Most Americans Blame Global Warming for Extreme Weather

(Image credit: Drought via Shutterstock)

More than half of Americans think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, according to a new nationally representative survey that measures the pulse of American sentiment on climate change.

The newly released study shows that about two out of three Americans say weather in the country has worsened over the past several years, with only one in 10 saying the weather has been improving.

Americans also have strong views about the link between global warming and extreme weather.

Nearly 50 percent of the population believes global warming made the droughts that plagued the Midwestand the Great Plains last year more severe. Similarly, 46 percent of Americans believe climate change exacerbated the effects of Superstorm Sandy, which battered the Northeast in October 2012. [Dry & Dying: Stark Images of Drought]

"Americans are continuing to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather in the United States," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. "They're associating climate change with some of the major events that we experienced last year, like the ongoing drought."

Half of Americans also believe global warming was to blame for last year's record-breaking temperatures. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named 2012 the warmest year on record, with every contiguous U.S. state registering above-average annual temperatures for the year.

With the exception of 1998, the nine warmest years in the 132-year record all have occurred since 2000. Shown here, global temperature anomalies (above or below the average) averaged from 2008 through 2012. (Image credit: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

Furthermore, 85 percent of Americans said they personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather in the past year, ranging from extreme heat (51 percent) to extreme high winds (60 percent).  

The number of Americans who were significantly harmed by extreme weather events in the past year increased to about 37 percent — up 4 to 5 percentage points since 2012, Leiserowitz told LiveScience.

"That's quite a significant number," he said. "It shows just how dramatic these extreme weather events have been."

And concern about the potential impacts of extreme weather does not appear to be dissipating. More than half of Americans (54 percent) believe extreme weather is "very" or "somewhat likely" to cause a natural disaster in their local area in the coming year.

The new report, titled "Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind," is based on a nationally representative survey jointly conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in New Haven, Conn., and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication in Fairfax, Va.

For the study, 1,045 participants over age 18 were interviewed between April 8 and April 15. The researchers report a 95 percent confidence level, with a total average margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. This means that if the survey were conducted 100 times, the results would fall within 3 percentage points above or below the data collected in 95 of the 100 surveys.

The study was funded by the Surdna Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation and the V.K. Rasmussen Foundation.

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Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.