Extreme Weather Research Makeover

Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and droughts: A new coalition to investigate the impact of climate change on weather.
Weather clock photo by Sean Carney

Photo by Sean Carney.

Is there a link between recent extreme weather events and climate change? An international group of climate scientists has set out to answer this question. They’ve formed a coalition, Attribution of Climate-Related Events (ACE), to investigate the connection between global warming and the increasing incidence and severity of tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, and floods.

In 2010, extreme heat waves caused massive wildfires in Russia, while heavy monsoon rains brought severe floods in Pakistan. The global average temperature was one of the highest since records began in 188o, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Previously, scientists have said that an increase in extreme weather events like these would be consistent with global warming but were hesitant to make a direct link between specific events and climate change because of the natural variability of weather.

The ACE coalition asserts that it is now possible to prove that greenhouse gases, resulting in observable increase in atmospheric moisture, are causing extreme weather events. In October 2011, a subset of ACE participants will publish a paper on this topic at the World Climate Research Program Open Science Conference in Denver.

ALSO … Many Americans are unaware that there is a consensus among U.S. scientists, 97 percent of whom agree that climate change is happening, according to a report published in May by George Mason University and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. It found that 40 percent of those polled agreed with the statement “There is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.”

ACE involves collaboration among scientists from some of the world’s most eminent institutions in weather and climate research, including NOAA, the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the Met Office Hadley Centre in the U.K.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, who heads the Climate Analysis Section at NCAR and hosted the initial meeting of ACE, argues that the evidence of a link between climate change and individual weather events is unequivocal. Communicating via email, Trenberth stated that the major issues to focus on are the changes in rainfall, flooding, drought, heat waves, and other extremes like tornadoes.

“All weather and climate events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they form is different,” wrote Trenberth. “The failure to realize this means that the cost of climate change is greatly underestimated.”

He said the group hopes to develop techniques and approaches for researching weather that can be used almost immediately,  providing better information to the public and decision-makers.

Sarah Kuck MugSarah Kuck wrote this article for New Livelihoods, the Fall 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is a former YES! intern.