Climate Change Increases the Risks of Disasters, Climate Models Are Still Catching Up

A recently-published study in Science Advances found that climate change predictions that relied only on historical data underestimated by about half the actual number of extremely hot days in Europe and East Asia, and the number of extremely wet days in the U.S., Europe, and East Asia.

This paper illustrates how even small increases in global warming can cause large upticks in the probability of extreme weather events, particularly heat waves and heavy rainfall. The rate of global warming in just the 21st century has created such an increase of extreme heat and extreme wet events that it falls outside of well outside of the previously predicted probabilities.

Why This Matters: Our planet is warming so rapidly that the tools we use to measure and predict its trajectory are being rendered less useful. This isn’t to say that climate models are not reliable, not even close. This should serve as yet another wakeup call that our current way of life and consumption are literally causing our greenhouse gas emissions to be off the charts. That’s why Australia’s recent wildfires were so much worse than climate models predicted.

What This Means: Stanford climate scientist and study author Noah Diffenbaugh explained,

“We are seeing year after year how the rising incidence of extreme events is causing significant impacts on people and ecosystems. One of the main challenges in becoming more resilient to these extremes is accurately predicting how the global warming that’s already happened has changed the odds of events that fall outside of our historical experience.”

Looking Ahead: As Scientific American reported, we’re going to need to adjust our climate models to accommodate for our rapidly warming planet:

  • One of the most commonly used model suites is an ensemble known as CMIP5—it was developed by an international team of scientists and has served as the basis for countless climate impact studies. The issue is that CMIP5’s historical simulations only reflect data up to 2005.
  • That’s not a flaw in the models’ design; it’s just the information that was available when they were first being developed. A new suite of climate models, known as CMIP6, is in development and will reflect an up-to-date historical climate period.

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