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As extreme weather events increase, so does acceptance of climate science (+video)

A new survey finds that a majority of Americans believe that weather in the United States is getting worse, and they are linking it to global warming. 

By Jeanna BrynerLiveScience Managing Editor / April 18, 2012

Brian Key salvages items from his mobile home at the Hideaway Mobile Home Villa Sunday in Woodward, Okla., after a severe thunderstorm spawned a massive tornado shortly after midnight Sunday. Key said he escaped harm by a split second as the funnel caused three deaths and destroyed 13 homes in the villa.

Bonnie G. Vculek/Enid News & Eagle/AP


Severe droughts in Texas and the Great Plains. Hurricane Irene sweeping the Eastern Seaboard. Tornadoes in the Midwest, and floods in Mississippi. Record-breaking temperatures across the U.S. With such widespread madness, it's no surprise that the majority of Americans say they have personally experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster in the past year.

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According to NOAA scientists at the National Climatic Data Center (, record and near-record breaking temperatures dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and contributed to the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States, a record that dates back to 1895. This animation shows the locations of each of the 7,755 daytime and 7,517 nighttime records (or tied records) in sequence over the 31 days in March.

That's according to a new nationally representative survey that also found a majority of Americans say U.S. weather is getting worse. Furthermore, a large majority of Americans think global warming made several high-profile weather events even worse.

The results, which are part of a long-term project at Yale, suggest global warming is becoming less of a "down the road" and "out of sight" issue and more of a "here and now" problem in the minds of Americans.

The researchers found early on in this project, a decade ago, that for many Americans climate change was a problem distant in time and space, "a problem about polar bears and Bangladesh, but not in my state, not in my community, not for the people and places I care about," said study researcher Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, referring to the public.

"What's interesting about these results is that it suggests Americans are beginning to internalize climate change, to bring it into the here and now," Leiserowitz told LiveScience. "The past two years have been filled with a seemingly endless succession of extreme weather events." [10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]

On the American mind

He and his colleagues were interested to find out what people had experienced in terms of this extreme weather, what kinds of related harm they had experienced and how they had interpreted their experiences regarding climate change.

So they conducted a survey of more than 1,000 Americans ages 18 and older between March 12 and March 30, 2012.

Their results showed that 72 percent of Americans believe global warming worsened the unusually warm winter of December 2011 and January 2012; 70 percent said it worsened the record high summer temperatures in the U.S. in 2011; the drought in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 (69 percent); record U.S. snowfall in 2010 and 2011 (61 percent); the Mississippi River floods in the spring of 2011 (63 percent); and Hurricane Irene (59 percent).

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