The unusually powerful blizzard that slammed into New England earlier this month prompted a Boston meteorologist to speak out unusually bluntly on the ties between climate change and extreme weather events.
After being asked about the increase in extreme weather around the world by the interviewer — citing Hurricane Sandy, flooding, the record-breaking drought in midwest — WCVB Chief Meteorologist Harvey Leonard laid out the scientific case for how climate change is driving these recent events:
Climate scientists, most of them who have been working on this issue, that’s exactly what they have been predicting: that over time, we would see more extremes — more drought, more heavy precipitation events, stronger storms….
If you think about that and you go forward, and sea level starts to rise, and we have more population living on the coast, we have more structures on the coast — more in harms way — and then the storms become a little bit worse, and the sea levels higher to begin with, then you could have even worse effects.
Here’s the video, courtesy of Forecast the Facts:
As with a baseball player on steroids, where no one hit can be said to be “caused” by the steroid use, this isn’t about whether global warming “caused” an extreme weather. Instead, the steroid use ups the overall prevalence (and distance) of unusual hits, and global warming does the same for extreme weather events. In the case of the New England blizzard, global warming means temperatures aren’t dropping quite as far below freezing as they did before, and sea surface temperatures specifically are up. That can increase moisture flow into storms, resulting in heavier snowfall.
By pushing up the overall temperature in the planet’s climate system, climate change — spurred by the global warming caused by human carbon emissions — increases the strength of storms, and makes flooding, drought, heat waves, and wildfires all more intense and prevalent. Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer — and thus a firm with an obvious financial stake in properly understanding catastrophic weather events — released a study in 2012 noting an uptick in these events worldwide since 1980, and their entanglement with climate change.