A new report finds ‘we have created a new climate’

Extreme events are closely linked to human-caused climate change.

 

This article was originally published on Mother Jones and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

For the first time in the six years the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has published its annual extreme event report, it has found that certain events could not have happened without human-caused climate warming. Weather researchers say that in 2016, climate change led to record global heat, extreme temperatures across Asia, and a marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska called “the blob.

“These are not just new odds, these are new weather extremes made possible by a new climate,” said Jeff Rosenfeld, the bulletin’s editor-in-chief, during a press conference at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in New Orleans. “We have created a new climate.”

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Beaufort Sea, northeast of Barrow, Alaska, on a research mission to collect ice data.

Scientists from all over the world contributed to this report, with studies analyzing 21 different events in 2016, from US snowstorms and South African drought, to ocean hot spots and Arctic warmth. Only six of the 27 papers in the report did not point to climate change as a significant driver of extreme weather events. 

“It’s important to remember that climate change does not act alone,” said Stephanie Herring, a scientist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information and one of the report’s editors, during the press conference announcing the findings. “Natural variability is still a player in all extreme events.”

When scientists try to assess the role of climate change in an extreme weather event, they attempt to calculate its likelihood with greenhouse gas emissions at current levels. Scientists then compare this result to a “control” model, which is of a world unaffected by human climate change.

“The estimates we give are often quite conservative,” said Andrew King, a climate extremes research fellow at Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. He authored one of the few studies included in the report that found natural variability, not climate change, drove extreme weather—in this case a record wet winter in southeast Australia. “For scientists to say that an event would be virtually impossible without climate change, they are very sure.”

All the papers submitted to the report are selected before editors know whether human-caused climate change influenced the event. But, says Herring, some events, heat waves, for instance, are easier to connect with the phenomenon than others, like tornadoes. 

Complicating matters in 2016 was El Niño, the periodic warming in the eastern and central tropical Pacific waters, which figured prominently in weather patterns and atmospheric conditions. One paper found that human-caused climate change strengthened El Niño in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean. South Africa’s drought and food scarcity, another study concluded, was worsened by climate change-enhanced El Niño.

During a time when many in power challenge the notion that human activity contributes to climate change, Rosenfeld said scientists have known for years humans are changing the risk of some extreme events. Now, they have more compelling evidence. 

“This report marks a fundamental change,” he said. “We can no longer be shy about talking about the connection between causes of climate change and weather.”

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER RIGHTS/ADJUDICATION BUREAU CHIEF
    Job Overview: Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that Montana's land and water resources provide benefits for present and future...
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz