Climate and Health
Climate Hazards in Florida
The complexity of climate hazards in Florida is a result of the state’s unique geography. Among the most common climate hazards in the state are severe thunderstorms, wind, lightning, floods, tornadoes, tropical storms, and hurricanes. In many cases, the frequency, magnitude, and impacts of these hazards in Florida are greater compared to the rest of the country. Florida:
- is a “hurricane bull’s eye” because of exposure to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico,
- has more lightening deaths than any other state,
- has the highest annual average number of tornadoes per 10,000 square miles, and
- ranks in the top five states in average annual precipitation.
Impacts of Climate on Human Health
Climate variability, in combination with a large and diverse resident and tourist population and complex natural ecosystems, influences the health of people in Florida. Temperature, humidity, precipitation, air quality, and the number of severe storms have direct and indirect effects on human health. Health outcomes potentially affected by climate include allergies, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, foodborne illness, heat-related illness and death, injury, mental health disorders, stress-related disorders, stroke, vector-borne disease, and zoonotic disease. Just a few of the environmental risk factors linked to climate variability include more extreme temperatures, precipitation, drought, and wildland fires; sea level rise; changes in distribution and habitats for vectors; damage to key medical, sanitation, and transportation infrastructure; food and water contamination and insecurity; and population displacement resulting from acute or ongoing changes in the environment.
Populations Impacted by Climate Variability
The climate affects all people in Florida. However, health outcomes disproportionately impact certain populations, including children, older adults, those living in poverty, those with underlying health conditions, and those living in certain higher risk geographic areas.
However, just because an individual is exposed to one or more environmental risk factors does not mean that they will experience a negative health outcome. A number of factors affect risk of disease, and the susceptible or vulnerable populations may be different depending on the climate hazard or health outcome. Susceptibility refers to the internal factors that increase the risk of negative health outcomes. Examples include genetic traits, developmental or life stage, medical history, and the presence of other illnesses. Vulnerability refers to external factors that increase the risk of negative health outcomes. Lifestyle or behavioral factors that can make individuals more vulnerable include drug and alcohol use, smoking, poor nutrition, and limited physical activity. Socioeconomic status and poverty affects someone’s ability to meet basic needs and access resources like healthcare. The built environment, such as type of housing and amount of green space, can also lead to vulnerability. Susceptible or vulnerable populations may be different depending on the climate hazard and/or health outcome.