Storms and tornadoes in four Midwest states. Two earthquakes in Mexico. A dust storm followed by a sudden thunderstorm in New Delhi, India. Slushy hail that buried vehicles in Amarillo, Texas. These are just a few of the extreme weather events that hit worldwide last week, and increasingly, the public is viewing these events as side effects of global warming and climate change.
A poll released today shows that the majority of Americans believe that climate change contributed to this year's unusually warm winter, last summer's record heat and droughts, the Mississippi floods of 2011, and record snowfalls in 2010 and 2011. In response to the broader question asking if "global warming is affecting the weather in the United States," 69 percent said they agreed while 30 percent disagreed.
Meanwhile, an amazing 82 percent of respondents said they had personally experienced extreme weather events over the past year, and 35 percent said they had been harmed at least a moderate amount by those events.
The poll was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, which surveyed more than 1,000 American adults between March 12 and March 30 of this year. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
"Most people in the country are looking at everything that's happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another," Yale University researcher Anthony A. Leiserowitz, one of the poll's principal investigators, told the New York Times. "People are starting to connect the dots."
The poll also asked respondents to report if their local area had suffered a greater or lower number of forest fires, floods, crop damage and water and air quality issues as a result of extreme weather over the past few decades.
The Times reports that this new poll is a further indication of changing public opinion and concern. A Gallup poll conducted annually since 1989 has asked how much people worry about global warming. The number of respondents who said that they were worried fell to an all-time low of 51 percent in 2011, following several years of economic worries. That number rose to 55 percent in the most recent poll, conducted in March. Gallup editor in chief Frank M. Newport told the Times that another year of polling data would be necessary to determine if this was the beginning of a long-term trend or just a one-year variation.
According to the report from the poll, extreme weather events caused approximately $53 billion in damage in the United States in 2011.
Although scientists do not link specific, individual weather events to climate change, they do say that global warming will make extreme weather events occur more frequently.