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Visualizing Climate Disasters’ Surprising Cascading Effects

See how climate disasters cause rippling effects far beyond the initial event

Illustration includes 4 tiers, connected by a web of arrows. Top tier includes 6 red spheres. Next tier includes 14 pink spheres. Third tier includes 26 spheres. Bottom tier includes 6 spheres.

Federica Fragapane

When people imagine the aftermath of a natural disaster, skin infections and gastrointestinal illnesses aren't usually the problems that come to mind. But these conditions are embedded in a cascade of extensive and often unexpected consequences of wildfires, hurricanes, and other calamities related to climate change. A report entitled Atlas of Disaster connects the dots between the initial effects of climate hazards and the longer-term outcomes. Most of the U.S. is already feeling the impact—90 percent of American counties experienced a climate-related disaster in the decade from 2011 to 2021, and some have seen many. The damage is even worse in numerous other parts of the world.

“Climate change is here, and our communities are suffering,” says report co-author Amy Chester, managing director of Rebuild by Design, a nonprofit founded after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. She hopes this research will shift the national discussion away from what to do if climate disasters occur and toward what we can do now that they are happening.

Graphic includes 4 tiers. Top tier comprises 6 climate hazards, including drought and wildfire. Next tier—triggered by items in the top tier—is secondary hazards, including evacuation and power outage. Third tier includes short-term outcomes, such as displacement and dehydration. Bottom tier comprises long-term outcomes, including mortality and mental health effects.
Credit: Federica Fragapane; Inspired by “Cascading Impacts of Climate Events” graphic by Geethanjali MR, in Atlas of Disaster, from Rebuild by Design; Rebuild by Design sources: Preparing for Regional Health Impacts of Climate Change in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Climate and Health Program, July 2020; Human Health and the Climate Crisis, by Gail L. Carlson, Jones & Bartlett Learning, January 2022; “Health Effects of Coastal Storms and Flooding in Urban Areas: A Review and Vulnerability Assessment,” by Kathryn Lane et al., in Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Vol. 2013,
Lori Youmshajekian is a New York City–based science journalist covering health and the environment. She was previously a TV and video journalist at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), where she focused on pandemic policy and international news. In 2020 she won two journalism awards for her contributions to a campaign supporting the survivors of sexual assault. She is currently pursuing her master's degree in science, health and environmental reporting at New York University. Follow Youmshajekian on X (formerly Twitter) @youmshajekian
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Federica Fragapane is an independent information designer who specializes in creating projects and data visualizations as a freelancer. Many of her projects take an experimental approach, carefully selecting visual languages to encourage readers to engage with the narratives conveyed by the data. In 2023, three of her projects were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, becoming part of its Permanent Collection. Her work can be found at
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Scientific American Magazine Vol 330 Issue 2This article was originally published with the title “Cascading Climate Impacts” in Scientific American Magazine Vol. 330 No. 2 (), p. 86