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Extreme weather events and climate change concern


This paper examines whether experience of extreme weather events—such as excessive heat, droughts, flooding, and hurricanes—increases an individual’s level concern about climate change. We bring together micro-level geospatial data on extreme weather events from NOAA’s Storm Events Database with public opinion data from multiple years of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to study this question. We find evidence of a modest, but discernible positive relationship between experiencing extreme weather activity and expressions of concern about climate change. However, the effect only materializes for recent extreme weather activity; activity that occurred over longer periods of time does not affect public opinion. These results are generally robust to various measurement strategies and model specifications. Our findings contribute to the public opinion literature on the importance of local environmental conditions on attitude formation.

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  1. For further reviews of the literature see Marquart-Pyatt et al. (2014); Reser et al. (2014).

  2. We include any episode for which is there is at least one associated climate-related event.

  3. Many event types, such as tornados, floods, hail, lightning, and thunderstorm wind, also provide latitude and longitude formation, making more precise geolocation possible, but these comprise only about half of the total events each year.

  4. YouGov generates nationally-representative samples using a matched random sample methodology. Specifically, YouGov develops a target population from general population studies, from which it draws a random set of respondents to create a target sample. Using a matching algorithm, the firm selects potential respondents from its pool of opt-in participants that match the target sample. All of the regression models we estimate below use the survey weights provided by YouGov. A recent multi-mode study comparing results of the 2010 CCES with a random digit dialing telephone survey and a random sample mail survey found that the 2010 CCES produces estimates similar to those for the other modes (Ansolabehere and Schaffner 2014). More information on the YouGov sampling methodology is available from Vavreck and Rivers (2008).

  5. We use the data from the 2006-2012 CCES Cumulative File.

  6. Because 19,533 individuals in the 2010 were re-interviewed in 2012 as part of a panel study, these individuals appear twice in the pooled sample. Since we are interested in the effect of storm events on perceptions, and these individuals experienced different frequencies of events prior to and after 2010, we did not exclude these individuals from the pooled, cross-sectional analysis.

  7. The CCES surveys include the county of residence for each respondent. Because WFOs are coterminous with counties, we can use GIS software to match each respondent to their respective WFO.

  8. In this analysis, a month is 30 days.

  9. We assigned episodes that lasted less than one day a value of 0.5.


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Correspondence to Llewelyn Hughes.

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Konisky, D.M., Hughes, L. & Kaylor, C.H. Extreme weather events and climate change concern. Climatic Change 134, 533–547 (2016).

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  • Climate Change
  • Weather Event
  • Extreme Weather Event
  • Supplementary Appendix
  • Climate Change Concern