Over the past several years, the weather has been getting more severe. Heat waves, in particular, have made it difficult to be outside comfortably or without air conditioning, and as the Earth’s climate warms, this—along with other extreme weather patterns—is becoming increasingly common. Scientists identify extreme weather patterns by comparing them to what’s considered normal in the region in question, looking at the weather’s historical record to determine what’s abnormal and what’s not. Extremely high or low levels of rain, snow, temperature, wind, and others are a typical sign that something isn’t quite right.
Global warming can increase the intensity of heat waves by upping the chances of very hot days and nights. This heat can warm the air and boost evaporation, which will make droughts worse. Droughts dry up fields and forests, which makes them more prone to catching fire, which in turn leads to a longer wildfire season.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, global warming can also increase the water vapor in the air, which leads to heavier, more frequent rain and snowstorms. This excess moisture, heated by the climate’s rising temperatures, can make the strongest hurricanes larger, more intense, and rainier than usual. Excess rain over the ocean will lead to rising sea levels, which will push onto the shore during storms and cause flooding.
A decade ago, it was difficult to link specific weather changes to global climate change, but recent studies have made it easier for climate scientists to make these connections. The connections are called extreme even attributions and look at whether global warming increased the event’s intensity or chances of happening. Scientists can study this data using computer models to create a simulation of weather conditions both with and without global warming factoring in. Examining these simulated scenarios lets them figure out how, exactly, global warming affects extreme weather.
All of these studies to understand how global warming impacts Earth’s weather are vital in making informed risk management decisions. A community that knows the rainfall in their area has increased will be able to make more informed choices about land management, how they build their town, whether they need a floodwall, and so on. Likewise, a community that knows its region is growing more prone to droughts can prepare for the chances of a wildfire forming and do what they can prevent that from happening.