Tracking ‘Weird Weather’ By City … and Impacts on Americans’ Attitudes

Newly released survey data point to an American public increasingly seeing climate change as a factor in the year’s wacky weather, and a new NOAA chart offers a close-up look at nine months of 2012 weather in cities nationwide.


The year’s string of “weird weather” — what weather professionals generally refer to as “anomalies” — appears to have had some significant impact on Americans’ attitudes toward global warming as a factor in determining every-day weather, according to new survey results. A question that arises now and in coming cooler months involves just how ongoing “normal” weather or anomalies, such as a warmer or cooler winter than many have come to accept as routine, might affect those attitudes.

The new survey findings come from researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication — of which The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media is one initiative — and the George Mason Center on Climate Change Communication. The two organizations in recent years have jointly conducted numerous surveys on public attitudes toward climate change. A PDF of the full report, “Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind, September 2012,” is available here.

The latest Yale/George Mason survey findings are available just as a new resource from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, makes it easier for citizens to get a sense of the often record-breaking January-September 2012 weather in 180 cities across the U.S.

“The first nine months of 2012 were the warmest on record for the contiguous United States as a whole, and for many locations across the United States,” NOAA’s National Climate Data Center said in an October 9 posting of the chart. For about 180 long-term stations, it said, the table shows “how Jan-Sep 2012 stacks up against normal,” and how those 2012 temperatures rank historically. For instance, users can track the nine-month weather patterns for cities from Aberdeen, S.D., to Youngstown, Ohio, and see how the 2012 period stacks-up against the stations’ history of record keeping. “For a visual presentation, click a station’s rank for a ‘Haywood plot’ that shows its cumulative year-to-date temperature for each year it has been reporting.” The following illustrates how one slice of the chart looks at the site:

Back now to the Yale/George Mason survey findings, and points taken from the report’s executive summary:

  • A large and growing majority of Americans (74%, up 5 points since our last national survey in March 2012) say “global warming is affecting weather in the United States.”
  • Asked about six recent extreme weather events in the United States, majorities say global warming made each event “worse.” Americans were most likely to connect global warming to the record high temperatures in the summer of 2012 (73%).
  • Americans increasingly say weather in the U.S. has been getting worse over the past several years (61%, up 9 percentage points since March).
  • A majority of Southerners (56%) say the weather in their local area has been getting worse over the past few years. Half of Midwesterners (50%) say this as well.
  • Half of Americans recall unusual weather events in their local area over the past year (52%).
  • Six in ten Americans (61%) recall unusual weather events occurring elsewhere in the United States in the past year (other than their own local area), perhaps reflecting extensive media attention to the record-setting drought, high temperatures, and strong storms in the summer of 2012, as well as the unusually warm winter of 2011-2012.
  • Half of Americans (51%) say that droughts have become more common in their local area over the past few decades, an increase of 5 points since last spring. This national change was driven primarily by a major shift of opinions in the Midwest (66%, up 25 points since March), which was hit hardest by the summer drought.
  • A majority of Americans (58%) say that heat waves have become more common in their local area over the past few decades, up 5 points since March, with especially large increases in the Northeast and Midwest (+12 and +15, respectively).
  • More than twice as many Midwesterners say they personally experienced an extreme heat wave (83%, up 48 points since March) or drought (81%, up 55 points) in the past year.
  • Northeasterners are more likely to say they personally experienced an extreme heat wave (52%, up 10 points since March) or drought in the past year (23%, up 6 points).
  • Southerners who say they personally experienced an extreme heat wave increased to 61 percent, from 50 percent in March.
  • An increasing number of Americans in the West say they experienced either an extreme heat wave (49%, up 13 points since March) or drought (41%, up 10 points).
  • One in five Americans (20%) says they suffered harm to their health, property, and/or finances from an extreme heat wave in the past year, a 6 point increase since March. In addition, 15 percent say they suffered harm from a drought in the past year, up 4 points.

The Yale/George Mason survey results are based on a nationally representative survey of 1,061 American adults, aged 18 and older, conducted from August 31 — September 12, 2012. The researchers point to a 95 percent level of confidence and a margin of error of +/- 3 percent at the national level, and +/- 5 to 7 percent margins of errors in individual regions of the country. Their survey methods are spelled-out in an appendix included as part of the overall report available at the site above.

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