Community impacts from extreme weather shape climate beliefs

Community impacts from extreme weather shape climate beliefs
Community damage caused by extreme weather, such as the 2013 floods that covered parts of Colorado, may shape climate beliefs more strongly than individual storm losses, a new study finds. Credit: US Environmental Protection Agency

Recent studies have suggested that people who experience the impacts of hurricanes, catastrophic flooding or other severe weather events are more likely to believe in, and be concerned about, climate change in the wake of the disaster.

But a new study by researchers at Duke University and the University of Colorado Denver (UCD) finds that not all severe weather impacts have the same effect.

"How our community or neighborhood fares—the damages it suffers—may have a stronger and more lasting effect on our climate beliefs than individual impacts do," said Elizabeth A. Albright, assistant professor of the practice of environmental science and policy methods at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"We found that damage at the zip-code level as measured by FEMA was positively associated with stronger climate change beliefs even three or four years after the extreme flooding event our study examined," Albright said.

People who perceived that damage had occurred at such a broad scale were more likely to believe that climate change is a problem and is causing harm, she explained. They were also more likely to perceive a greater risk of future flooding in their community.

In contrast, individual losses such as damage to one's own house appeared to have a negligible long-term impact on climate change beliefs and perceptions of future risks.

"These findings speak to the power of collective experiences and suggest that how the impacts from extreme weather are conceptualized, measured and shared matters greatly in terms of influencing individual beliefs," said Deserai Crow, associate professor of public affairs at UCD.

Albright and Crow published their peer-reviewed paper May 31 in the journal Climatic Change.

To conduct their study, in 2016 and 2017 they surveyed residents of six Colorado communities—Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, Estes Park, Loveland and Evans—that had suffered devastating flooding after days of intense rainfall dropped nearly a year's worth of precipitation in mountains upstream from them in September 2013.

The surveys queried residents about their climate change beliefs, their perception of the extent of damage caused by the 2013 flooding, and their perception of future flood risks in their neighborhood. It also asked for , such as .

In each community, 150 surveys were sent to randomly selected homes in areas that had been inundated by the flood and 350 surveys were sent to randomly selected homes in neighborhoods that had been spared. A total of 903 surveys were completed and returned, for an overall response rate of about 17%.

"As expected, we found that political affiliation was related to the extent to which flood experience affected a person's climate beliefs," said Crow, who is also an affiliate with the Center for Science & Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado Boulder.

This partisan divide did not extend to perceptions of future floods risks, she noted. Republicans and Democrats perceived similar levels of risk, regardless of whether or not they attributed it to human-caused change.

"It's important that we understand these differences and commonalities if we want to build back better and more resiliently after a severe weather disaster," Albright said. "As plays out and we see more frequent and floods, how communities respond to those events may predict how resilient they become and how they will recover."

Explore further

Extreme weather has limited effect on attitudes toward climate policies

More information: "Beliefs about Climate Change in the Aftermath of Extreme Flooding," Elizabeth Ann Albright, Deserai Crow. Climatic Change, May 31, 2019. DOI:
Journal information: Climatic Change

Provided by Duke University
Citation: Community impacts from extreme weather shape climate beliefs (2019, May 31) retrieved 18 August 2019 from
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User comments

Jun 01, 2019
Cry-baby syndrome. Rather than tell people how pathetically stupid they are living (and re-building!!) in flood planes, and forest-fire prone areas, they tell them it's "climate change" and that it's...other people responsible. Even animals are smart enough to leave when their environment is threatened.

Jun 01, 2019
And anciently people believed natural disasters were the "will of the gods". Modern people have replaced those quaint superstitions with a new one: "global warming", er, "climate change". Never mind that there is no measured evidence connecting it to natural disasters like floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or droughts. Just ask the IPCC. In their most recent Fifth Assessment Report, they cannot link global warming to these events, but that doesn't stop them from telling us their computer models predict they will. Humans are just as gullible and superstitious as they were centuries ago.

Jun 01, 2019
The willfully ignorant can't see that the effects of these disasters are getting worse. Not because more people are moving into the flood plain but that 1000 year floods are happening every year. Instead of the odd town being threatened by forest fires every decade or so, whole towns are burning up every year. Why, not because there are more forest fires; most are caused by people, but that when they start they become really bad really fast.

Jun 01, 2019
@assdad doesn't believe in floods.

Jun 01, 2019
@assdad doesn't believe in floods.

In spite of what he says I'm pretty sure he believes in that one with the Ark.

Jun 01, 2019
The willfully ignorant can't see that the effects of these disasters are getting worse.

The article says they do, and the local insurance costs should be rising in correlation with the global warning effects. It is the attribution that can be squirreled away as 'not human made and/pr possible to prevent', with the consequence that those who can't understand science will avoid the societal responsibility.

They behave like 5 years old, in other words.

Jun 01, 2019
Assuming climate disaster in the near term which flavor of politics could actually be effective in dealing with it? Leftist politics is propaganda to redistribute wealth. Leftist propaganda creates a fake reality echo chamber in pursuit of goals separate from those stated in propaganda. Leftist politics is destroying Venezuela and Democrat controlled American cities and this evidences leftist politics can't effectively deal with changing climate. If you really believe in climate change your votes for leftist politicians will fail to solve climate change problems while creating additional problems of degenerating civilization. Science must work through politics but leftist politicians will be lying like they did with health care. The only hope of dealing with climate change is to not let leftist ideology control the government. Additional evidence is the time leftist politicians are wasting on investigations while nothing gets done.

Jun 01, 2019
Why Americans Might Never Notice Climate Change's Hotter Weather

"A person fretting about a "scorching" day might find the same temperature unremarkable within five years, a new study finds."


Jun 01, 2019
Noah warns of a great flood !!

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