Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 September 2009
Extreme events are critical determinants in the evolution and character of many natural and human-influenced systems. From such a perspective, extreme climatic events, in particular, present society with significant challenges in the context of a rapidly warming world. The societal impacts of recent extreme climatic events around the world motivated us to bring together in one book a scientific exploration of the nature of climatic extremes – past, present, and future – and examples of efforts aimed at making these events more comprehensible and manageable.
Extreme climatic events can affect both natural systems (e.g., coastal and riparian ecosystems) and human systems (e.g., the city of New Orleans). Despite having one of the most effective emergency response systems in the world, the United States has experienced months, and will likely continue to experience years, of difficulties in coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Furthermore, while Hurricane Katrina may not be classified as an “extreme” hurricane in terms of its wind intensity at landfall, or a rare event in terms of the wind speed return period, the consequences of its landfall along the northern Gulf Coast would likely qualify as an extreme and, one hopes, rare event.
The capacity of society to respond optimally to climatic events such as active hurricane periods or long droughts depends on its ability to understand, anticipate, prepare for, and respond to extremes.