Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Two takes on extreme weather

Extreme Weather, Climate and Preparedness in the American Mind is the most detailed look to date at the link between extreme weather and public attitudes toward climate change. Among the key findings:
  • Overall, 82 percent of Americans report that they personally experienced one or more types of extreme weather or natural disaster in the past year.
  • Over the past several years, Americans say the weather in the U.S. has been getting worse – rather
    than better – by a margin of over 2 to 1 (52% vs. 22%).
  • About half of all Americans say that heat waves (53%), droughts (46%) and very heavy rain storms
    (43%) have become more common in their local area over the past few decades.
  • As shown in the figure below, 69% of Americans agree that global warming is affecting weather in the US and a large majority believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse. 


So, not surprisingly, a number of climate change advocates like Bill McKibbon (with the Connect the Dots event on May 5 aimed at cementing the connection between climate change and extreme weather) and Climate Central's Extreme Planet blog are attempting to use the climate change / extreme weather connection as a hook to mobilize action on climate change.

There is some intuitive sense to this. As you put more thermal energy into the system, the planet will find ways to distribute that energy and extreme weather events are a plausible vehicle for accomplishing that.

But, the scientific distinction between weather and climate is notorious complex. And the weather folks are pushing back. See, for example, Extreme Silliness on the blog of University of Washington  meteorologist Cliff Mass or the recent March Maddness-weather wise op-ed piece by atmospheric scientist John Wallace. Looking at the data, for example the graph below of global hurricane events over a 40 year period from an article by Roger Pielke Jr. and others, it is hard to discern a trend.

1 comment:

  1. James Hansen, M. Sato and R. Ruedy (2011)
    Climate Variability and Climate Change: The New Climate Dice