Relationship Explored Between Climate Change And Severe Weather
February 15, 2013

Relationship Explored Between Climate Change And Severe Weather

Alan McStravick for — Your Universe Online

This morning, Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presented his talk, “Severe Weather in the United States Under a Changing Climate”, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

Wuebbles drew his inspiration for his talk not only on the data showing a lopsided representation of record high temperatures to record low temperatures over the past several decades, but he also focused in on the year 2012. Last year, the United States saw itself battered and challenged by severe weather events. The size and scope of hurricanes and droughts brought not only a significant amount of damage to the landscape, but also dipped into people´s pocketbooks and affected their overall livelihoods. Wuebbles points to research suggesting the US, in the coming years, will have five-day forecasts that show a greater number of extreme weather events. Wuebbles and other climate scientists see this eventuality as a trend based upon human-driven climate change.

As an example, Wuebbles cites several multi-day heatwaves along with severe precipitation events over the most recent decades and how they have increased in overall frequency. In the 1950s, it should be noted, the number of days that set record high temperatures was equal to the number of days that set record low temperatures. However, by the 2000s, the likelihood of experiencing a record high temperature was more than two times as possible as the chances we might have seen a record low temperature.

"Human-driven climate change is in fact driving changes in severe weather, and that leads to a lot of potential impacts in both humans and wildlife that end up being costly in many different ways," Wuebbles said.

What we observe as global climate change occurring is the alteration of normal weather patterns. As the atmosphere becomes increasingly warmer, a greater amount of water vapor is able to be trapped. This trapped vapor is directly responsible for providing energy to the mega-storms we have been witness to.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated there were eleven extreme weather events in 2012, each of which responsible for a cost in excess of $1 billion. This fact drives home that severe weather is far greater than just an inconvenience to our daily lives. Disasters associated with an increase in severe weather have been shown to incur huge expenses, placing a significant burden on both public funds and private equity.

"What we've seen in general is that the number of billion-dollar events has increased over the last three decades," Wuebbles said. "It's not just hurricanes, it's really a number of different types of weather extremes that are increasing, and that's what the worry is."

Wuebbles, in his presentation, explored our current understanding of severe weather as we understand it to be related to the science of climate change. Additionally, he spoke of the issues and uncertainties certain to affect not only the US, but also the world, in the coming years.