Attribution Science Connects Extreme Weather to Climate Change

If you read my (Miro’s) Bright Ideas op-ed over the weekend then you saw that the tired argument of “yes the climate is changing, but we don’t know how much humans are contributing to it” has been around for at least 20 years. Luckily, that excuse for inaction is finally starting to wear thin as attribution science (which studies the links between climate and extreme weather) becomes more refined.

What’s Happening: When extreme weather events like hurricanes or wildfires occur, you’ll often see headlines discussing how climate change has created more extreme conditions to intensify the effects these natural disasters–like drought or warming oceans.

Scientists explain that instead of asking “did climate change cause this hurricane?” the better question is “what is the influence of climate change?” A region’s climate sets the stage for an extreme event. Scientists can then probe: Did climate change make some extreme event worse?

A Growing Concern: Some professions are beginning to worry about the legal liability of climate change and are therefore looking to attribution research for planning purposes. As Christopher Joyce told NPR,

“engineers and architects and builders are starting to get worried. They’re trying to understand how the science can help them plan. If sea levels are going to rise, and storms get stronger, you know, I need to know how to build to keep my structure up for decades in the new world and not get sued.”

In fact, the UN’s 2013 Warsaw mechanism aims to “enhance knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” 

Why This Matters: The importance of attribution science isn’t just for winning political arguments, it helps local officials and first responders save lives. When communities have a better understanding of how and why their local climate is changing they will be better able to prepare for extreme weather events.

Go Deeper: It’s for this reason that we wanted to highlight the first in a series of factsheets that UCSB political scientists Leah Stokes (along with researcher Emily Williams) have been working on to help journalists better understand the connection between extreme weather and climate change. It’s a really complicated issue but these factsheets are useful for anyone wanting to better understand how scientists “know” that climate change is drastically altering our planet. The first one is about climate change and wildfires.

Up Next

NOAA Predicts It’s Going To Be An Active Hurricane Season

NOAA Predicts It’s Going To Be An Active Hurricane Season

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms, of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes and 3 to 6 become major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher. The forecast is due to cooler ocean conditions in the Pacific and warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Why This Matters:  It could be a disastrous summer. The new climate normal on top of the COVID-19 pandemic will make things challenging everywhere.

Continue Reading 515 words

Mass Evacuations in Michigan After Dams Collapse

After suffering record-breaking heavy rains, the Central Michigan city of Midland experienced a catastrophic 2-dam collapse along the Tittabawassee River yesterday evening. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency and expressed that “In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately nine feet of water.” Whitmer also urged people […]

Continue Reading 213 words
Researchers Confirm that Climate Change is Making Hurricanes Stronger

Researchers Confirm that Climate Change is Making Hurricanes Stronger

An important new study out this week from researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Wisconsin at Madison reveals that hurricanes are getting stronger, just as climate models have predicted. As the New York Times explained, the analysis, of satellite images dating to 1979, shows that warming has increased the […]

Continue Reading 371 words