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Community impacts from extreme weather can shape climate beliefs

Recent studies have suggested that people who experience the impacts of hurricanes, catastrophic flooding or other severe weather events are more likely to believe in, and be concerned about, climate change in the wake of the disaster. But a new, National Science Foundation-funded study finds that not all severe weather impacts have the same effect. People who perceived that damage had occurred at such a broad scale were more likely to believe that climate change is a problem and is causing harm. They were also more likely to perceive a greater risk of future flooding in their community. In contrast, individual losses such as damage to one's own house appeared to have a negligible long-term impact on climate change beliefs and perceptions of future risks. To conduct the study, in 2016 and 2017 the researchers surveyed residents of six Colorado communities -- Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, Estes Park, Loveland and Evans -- that had suffered devastating flooding after days of intense rainfall dropped nearly a year's worth of precipitation in mountains upstream from them in September 2013. The surveys queried residents about their climate change beliefs, their perception of the extent of damage caused by the 2013 flooding, and their perception of future flood risks in their neighborhood.

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