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National Geographic’s Peter Miller on Weather Gone Wild


National Geographic magazine’s September issue looks at the impact of steadily warming temperatures and changing weather patterns on severe storms, droughts, forest fires and other extreme weather events.

This week, Hari sat down with the magazine’s senior editor, Peter Miller, who wrote the article. Miller looks at the science behind these events and the increasing costs of the storm-related damage. In this interview, he focuses on the Texas drought and a series of severe thunderstorms that flooded Nashville in May 2010.

As the atmosphere warms up, the ocean evaporates more moisture, which increases the likelihood of severe thunderstorms, like the one that flooded Nashville in 2010. The series of thunderstorms seemed innocuous at first, but they dumped 13 inches of rain on the city that weekend, more than double the town’s 6-inch record. The Grand Ole Opry, the home of country music, was underwater, 31 people died and yet the story barely made headlines.

While Nashville drowned, Texas could barely get a drop of rain. Changing weather patterns result in too much rain getting dumped in one place, while others remain too dry. The new issue also looks at how Texas is experiencing the worst drought in the state’s memory. The article calls it the “new Dust Bowl.”

Miller also looks at the changing costs of severe weather damage. The number of disasters totaling more than a billion dollars in damages is increasing, he writes. There were 87 disasters that exceeded a billion dollars in the United States from 1996 to 2010, compared to 46 between 1980 and 1995. As more people move to disaster-prone areas, such as coastal areas and floodplains, more homes and businesses are destroyed. This, among other factors, including population growth and development, increases the cost of these events.

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