Weather-Ready Nation? How about Weather-Ready World?

Two reasons for looking past the goal of Weather-Ready Nation to the larger goal of a Weather-Ready World:

First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. Though the United States can lay claim to the most hazardous weather on the planet, it has no such monopoly on suffering at weather’s hand.

In large part that’s the result of America’s great wealth. Much is made these days of the extremes the United States suffered in 2011, and the associated property damage and economic disruption. NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reports preliminary loss estimates for fourteen 2011 weather and climate disasters totaling $55B. That’s an average of a billion dollars every week for the year. But that seemingly vast sum amounts only to .4% of U.S. GDP. By contrast, in a bad year, Chinese losses total 4-6% of Chinese GDP, ten times the U.S. percentage. And for some Central American countries hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, losses from that single event reached 50% of GDP. This is not an atypical figure for small countries hit by a major flood or storm.

Moreover, in the lesser-developed countries, with poorer land-use practice and not-so-rigorous building codes, loss of life per capita also tends to be far higher than in the United States. Whether domestically…within a given country…or internationally, from nation to nation…weather extremes hit the poor the hardest.

The United States has a track record of sharing weather-warning technologies with less-developed countries, and that track record suggests that such sharing saves lives. One example. The 1970 Bhola cyclone killed 500,000 people in Bangladesh. Over the years, the United States and other nations began providing satellite imagery to the country, and the Bangladeshis undertook measures to provide refuge from storm surge for coastal residents. A 1991 storm killed some 140,000. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr, by accounts the strongest named storm in the Bay of Bengal, killed 3500.

Hardly a scientific study. And certainly not the end of a still-unfolding story of people and typhoons in that part of the world. What’s more, the loss of 3500 people is 3500 too many. But an encouraging trend nonetheless. Surely such worldwide efforts to build weather-readiness deserve our praise and support. And just as surely such international collaborations build harmony and lift hearts in an all-too dispirited world. Weather-readiness? We can’t in good conscience keep it to ourselves.

In an ultimate sense, weather readiness for any single country in isolation is an oxymoron. The nations of the world share a single, common atmosphere. Regardless of a country’s size, much of its weather on a given day crosses a national border. The seeds of next week’s weather are being sown on another continent. We can prepare only by working together, sharing science, sharing forecast models, sharing data – and sharing hazard mitigation engineering, social science, and policies.

Second, by doing good, the United States can also do well. This is true on just about every level. By improving public health and safety across the world, and reducing the toll of disasters, the United States does its bit to foster geopolitical stability abroad and national security at home. By demonstration of U.S. science and technology abroad, the United States builds markets for meteorological products and services, but more importantly builds international goodwill towards the United States that benefits U.S. companies and interests across all sectors and markets. Perhaps most importantly, as we here in the United States see ourselves reaching out internationally, we build our own sense of worth and strengthen our commitment to what is noble within us. In addition, by factoring all these international benefits and many more into the Weather-Ready Nation equation, we build public support for the measures that need to be taken at the national and local levels to make us more resilient to hazards here at home.

And finally, the fact is, by working with others to build weather-readiness worldwide, we’ll gain insights about weather extremes and their prediction, and weather warnings and their communication, that’ll make us safer here at home.

Want to catch the mood? Here’s a YouTube link to that 1985 version of We are the World, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and performed by them and dozens of others[1].

Go ahead. Treat yourself. Give it another look and a listen. Recover a feeling you once had.

[1] The original motivation was to build support for helping Africans suffering from famine, but the music and the sentiment has been applied to other disasters…notably the Haitian earthquake.

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