This story originally appeared on NBC News and will be republished here as part of Now cover the climate, a global journalistic collaboration that strengthens reporting on climate history
Iowa, 62, has spent her life watching thunderstorms and tornadoes racing over rolling hills. Last August, when the midday sky darkened over the river homeless camp where Domer and four other people spent most of the nights – built on a sandy bank near downtown, under tall trees – she quickly set to work on her supplies to cover up.
One roommate said Domer overreacted and went for a walk. “As you like,” she said to him.
Domer was busy weighing down a tent when she heard a scream: “I was wrong!” She turned and saw her companion running back into the camp. The sky behind him was “black,” said Domer – darker than a few moments ago, darker than ever before.
The derecho struck furiously, winds whipping sand and snapping limbs overhead. Domer hurried to cover and pulled a tent roof over his head. Tornadoes usually come and go in a matter of minutes. But the Derecho, a straightforward storm, was relentless. Branches and whole trees fell to the ground around Domer.
“I kept thinking, ‘When is it going to stop? “Said Domer. She said a prayer that she would live.
It is an immutable truth of the climate crisis that the weakest are hit first and hardest. At a time of increasing homelessness in the United States and with increasing prevalence of climate-related disasters – forest fires in California, monster hurricanes on the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, an Arctic explosion in Texas – the rule applies.
“We’re definitely seeing more homelessness and more housing disorders as a result of these disasters,” said Steve Berg, program and policy director for the Washington-based National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Climate change did not directly cause the Derecho in the Midwest over the past year or any of those other disasters. However, it is clear to scientists that a warmer planet makes extreme weather more likely and wilder. For people like Domer, who are homeless, the storms only make things more difficult. Others are homeless. In both cases, assistance is provided by government agencies and nonprofits, but the needs are increasingly beyond their capacity.
Together, these experiences form a grim warning that the climate emergency is already here, consuming resources and destroying lives.
There are an estimated 580,000 people homeless in America based on a number of nights in January 2020 – homelessness had increased for the fourth year in a row, according to a study published last month from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. It was the first year since HUD began collecting data that the number of homeless people with children had increased. And as usual, people of color were greatly overrepresented compared to the US population as a whole.