Are US floods, fires linked to climate change?

/ Jeremy Hance

The short answer to the question of whether or not on-going floods in the US Midwest and fires in Texas are linked to a warming Earth is: maybe. The long answer, however, is that while it is difficult—some argue impossible—for scientists to link a single extreme weather event to climate change, climate models have long shown that extreme weather events will both intensify and become more frequent as the world continues to heat up. In other words, the probability of such extreme events increases along with global average temperature.

The short answer to the question of whether or not on-going floods in the US Midwest and fires in Texas are linked to a warming Earth is: maybe. The long answer, however, is that while it is difficult—some argue impossible—for scientists to link a single extreme weather event to climate change, climate models have long shown that extreme weather events will both intensify and become more frequent as the world continues to heat up. In other words, the probability of such extreme events increases along with global average temperature.

“There have always been extreme events,” Peter Stott, a climatologist from the UK’s Met Office, told Yale360
in a piece on extreme weather and climate change. “Natural variability does play a role, but now so does climate change. It is about changing the odds of the event happening.”

Drought and Fire

 Image shows high temperatures as compared to average in the US. The redder means warmer than usual, while bluer means cooler. Image courtesy of NASA.
Image shows high temperatures as compared to average in the US. The redder means warmer than usual, while bluer means cooler. Image courtesy of NASA.

Drought conditions along with unseasonably warm temperatures and high winds in Texas has led to a number of massive fires, burning up over 2,300 square miles and killing three people, including two volunteer firefighters. In all, 886 fires have been recorded in Texas this spring.

“By now, most people get that you can’t attribute any single weather event on global warming,” John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas’ state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University, told the McClatchy-Tribune news service. “But some things are clear: temperatures have been going up, and models all agree that the temperature rise will continue unless we get some massive volcanic eruptions or the sun suddenly becomes much dimmer.”

Floods

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