Climate Change: Extreme Weather Events Linked To Earth’s Changing Climate

Linking extreme weather events to change is becoming easier for scientists. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) has compiled a list of extreme weather events which can be linked to climate change. University of Georgia scientist J. Marshall Shepherd said this list is “the first definitive ranking of what events can be attributed to climate change.” Doctor David Titley, the head of the committee that wrote the NAS list commented further on the link between climate change and extreme weather.

“While that question remains difficult to answer given all the factors that affect an individual weather event, we can now say more about how climate change has affected the intensity or likelihood of some events. Our reports say that you can do this for some events now, especially heat/cold (higher confidence) and heavy rainfall/drought (medium confidence).”

Some weather events are easier to attribute to climate change than others. For example, the heat wave that wreaked havoc on India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan last summer is easily attributed to the rising temperatures created by climate change. The increasing frequency and strength of tropical storms, hurricanes, and cyclones is much harder to directly correlate to a changing climate. Many different factors need to be studied and analyzed when it comes to these types of storms. Linking them to climate change is not as cut and dry as the rising temperature of a heat wave.

The authors of the report agree with the consensus that the use of fossil fuels by humans and increased emission of greenhouse gasses have led to the increase in temperature across the planet. Climatologists are able to better understand the impact of greenhouse gasses and fossil fuel use due to being able to use better technological devices to study data. The main piece of technology that has improved is the use of computer modeling.

Using computer modeling, scientists can input different pieces of data and run simulations to see different results. By manipulating the numbers, scientists can determine how the climate will change in a positive or negative way. They can then use this information to determine what changes need to be made in order to curtail the extreme weather events caused by climate change. Doctor Sheppard commented briefly about using computer simulation.

“We caution against extrapolating from one study to make big sweeping statements about all aspects of climate change. We also caution that there is some selection bias in what events are studied.”

The study of tying a particular event to a changing climate is a relatively new part of this field of study. The first attempt to tie an extreme weather event to climate change took place 12 years ago, when the 2003 European heatwave ravaged Europe. The 2003 heatwave caused tens of thousands of people to die from heat-related illnesses.

During this process of tying extreme weather to climate change was where scientists discovered it was nearly impossible to say if strong hurricanes were caused by climate change. They figured this out when they studied Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. Instead of asking, “Did climate change cause superstorm Sandy and hurricane Katrina?” scientists were instead encouraged to ask, “Are events of this severity becoming more or less likely because of climate change?” or “To what extent was the storm intensified or weakened, or its precipitation increased or decreased, because of climate change?”

Do you think there is a direct correlation between extreme weather events and climate change?

[Image via AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File]