Preparing for Climatological Disasters for Risk Reduction in Business

Many natural disaster events are tied to normal weather and seasonal functions. These functions can be pushed to an extreme level by nature to the point where they present a risk towards the environment and human populations. In some cases, these extremes are standard in certain parts of the world that have been this way for centuries and the environment is designed to handle such conditions. Areas where these conditions are not normal can even handle lesser versions of these disastrous conditions, so long as they are for a short amount of time and have not reached that extreme level that makes them so dangerous.

Such conditions are tied to climate and are classified as climatological disasters once they reach extreme or dangerous levels. This article will explore the different types of climatological disasters and what is involved with each. What risk factors are involved and how these situations develop will also be discussed.

What Is A Climatological Disaster?

Most experts describe climatological disasters as events that are brought about by drastic fluctuations of climate states and variabilities.1 Or, these are phenomena that are a result of climate functions that shift outside of their normal state thanks to different factors that impact the climate. Such factors can simply be the changing of the seasons and other climatological events. This includes natural phenomena like disasters and their weaker counterparts.

Climate, by definition, is the weather conditions that are typical to an area or region.2 For example, the normal climate of the American Southwest is sunny, warm, and dry (i.e. no humidity). The climate is what the normal or usual weather is for that particular area, but it does not mean that the weather is always like that or that the occasional deviation from that is cause for concern. The Southwest can experience cooler weather, overcast skies, rain, and-surprise!-snow. Seasonal shifts are often responsible for these variances, and a region's climate might be different in winter than it is in summer. It's normal.

When those shifts and deviations go outside of the normal range, it becomes a cause for concern. Weather can turn disastrous when it starts to go to an extreme and sometimes when it shifts to that extreme very quickly. It can be a shock to the people that live in those regions, but also to the aspects of the environment that depend on that normal climate to survive like flora and fauna. If a drought hits an area that normally has a very wet climate, then it's possible that plant life might not be able to tolerate this extreme change and might die or be severely harmed. The longer these abnormal deviations last, the more damage they will likely cause and the more likely it will be that they will be deemed a climatological disaster.

Climate Change
In a article on climatological disasters. The collective climates of every region make up Earth's climate and it's all balanced in a way that allows for the Earth to maintain life throughout its surface. That global climate does naturally shift in the same way that regional climate does, but it's gradual and still allows for that balance to remain. What the scientific community has discovered is that those shifts are happening much faster than they should be and it's having a noticeable effect on the Earth's climate. The abnormal deviations are occurring much more frequently throughout the world and are beginning to alter normal climate conditions.3 This is one of the reasons that have been suggested to explain why climatological and other natural disasters are increasing in frequency and severity in recent years.
Global warming is another name for climate change and it suggests only a fraction of what is going on with the Earth's climate-namely, its temperature. Just as the Earth has a global climate, it also has a global temperature that contributes to that harmonious balance that maintains life. That temperature is actually rising, and has risen at a faster rate in the last 50 years than it has for several hundred year previously; it's likely to continue at this pace or faster in the next few decades.4 This has had an effect on regional climates, pushing temperatures on either end of the spectrum to their extremes (e.g. cold weather becomes colder, hot weather becomes hotter). One of the biggest effects that this temperature change is having is that it's causing ice at the Earth's poles to melt, which is causing sea levels to gradually increase.
So why is this happening? There's a lot of debate and controversy about climate change/global warming, but the consensus amongst the scientific community-about 97%--is that human activities have caused this acceleration to happen.5 The Earth has an atmosphere surrounding it that acts as a shield to block out some of the excess heat produced by the sun and maintains global temperature and climate. This atmosphere is made up of several types of gases-carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor-in very specific amounts that allow the atmosphere to do its job.6 Human activity also produces these gases and that production has increased thanks to events of the last 150 or so years-the Industrial Revolution, wars, population increases, etc. The human-produced gases are going into the atmosphere and altering those necessary amounts, thus the atmosphere isn't able to block out everything it's supposed to. There are also actions being taken on the Earth, like deforestation, excessive fossil fuel usage, and certain land use practices that are also altering local climates and contributing to global climate change.

What Risks Are Involved With Climatological Disasters?

With climatological disasters, climate and climate change are the biggest factors for reasons discussed above. Climatological disasters are somewhat normal in their occurrence, and there are some areas that are more prone to certain types than others. However, areas that have not experienced certain climatological disasters before or have experienced rather infrequently are encountering them more often. Communities can use their weather as a guide to determine how likely a climatological disaster is for their area.7 For example, an increase in gaps between rainfall accompanied by warmer, dry weather could suggest that a heat wave or drought could be possibility, now or in the future. There is often historical records of the weather in an area, which can be analyzed to determine if there are any significant changes that are developing over time and if there is cause for concern regarding those changes.


Droughts occur when an area or region experiences abnormal dry weather that can include a lack of precipitation and water shortages.8 For example, if the normal gap between rainfalls averages 8-10 days, then drought conditions might be declared if the area goes 20-30 days without any kind of precipitation. There are actually four different kinds of drought, each with its own particular cause9:

Meteorological Drought-If a drought is a meteorological drought, it means that precipitation levels are lower than the average for that time of year in that area. The levels vary from location to location, so what is considered a drought in one area might not be the same in another. These kinds of droughts are often deemed climatological disasters and are often brought upon by changes in local climate patterns.

