Hurricane Earl, Cancer, and Statistics

As I write this, Hurricane Earl is chugging up the East Coast. I live in Boston; we don’t yet know if the hurricane will hit our area or whether we will just get much needed rain. The waiting has got me thinking about the weather related risks of global warming. 

Scientific consensus is that global warming is real, and that in addition to warmer mean temperatures, we will also experience more extreme weather events—i.e., more hurricanes, and very cold and very hot periods. 

Can we say that Hurricane Earl was caused by global warming?  No, we cannot. Hurricanes have long existed. Some years we have more than others.

But the question of whether a particular weather event was caused by global warming is analogous to cigarette cancer litigation. When people used to sue the cigarette companies after they got cancer, they always lost. Plaintiffs could not prove that their case of cancer was caused by cigarettes. There could have been a lot of different explanations for why a particular person got cancer.

However, when smart lawyers launched class action suits that represented a large group of affected people, the cigarette companies started losing, and losing big. Statistically, there was no doubt that cigarettes caused cancer.

Similarly, any individual hurricane or bout of extreme weather can’t be definitively tied to global warming. But there is no doubt we are going to see more of it.

And more extreme weather will affect logistics. Climate-change related risks include:

  • Disrupted operations – for example, ships carrying cargo having to route around a hurricane.
  • Damaged assets – for example, Earl damaging the Boston port or a company’s port warehouse.
  • Deterioration of infrastructure – for example, a warehouse with rail spurs having the rails buckle because of a heat wave.
  • Extra costs for climate control – spending more in the warehouse or in trucks to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

What can logisticians do about this? 

We may need to increase our maintenance and operating budgets for our logistics assets.   

We can make sure we have good contingency plans in place to handle a facility going down, a port becoming temporarily unusable or long transit times on a key lane.

And most importantly, we can work to make sure we have good end-to-end supply chain visibility, and that we are agile enough to respond to weather-related disruptions.


  1. Great advice Steve.

    While actions we take to adopt a more environmentally friendly approach to supply chain management will no doubt benefit us at some future point, we need to take actions to address the risks we will face in the short term.

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