Safety and well-being during extreme weather

From hurricanes to wildfires, extreme weather also poses health hazards. According to the Health and Climate Report, primary impacts include death, injury, or illness; worsening underlying medical conditions; and adverse effects on mental health.

In a study published in 2019, Todd Pugatch, an economics professor at Oregon State University, found that tropical-storm-related deaths increase under most climate change scenarios and by as much as 52%.

Extreme weather can also harm health care infrastructure, making it more difficult for people to receive care they need. In a report of lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the American College of Emergency Physicians wrote that six hospitals and 26 residential care facilities in New York City alone were closed during the storm. They estimated that 75,000 people with significant health issues lived in areas inundated by storm surge.

After extreme weather has passed, mental health challenges can linger. The most common mental health impacts after disasters are post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and general anxiety.

Extreme weather isn’t the only climate challenge expected to shape mental health. Conventional air pollutants also have been linked to anxiety and depression, and heat can cause mood changes and can fuel aggressive behavior. Additionally, the very threat of climate change and uncertainty about the future can cause or contribute to anxiety and depression.