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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

2012 has been the warmest year on record in the U.S. and it brought a near record series of extreme weather events.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Continuing coverage right now on those Colorado wildfires. A state of disaster...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ...under states of emergency after a freak storm swept through the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Two-thirds of the territory in the Lower 48 States experiencing some form of drought right now...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: They're calling it Frankenstorm...

CORNISH: After all that, more people are thinking about the change in climate and the future, as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In southern New Jersey, Marti Andrews saw a bit of Superstorm Sandy. But it was this summer's hurricane-like derecho that stood out.

MARTI ANDREWS: I don't want to say I freaked out about it, but holy crap, it scared me.

LUDDEN: Ninety-mile-per-hour winds and nonstop lightning, like a wild disco display in the sky, she says.

ANDREWS: I've never seen anything like that. I sat there on the couch thinking, oh my God, we're all going to die.

(LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: Andrews says the derecho, combined with the year's unrelenting series of disasters, has instilled in her a new and visceral fear of the weather. And she's not alone.

ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: People begin to see that pattern and are starting to say, whoa, could all these be connected? Is this something to do with climate change?

LUDDEN: Anthony Leiserowitz, of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, says we've actually been through two years of record-breaking weather disasters. In September, he found 70 percent of Americans said global warming is affecting extreme weather events today. That's a big jump from earlier this year, and the survey was done before Superstorm Sandy. Scientists don't yet know the role climate change has played in these record-breaking events, but much of the public isn't waiting for such answers.

LEISEROWITZ: As people experience more and more of these, they are taking individual actions and making individual decisions to try to protect themselves against these kinds of hazards.

TOM COOPER: We're searching for other things that we could grow as an alternative crop.

LUDDEN: Tom Cooper, of Rocky Top Farms, grows cherries in northern Michigan, but this year's crazy hot spring wiped him out.

COOPER: Probably the worst crop in the history, as far as my knowledge is. You couldn't have found one pound of tart cherries in the whole orchard.

LUDDEN: Cooper says the weather has become so unpredictable, he doesn't know if the region that calls itself the Cherry Capital of the World will still be for long.

COOPER: It was always my dream for my son and daughter-in-law to take over the farm, and for the grandkids to have a place in the future, if they wanted it. And I worry about that now because of the weather effect. What are they going to grow?

LUDDEN: Tiffany Hudok and her family rode out this summer's searing heat in St. Louis.

TIFFANY HUDOK: Ugh, we were trapped in our own home, basically.

LUDDEN: She says even the neighbor's pool was 85 degrees - hardly cooling off. When her husband got a job offer in her hometown at Kalamazoo, Michigan, Hudok says there were many reasons to move. But...

HUDOK: We really did think where would be the best place to be if climate change really gets going - and I mean starts accelerating?

LUDDEN: They moved this fall. Hudok is happy that her two young children can experience snow and that summer heat won't be as intense. But this year's record drought has lowered water levels on the Great Lakes. Hudok says she thinks about her kids in the decades to come and gets emotional with worry.

HUDOK: I wonder if they're going to be able to enjoy the lakes that I enjoyed when I was growing up. I'm wondering if they're going to be able to have snow.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)

LUDDEN: In New Jersey, Marti Andrews can relate. She has three grown children in their 20s. And though it pains her to say it, she's glad they don't have their own kids yet.

ANDREWS: I would never tell them that because I want to be a grandmother more than anything in the world.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDREWS: But the way everything is going, I don't want to worry about my grandkids. It's bad enough worrying about my kids.

LUDDEN: Andrews is moving soon to Montana. She'll be relieved to get away from the coast, with its rising sea levels and storm surges. Maybe, she says, her children will follow her.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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