By: Carol Fonseca, MD, MS & Rebecca Philipsborn, MD, MPA, FAAP
A growing number of families live in areas that are affected by extreme weather. Examples include
floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and
Climate change is causing these events to become more intense. In some cases, they are more frequent, too. Left unchecked,
human activities will continue to fuel climate change. This will put more children at risk of
health problems and affect their growth and development.
You can help prepare and protect your family while taking steps to prevent the worst harms from climate change. Read on to learn more.
How is climate change related to extreme weather?
Climate change is contributing to powerful
extreme weather events. Almost all children in the world are
at risk for at least one type of extreme weather event. In 2020, the United States broke weather records. There were 22 extreme weather events that cost more than $1 billion each. The next year, the U.S. had another 20 costly extreme weather events.
Changes and extremes lead to:
Hotter weather and more days of
More extreme rainfall and downpours
Flooding along coastal areas, partly due to sea level rise, and more flooding in non-coastal areas from heavy rainfall
Longer hurricane and tornado seasons, and more powerful storms
Increased risk for heavy snowfall events and extreme cold spells in the winter
Some people are affected by extreme weather more than others. Children in minority and low-wealth communities are still affected by a long history of unfair and discriminatory policies. Many of these families already face housing instability, food insecurity and limited resources.
How does extreme weather affect children's health?
Climate-driven storms are dangerous for children's mental and physical health during and after the event. In addition to injury and trauma, these events cause disruptions to families, communities and schools. They can interrupt health care delivery and make it hard for families to get medical care or essential medicines. Children may lose their homes. In severe storms, families may have trouble accessing water and food.
After storms subside, toxic exposures are still a concern. Carbon monoxide poisoning from generators used indoors and without ventilation can be deadly. Storms may lead to polluted flood waters—as from
coal ash ponds or chemical plants—and contaminate regular water supplies. Mold can grow on wet surfaces inside homes after a storm. Many children get sick from getting into toxic clean-up supplies that may not be stored properly as adults are busy assessing damage.
Children may experience anxiety, sadness, post-traumatic stress disorder, trouble learning and focusing and other mental health concerns after an extreme event.
By taking action to prepare for extreme weather, you can help protect your child and family.
Prepare for climate-driven extreme weather
Get ready. Make a disaster preparedness plan for your family. Prepare a household disaster kit. Use this list to get started.
Be alerted. Make sure your mobile device is enabled to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts.
Tip: Sign-up for your county or city's local alert system to ensure you receive information on 'boil water' advisories, tornado alerts, and other local hazard warning systems.
Seek shelter. Identify your shelter location today and take shelter when severe weather strikes.
Tip: If you plan to use a generator when the power is out, learn about steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Stay safe when you return after the storm. Use personal protective equipment and check homes for contamination and exposure risks.
Tip: Remember that pregnant women, children and teens should never be part of cleanup activities.
Check in on emotional wellbeing—of yourself, your children, your friends and neighbors.
Tip: Talk to your children about the event and avoid letting them watch media coverage.
What can families do about extreme weather and climate change?
Actions to address climate change will mean less severe disasters in the future. Educate others, make healthy changes in your own life, and take action by voting for climate and health. Look for ways to decrease your personal carbon footprint. For example: eat less meat, drive less, buy locally and recycle. Talk with others about the importance of protecting our planet to protect our health. Slowing climate change requires all of us to take steps to reduce polluting energy sources such as fossil fuels and protect nature.
You can help make sure that
everyone is protected now and in the future. Help your family prepare for local climate and weather disasters. Look for ways to improve your family's health and address climate change.
About Dr. Fonseca
Carol Fonseca, M.D., M.S., is a second-year pediatric resident physician in Detroit, Mich. She has a background in ecology and was a science teacher before becoming a physician. She is passionate about the intersections between environmental and pediatric health and is an American Academy of Pediatrics climate advocate.
About Dr. Philipsborn
Rebecca Philipsborn, M.D., M.P.A., FAAP, is a pediatrician at Emory University and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and serves on the Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. She is a member of the executive committee for American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change and assistant editor of the 5th edition of Pediatric Environmental Health, with Drs. Ruth Etzel and Sophie Balk.
This document was supported in part through cooperative agreement OT18-1802 awarded to the American Academy of Pediatrics and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.