Climate change attribution
Why it mattersIt’s providing a clearer sense of how climate change is worsening the weather, and what we’ll need to do to prepare.
Key playersWorld Weather Attribution, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, University of Oxford
Researchers can now spot climate change’s role in extreme weather.
Ten days after Tropical Storm Imelda began flooding neighborhoods across the Houston area last September, a rapid-response research team announced that climate change almost certainly played a role.
The group, World Weather Attribution, had compared high-resolution computer simulations of worlds where climate change did and didn’t occur. In the former, the world we live in, the severe storm was as much as 2.6 times more likely—and up to 28% more intense.
Earlier this decade, scientists were reluctant to link any specific event to climate change. But many more extreme-weather attribution studies have been done in the last few years, and rapidly improving tools and techniques have made them more reliable and convincing.
This has been made possible by a combination of advances. For one, the lengthening record of detailed satellite data is helping us understand natural systems. Also, increased computing power means scientists can create higher-resolution simulations and conduct many more virtual experiments.
These and other improvements have allowed scientists to state with increasing statistical certainty that yes, global warming is often fueling more dangerous weather events.
By disentangling the role of climate change from other factors, the studies are telling us what kinds of risks we need to prepare for, including how much flooding to expect and how severe heat waves will get as global warming becomes worse. If we choose to listen, they can help us understand how to rebuild our cities and infrastructure for a climate-changed world.