NEW YORK, 5 NOVEMBER 2012
Dear EarthTalk: What is the scientific consensus on all the extreme
weather weve been having from monster tornadoes to massive floods and
wildfires? Is there a clear connection to climate change? And if so what
are we doing to be prepared?
Jason Devine, Summit, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Extreme weather does not prove the existence of global warming, but
climate change is likely to exaggerate itby messing with ocean currents,
providing extra heat to forming tornadoes, bolstering heat waves,
lengthening droughts and causing more precipitation and flooding.
"A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity,
spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events,
and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events,"
reports the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an
independent group of leading climate scientists convened by the United
Nations to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current
state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/Thinkstock
While most scientists dont dispute the link between global warming and
extreme weather, the once skeptical public is now starting to come
aroundespecially following 2011, when floods, droughts, heat waves and
tornadoes took a heavy toll on the U.S. According to a poll conducted by
researchers at Yale Universitys Project on Climate Change Communication,
four out of five Americans reported personally experiencing one or more
types of extreme weather or a natural disaster in 2011, while more than a
third were personally harmed either a great deal or a moderate amount by
one or more of these events. And a large majority of Americans believe
that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events
worse, including record high summer temperatures nationwide, droughts in
Texas and Oklahoma, catastrophic Mississippi River flooding, Hurricane
Irene and an unusually warm winter.
The IPCC wants world leaders to err on the side of caution in preparing
their citizens for extreme weather events that will likely become more
frequent; earlier this year they released a report entitled "Managing the
Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change
Adaptation" to help policymakers do just that. The report is considered a
must read in coastal, arid and other especially vulnerable areas.
As for the U.S. government, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) tracks weather and storms, while the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deals with the impacts of extreme
weather and other disasters. But critics would like to see Congress and
the White House do more to increase Americans preparedness. "The U.S. [in
2011] experienced a record fourteen weather-related disasters each in
excess of a billion dollarsand many more disasters of lesser magnitudes,"
reports the non-profit Climate Science Watch (CSW). "Yet the U.S. has no
national climate change preparedness strategy; and Federal efforts to
address the rising risks have been undermined through budget cuts and
other means." CSW and others are calling for the creation of a new
cabinet-level agency called the National Climate Service to oversee both
climate change mitigation as well as preparedness for increasingly extreme
Climate Science Watch.
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