Inside Climate News
May 29, 2015
Communities across the globe got a sobering snapshot this week of what the future is likely to hold more of: extreme weather getting even more extreme thanks to climate change.
Historic rainfall and flooding in Texas and Oklahoma left thousands homeless and dozens of people dead. India is in the midst of a prolonged heat wave that has already claimed more than 1,800 lives. Wildfires in Alberta consumed hundreds of square miles of forest while creeping closer to Canada's tar sands, shutting down production of the carbon-intense fossil fuel.
More natural disasters may be on the way. Firefighters across the American West are bracing for a record-breaking wildfire season due to sustained drought. Federal scientists predicted Wednesday that once the U.S. hurricane season begins June 1, the East Coast could see as many as 11 named storms out of the Atlantic Ocean, including two hurricanes rated in the major categories, 3-5. Sea levels, rising as the globe warms, could increase the amount of damage from even smaller storms.
Scientists have long balked at attributing natural disasters directly to climate change. They often conclude that global warming has made an extreme event more likely, and exacerbated the conditions that make them more damaging. Warmer ocean waters and air, for example, fuel stronger tropical storms. Heat waves or soil dried by drought—which makes it harder for water to be absorbed when it does finally arrive—increase the chance of devastating flooding. They also say the events are examples of what's to come. Researchers are confident climate change will cause more extremes—more droughts, wildfires, heat waves, flooding and coastal storms, among other disasters—over the next century.
Climate change "affects all weather and storms," said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "They cannot not be affected. The risk of drought and flood is greater, and so are heat waves and wildfires. There is excellent evidence for all of these things happening."