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How Changing Weather Affects the Built Environment

gutterman, sara, green mediaI have been writing a lot lately about climate change and weather patterns. If it’s not yet abundantly clear, my rationale stems from the fact that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2011 and 2012 were the two most extreme years on record for destructive weather events, resulting in more than $170 billion in damages. Weather has a major impact on the built environment, and restoration after an extreme weather event costs approximately fourteen times more than prevention.

To fully understand where and how we should build in response to our changing climate, it’s of paramount importance that building professionals study the weather. Enter Stu Ostro, Senior Meteorologist and Director of Weather Communications at The Weather Channel.

Stu shared his story with us during a riveting and provocative session at our recent thought leadership summit. In 2007, after decades of denying a link between climate change and intensified weather patterns, the former self-proclaimed hard-core climate skeptic had a moment of enlightenment. A student of weather since he was eight years old, Stu came to the abrupt realization that he could no longer refute his own science, which clearly indicated that human activity has exacerbated climate change and global warming has irreparably changed the weather.

Stu showed us chart after chart that illustrated trends in warming temperatures, increased frequency of heavy precipitation, and rising sea levels. He also made a direct connection between changing weather patterns and the need for a transformed approach to our built environment.

As temperatures become more extreme, our structures will demand greater heating and cooling loads. “The most direct consequence of a planet getting hotter is … increased heat,” said Stu. “So, building with efficiency in mind seems to clearly be a desirable goal.”

Greater energy demand will inevitably strain our antiquated grid infrastructure and lead to a vicious cycle of increased fossil fuel use and carbon emissions—unless, that is, we begin incorporating decentralized, renewable energy systems into our structures.

Additionally, Stu reminds us that “there have been quite a few particularly massive power outage events lately: the ice storm a few years ago in Kentucky, Arkansas, and thereabouts; “Snowtober” in the Northeast; Sandy, from both wind and heavy wet October snow; and hurricanes which were large in size such as Ike and Irene. Perhaps thought should be given to the need for more backup home power supplies, especially in heavily treed areas?”

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