Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Majority of households have been affected by extreme weather events, leading to health, financial problems for some

Of people affected, 24 percent say they’ve had serious health problems and 17 percent report financial hardship.
street with damaged pavement with car in background
Flood damage is seen along a street Tuesday, June 14, 2022, in Red Lodge, Mont. Residents were cleaning up after record floods in southern Montana this week. AP Photo/Matthew Brown

Story at a glance

  • Extreme weather events, like severe flooding from heavy rainfall, are affecting larger swathes of the U.S. 

  • A new poll finds that 78 percent of people surveyed have experienced a severe weather event in the last five years. 

  • Respondents report health and financial problems, as well as property damage as a result.

Extreme weather events, like heavy rainfall, wildfires and heat waves, are occurring more and more frequently, partly due to climate change. This week, millions of people in the West and South are getting hit by a heat wave. While many people around the world have seen the effects of natural disasters year after year, people in the U.S. are increasingly experiencing these types of events as well. A new poll finds that the majority of households in the U.S. have been affected by extreme weather events, which have led to health and financial problems for some. 

In new poll results and a report released today from NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 78 percent of adults in the U.S. say that they have been affected by extreme weather events in the past five years. 

For U.S. households who participated in the poll who say they’ve personally been affected by extreme weather events, some report serious health problems (24 percent) or financial problems (17 percent). Fourteen percent of them say that they’ve had to evacuate from their homes and 14 percent say that they’ve suffered damage to their home or property. 

The poll was conducted earlier this year from March 31 through May 5 by landline, mobile phone and online. Overall, 2,646 U.S. adults were surveyed, including people from various race and ethnic groups and people who may live in more rural areas.  

“Facing extreme weather has had a substantial impact on millions of Americans, who have had serious property damage, health, and financial consequences,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a press release. “Experiencing these weather disasters has had a real impact on the public’s support for policies to prepare against future weather disasters, and to a lesser extent, support for policies to limit climate change by reducing carbon emissions.” 

The groups who put together the poll also asked respondents about climate change. Climate change is intricately tied to the severity and frequency of extreme weather events. According to the poll, people who have experienced these events in the past five years are more likely to say that climate change is a crisis (77 percent) or major problem compared to people who have not personally experienced a natural disaster (46 percent).  

Broadly, 65 percent of the public believes the government should be doing more to limit climate change, according to the report. However, the poll’s findings suggest that people who have direct experience with extreme weather are more likely to think more action is needed. In particular, 64 percent of people who had experienced extreme weather events said there should be “more state and federal regulation to make the electricity grid in [their] area more resistant to extreme weather, even if it raises electricity prices.” For people who had not experienced these types of events, 47 percent agreed with the statement. 

Similarly, 63 percent agree with the statement that “State government spending increases to better prepare your state for future weather disasters, even if it requires you to pay higher taxes.” 

The effects are largely being felt and will continue to be felt by communities of color and marginalized people. The poll found that 51 percent of Native Americans, 31 percent of Latino adults, 30 percent of Asian adults, 29 percent of Black adults and 18 percent of white adults who experienced extreme weather in the last five years said their households have faced serious health problems as a result. 

“The research is clear that communities that are predominantly home to people of color, those with lower incomes, or in rural areas feel the harms of extreme weather and climate change first and worst,” said Alonzo Plough, the Chief Science Officer and vice president of Research-Evaluation-Learning at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in the press release. “This poll shows clearly that people of color feel these impacts sooner and are significantly more likely to see that climate change is a threat to the health of their families.”