New report: Climate change could lead to increase in extreme weather

By RTCC Staff

The research asks the question, what turns an extreme event into a record breaking event? (© Steve Garner 32/Creative Commons)

Climate change could turn weather events into the record breaking phenomena that have been witnessed over the last decade, according to new research.

The research points to 14 extreme events that cost the US $14 billion, Japan’s record rainfall in 2011, continued drought on the Yangtze River in China, and record breaking heat waves across Europe in 2003 and 2010, all taking place on the backdrop of the warmest decade in a millennium.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change aims to build on pervious work on the topic of extreme weather and show that the high number of record breaking events witnessed over the last 10 years is not a coincidence.

“Single weather extremes are often related to regional processes, like a blocking high pressure system or natural phenomena like El Nino,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, co-author of the article.

“These are complex processes that we are investigating further. But now these processes unfold against the background of climatic warming. That can turn an extreme event into a record-breaking event.”

Of particular interest to the researchers is what turns an extreme event into a record breaking event, something they say more research must focus on.

For example the 2003 European heatwave exceeded beat the previous records by 2.4°C, and was then surpassed again in 2010.

The researchers also stressed that while climate change can be linked to changes in the frequency of extreme events it is still not possible to link one specific event to climate change.

“The question is whether these weather extremes are coincidental or a result of climate change,” say Dim Coumou, lead author of the report. “Global warming can generally not be proven to cause individual extreme events – but in the sum of events the link to climate change becomes clear.”

“It’s like a game of loaded dice. A six can appear every now and then, and you never know when it happens. But now it appears much more often, because we have changed the dice.”

This can be compared to the events in the US between 13th and 19th March when in the seven days alone, historical heat records were exceeded in more than a thousand places in North America, according to Coumou.

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