Although creating a safe and livable environment in the face of extreme weather is one of the most pressing challenges facing societies in the 21st century, tools are available today to minimize the impacts. Early warning systems can predict when and where extreme weather events like tropical cyclones or meltwater floods will hit, providing millions of people with the extra time they need to protect themselves, their families and their possessions.
Advances in sensor technology as well as big data processing power combined with an almost universal access to mobile phones make it possible to collect, process and deliver data for early warning more efficiently and faster than ever before. These attributes contribute to the relatively low cost of this opportunity, which if done wisely can be realized for an investment of just a few billion USD worldwide per year. Achieving this will require efforts to secure open data and international collaboration.
The potential for saved lives and property alone are estimated to outweigh the costs by a factor of at least 2 to 5. However, many sectors from construction to health care can also experience the benefits of better forecasts during times of “normal” weather. Accounting for these efficiency gains, the benefits of investing in better meteorological services are estimated to be up to 30 times larger than the costs.
As an added benefit, this opportunity can give contractors, city planners and politicians the tools to predict which areas will become threatened by extreme weather in the coming decades. This will allow them to make better-informed choices to protect construction and infrastructure investments worth trillions of dollars per year.