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Agricultural Drought-An agricultural drought is usually determined by the amount of moisture in soil. Plants require a certain amount of moisture to grow and thrive. Without it, entire fields of crops can wither and might not recover even if they receive adequate moisture.

Hydrological Drought-When the levels of bodies of water and water supplies (e.g. water tanks) drop below what is considered normal, then it's a hydrological drought. These can be brought about by dry, hot weather and may impact other types of drought and disasters.

Socioeconomic Drought-A socioeconomic drought occurs when the available water supply does not meet the demands of the community. Instances of water shortages and rationing are often a result of a socioeconomic drought, as those restrictions are necessary to maintain what supply is available.

Droughts pose a significant health risk to the communities that they affect. The lack of water can impact living conditions by compromising sanitation and hygiene, and the quality of what water is available.10 Nutritional issues can also occur, as people may turn to unhealthy beverages like soda to stay hydrated or to quench their thirst, or simply remain in some state of dehydration until the drought abates. Communities that rely on locally grown food often encounter nutritional issues and compromised food supply as a result of a prolonged drought. The air quality in an areas suffering from drought can also be impinged, as the dry conditions increases the chances of things like dust storms and wildfires and worsen certain respiratory conditions (e.g. COPD, bronchitis).

Extremely High Temperatures

Abnormally high temperatures have become more common in recent years, with weather records being beat all over the world. It's disruptive to the point where it is extremely unsafe to be outside for more than a minute or two and normal activities are nearly impossible. In June 2017, cities all across the southwestern US broke records with triple-digit temperatures and halted air traffic.11

These instances of extremely high temperatures often called heat waves and they can be very dangerous. The human body isn't designed to handle long-term exposure to triple-digit temperatures-it's why high fevers can be so deadly. On average, there are about 618 heat-related deaths per year in the U.S. and hundreds more who develop heat-related illnesses.12 Such illnesses include13:

Heat Cramps-These are relatively minor and rarely require additional medical attention. They are characterized by painful muscle spasms and cramping in a person's legs or abdomen that are accompanied by heavy sweating. The spasms can be relieved with pressure on or massaging the affected muscle. They should also be given sips of water to combat dehydration.

Heat Exhaustion-A moderate, but common condition in which the person experiences heavy sweating, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, tiredness, fainting, and a fast but weak pulse. They should be moved to a cool, shaded place to lie down. Use fans, air conditioning, or cool cloths to help cool them down. They should drink sips of water unless their nausea continues; get medical attention if it worsens or they continue vomiting.

Heat Stroke-The worst heat illness, heat stroke is potentially fatal and those affected require immediate medical attention. A person may have the symptoms of heat exhaustion that are accompanied by hot dry skin, a body temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and a rapid pulse. They may also be unconscious. Call 911 and try to cool the person down while waiting for help to arrive (e.g. fans or AC, move to shade, cool cloths, etc.). If necessary, remove the person's clothing. Do not try to make the person drink anything.

Sunburn-The sun's rays are often much stronger when there is high heat, so sunburn is not uncommon. This is characterized by redness, blisters, and pain to the affected skin. Do not break blisters, as this can cause scaring and exposure to infections. Severe cases may require medical attention, but applying a cool cloth to reduce the skin's temperature and ointments like aloe can be used as treatment.

Extremely Low Temperatures

On the other end of the spectrum of climatological disasters are instances of extremely low temperatures. These are common in the winter months and can accompany winter storms and blizzards. Temperatures dip below freezing (32F/0C) and can make normal activities difficult or impossible. Consistent low temperatures help maintain ice and snow, which can be problematic on their own. They restrict travel by making roadways impassible, knockout out utilities like electricity and phone lines, and increase the potential for slip-and-fall injuries and car accidents from those who chose to take their chances on the road.14

Just as the human body is only able to tolerate so much exposure to heat, it can also only tolerate so much exposure to the cold. Things like hypothermia and frost bite can result in long-term health effects and death, and can be brought about through minimal exposure to temperatures well-below freezing. Staying warm by drinking warm liquids (non-caffeinated or non-alcoholic), staying active, and ensuring you are fully covered can help reduce your chances of developing a cold-related illness or injury.

Low temperatures also bring an additional risk that many people do not consider in emergency or disaster situations: carbon monoxide poisoning (CO). When a disaster causes a power outage, many people will use a generator to power some necessary resources. In freezing weather, this is a valuable resource that can help you stay warm as it powers things like heaters and cook stoves. However, these devices produce large quantities of CO, which is toxic when breathed in. Exposure to CO is often fatal, as it is both odorless and invisible, and most people do not know the symptoms of CO poisoning.15 If you're awake and you start to feel sick or dizzy, then you need to get fresh air immediately-open windows, go outside, whatever is needed to get CO-free air into your lungs as fast as possible. To prevent CO poisoning from generators used in freezing weather or other disasters, keep the generator outside and away from your home's access points. Consider installing CO alarms, which runs on batteries, throughout the first/ground floor of your home.