor that influences cyclone formation and behavior. Experts predict that tropical cyclones will become more intense with higher wind speeds and heaver rains.
Hurricane Prepping Checklist
Hurricane season runs from approximately May 15 to November 30. Preparing for a hurricane includes the same steps outlined above for evacuating and sheltering-in-place. However, you should also complete the checklists for preparing for a blackout and flooding.
Do the following before hurricane season:
- Know the difference between a hurricane watch (hurricane is possible) and hurricane warning (hurricane is expected)
- Know your zone and track hurricanes on the National Hurricane Center website
- Stock up on fresh water since hurricanes can contaminate drinking water supplies
- Replace gravel or rock landscaping with shredded bark or other material that causes less harm
- Cut weak branches and trees that could fall on your house and keep shrubbery trimmed
- Ensure exterior doors are wind-rated to withstand strong hurricane winds and have at least 3 hinges and a deadbolt lock that is at least 1 inch long
- Ensure your sliding glass doors are made of tempered glass
- Install storm shutters
- Replace your garage door with one that is approved for both wind pressure and impact protection
- Seal outside wall openings such as vents, outdoor electrical outlets, garden hose bibs and locations where cables or pipes go through the wall with a high-quality urethane-based caulk to prevent water penetration
- If you have a boat on a trailer, anchor the trailer to the ground or house
Do the following when a hurricane is imminent:
- Move your car into your garage or under cover
- Clear your yard by moving bikes, lawn furniture, grills, and materials inside or under shelter
- Cover windows and doors with storm shutters or plywood, steel, or aluminum panels
- Be ready to turn off your power if you have to evacuate
Do the following during a hurricane:
- Monitor alerts and weather reports
- Evacuate immediately if told to do so
- Stay away from glass windows and doors
- Move to higher ground before flooding begins
- Take shelter in a designated storm shelter or an interior room
Do the following after a hurricane:
- Wait for officials to say it is safe before going home
- Avoid damaged or fallen power lines, poles, and downed wires
- Avoid floodwaters that may contain sewage or chemicals
- Never try to walk, swim, or drive through floodwater
Prepping for Tornadoes
While the impact of a warming climate on heat waves, drought, wildfire, and sea level rise is easy to measure and connect, the role of climate change on tornadoes is less clear. The annual frequency of tornadoes in the United States has remained relatively constant since the 1950s. However, the number of days with multiple tornadoes and power of tornadoes has increased. And most interesting could be a measurable shift of tornado occurrence to the east.
Whether or not climate change has impacted the occurrence of tornadoes, about 1,200 tornadoes occur across the United States annually, causing billions of dollars of property damage every year and endangering lives.
Tornado Prepping Checklist
Begin your tornado preparations by following the Prepping Basics and Blackout Prepping above. Because strong winds are the greatest threat during a tornado, prep for a tornado as you would a hurricane.
Because tornadoes can strike without warning, consider adding a safe room to your home or know where one is located in your community.
Stay tuned to weather reports and alerts when thunderstorms are expected since they often proceed tornadoes. The NOAA Weather Radio is a reliable source for information. Always follow instructions of state, local, and tribal officials.
Prepping for Winter Storms
It seems counterintuitive that a warmer planet could lead to more severe winter storms, especially when total snowfall has decreased in many parts of the county. However, changes in the jet stream mean the artic vortex is moving farther south, and areas like Texas could continue to see the extreme temperatures seen in 2021. Areas that do receive snow are seeing more extreme storms since a warming Atlantic Ocean provides more energy and moisture to the storms that do form.
Winter Storm Prepping Checklist
Staying warm and safe during a winters storm can be difficult. Not only because of freezing temperatures and falling snow, but because of power failures, loss of critical services, impassable roads, and loss of communication.
Begin your winter preparations by following the Prepping Basics above. Then, take the following steps to weather proof your home:
- Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows
- Install storm or thermal-pane windows
- If you cannot upgrade your windows, cover them with plastic on the inside
- Insulate walls, basements, crawl spaces, and attic
- Insulate exposed water pipes
- Repair roof leaks
- Remove tree branches that could break and fall onto your home
- Know how to turn off the water to your house to avoid flooding if pipes do freeze
- Service alternative heating sources such as fireplaces, wood- or coal-burning stoves, or space heaters
In addition to weatherizing your home, do the following:
- Consider a portable generator (never operate inside the home)
- Service snow-removal equipment
- Ensure you have an ample supply of heating fuel
Finally, prepare your vehicle for winters storms in case you get stuck in your car during a storm or need to evacuate your home:
- Carry a winter storm survival kit that includes the following:
- Windshield scraper and small broom
- Mobile phone charger
- Extra clothing such as a coat, gloves, hat, scarf
- First-aid kit
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Sand or cat litter for generating traction under wheels
- Tire chains or traction mats
- A brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna if you become stranded
- Battery-powered radio
- Booster cables with fully charged battery or jumper cables
- High-calorie, nonperishable foods
- A container to melt snow in for water
- Tow rope
- Have your vehicle serviced to ensure all systems are in working order
- Have your battery checked
- Have the radiator system serviced to ensure you have enough antifreeze
- Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture
- Install good winter tires with adequate tread. If you live in an area with frequent or persistent snow, consider snow tires with studs or chains.
Do the following during a winter storm:
- Know the difference between a winter storm warning, winter storm watch, and winter weather advisory
- Monitor weather stations and alerts
- Stay home and off of roads if possible
- Stay indoors as much as possible. If you must go outside, wear layers of warm clothing and watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
- If safe to do so, consider shoveling your driveway throughout the storm to avoid getting trapped into your home
- Bring pets inside
- Keep garage doors closed
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to prevent under-sink pipes from freezing
- If temperatures are extremely cold, let the faucet drip slowly
- If the heat goes out, do the following:
- Close off unused rooms to avoid wasting heat
- Stuff towels under doors
- Close blinds to keep in heat
- Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing
After a storm, do the following:
- Continue to monitor local news stations to receive up-to-date information on road conditions
- Check with your city to ensure water is safe to drink
- Avoid flooded roads as snow melts
- Follow the checklists above for flooding if the snow is expected to rapidly melt