Was this extreme weather event caused by climate change? It’s a question scientists and TV weathercasters get asked a lot, and one that they’re getting better at answering.

Weather station

A study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recently found a clear link between human-caused climate change and some weather events.

According to Adam Sobel, a professor and climate scientist at Columbia University, heat waves have the clearest connection to global warming.

Sobel: “A heat wave is just defined as its being warmer than some temperature for some period of time. And so climate change pretty obviously makes that more likely by just making it warmer all the time.”

Adam Sobel
Adam Sobel

Some other extreme events, like droughts and floods, are also linked to global warming, and will become more frequent and severe as our planet heats up.

But shorter-duration weather events are more difficult to attribute. For example, additional research is needed to clarify the influence of global warming on hurricanes and thunderstorms. And tornados cannot be currently attributed to climate change at all.

But Sobel says the science is advancing quickly as weather and climate modeling improve. And as more information emerges, it will help communities better assess their risks and create effective adaptation strategies.

Reporting credit: Justyna Bicz/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Weather station photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Columbia Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate
Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change
Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future
Science of Tying Some Extreme Weather to Climate Change Advances
What Weather Is the Fault of Climate Change?
Extreme Weather Events Can Now Be Linked to Warming

Topics: Communicating Climate, Weather Extremes