UN: Climate change is intensifying weather events

UTA climate scientist discusses correlation between global warming, extreme weather

Friday, Oct 08, 2021 • Linsey Retcofsky : Contact

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Climate change is rapid and intensifying, affecting every region of the world in a manner unseen for thousands of years, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The panel, appointed by the United Nations, found that an increase in the earth’s surface temperature resulted in melting sea ice and glaciers, rising sea levels and more occurrences of extreme weather.

This year, atmospheric climate changes led to destructive wildfires in Greece, flooding in Europe and severe drought affecting the Colorado River. Researchers have estimated that many of 2021’s events are record-breaking, such as the 1,000-year heat wave that impacted the Pacific Northwest.

Climate scientist Arne Winguth, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Texas at Arlington, predicts that threatening weather events could substantially increase if current global-warming trends continue.

Q: Can you give an example of how climate change makes weather more severe?

Winguth: When we look at tropical storms, we see a clear relationship between climate change and storm intensity. For example, in the hours before making landfall, Hurricane Ida rapidly intensified because of an increase in sea surface temperature near the Louisiana coast.

More examples include this year’s severe heat wave and drought in the western United States and British Columbia, which not only resulted in record temperatures, but also fires that contributed to haze and reduced visibility as far as the east coast.

This summer’s heat was astounding. Statistical analysis of the record temperature of 121° Fahrenheit in Lytton, British Columbia, suggests that such an event would be 150 times rarer without climate change than with it.

Q: Are extreme weather events becoming more frequent?

Winguth: Yes, analysis of historic weather data and comprehensive earth system simulations have documented that weather has become more extreme globally. The World Meteorological Organization documented that weather-related disasters have increased over the last 50 years, and the recent IPCC assessment also revealed that there has been a higher likelihood of extreme weather events since the 1950s.

Q: Can humans, animals and vegetation adapt to global warming?

Winguth: Humans and animals can probably adapt to climate change up to a certain degree but still become very stressed under hot conditions. For example, when the body temperature of a human exceeds 104° Fahrenheit it can lead to heat stroke.

We know from the earth’s past that shifts in ecosystems and a transition into a hothouse world contribute to the extinction of species, as exemplified by the Permian-Triassic mass extinction about 252 million years ago.

Plant growth depends on light, nutrients, temperature and water availability. A lack of water in an already arid climate increases desertification, as has been observed in the Sahel zone in Africa.

Q: What can we do to mitigate the effects of climate change and extreme weather?

Winguth: The global society needs to reduce carbon emissions. The U.S. per capita carbon footprint is about five to six times higher than that of the average world population. Electricity generation, energy utilization and/or loss by buildings and transportation are substantial contributors to greenhouse gas emission.

Local governments should develop and implement climate change adaptation plans to make communities and infrastructure more resilient. An example of this would be to consider climate change needs in flood mitigation and water resource planning.

Individuals can stay informed about the potential risks of severe weather by considering warnings and exploring training programs available from the National Weather Service.

Communities need to engage in climate change mitigation by rapidly adopting carbon emission reduction plans. Those plans could reduce the carbon footprint from electricity generation, promote more energy-efficient buildings, enhance sustainable urban planning and promote a zero-emission transportation system.