Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, glaciers to melt, oceans to heat up, and trees to flower sooner, but it is also leading to more frequent and severe weather. While it’s difficult to quantify the precise effects of climate change, evidence that organizations worldwide have collected from satellites, aircraft, ground measurements, and climate model projections increasingly point to a link between extreme weather and climate change.
In this article, we look at how climate change is fueling different types of extreme weather.
Warmer sea surface temperatures could increase wind speeds in tropical storms and lead to more rainfall during these storms. There is also a higher probability that a hurricane will form, as more heat energy is available with higher sea temperatures. The rise in sea level rise means that hurricanes and other coastal storms will cause more damage. As air temperatures increase, the areas affected by hurricanes are also expected to increase.
Heatwaves, Wildfires, and Droughts
If we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the coldest and warmest daily temperatures are expected to increase by at least 5 °F. This temperature change will have consequences for several extreme weather systems.
According to scientists, the scorching end of June searing heatwave in western Canada and the US was “virtually impossible” without climate change. In addition, climate change is said to be responsible for more than a third of all heat deaths worldwide.
Extreme heat doesn’t just lead to heatwaves; it can also cause drought and wildfires. Warmer air temperatures can increase evaporation from the soil, making periods when there isn’t much rainfall drier than they would be during cold spells.
An increase in air temperatures also means that organic matter in forests –the material that burns and spreads wildfire– is dryer than usual. Warmer temperatures and drier conditions also make wildfires spread further and faster, meaning they are harder to put out.
As climate change causes average temperatures at the Earth’s surface to rise, this leads to more evaporation and precipitation, which increases the likelihood of flooding. The severity of these changes may be happening quicker than previously expected.
The scale of the record-breaking floods in Germany and other parts of central Europe shocked climate scientists. Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said, “We seem to be not just above normal, but in domains, we didn’t expect in terms of spatial extent and the speed it developed.”
Scientists also attributed the severity of the floods to heavier than usual rainfall and snow in the preceding months, which caused a lot of moisture in the ground.
While we can’t predict precisely how much damage extreme weather will cause, scientists agree that if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will continue to see an increase in severe weather systems.