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Expect more extreme weather to come

by Neel Tandan
Feb 07, 2013


CLIMATE2

Neel Tandan/Medill News Service

More summer droughts, and severe winter and spring flooding are likely in coming seasons, says atmospheric scientist Don Wuebbles

Nobel Prize winner and atmospheric scientist Donald Wuebbles says more droughts, floods and severe winter are likely in coming seasons due to climate change. He will present current findings on extreme weather in Boston next week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a gathering of thousands of scientists. 

“U.S. Climate and Weather Extremes: Past, Present, and Future,” one of several days of AAAS sessions, will feature Wuebbles and five other speakers assessing the link between climate change and extreme weather events.

Panel organizer and climate researcher Connie Woodhouse, of the University of Arizona, said such extremes don’t happen very often and this meeting is “a message of caution” to scientists and the public.

“I think there’ll probably be some clarification of what we can say about extremes with regards to climate change,” Woodhouse said, “and what we can expect looking into the future.”

Wuebbles, who teaches atmospheric science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will speak on “Severe Weather in the United States under a Changing Climate” as part of the panel.

Wuebbles is a lead author for both the 2013 National Climate Assessment and the next major U.N. report on climate change that will be released this year by the International Panel on Climate Change. The panel, as a group that included Wuebbles, won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

In a preview interview, Wuebbles said heat waves and extreme precipitation in the U.S. are on the rise, as they have been over the last 50 years, and there is a strong link between these severe weather events and the changing climate. Global temperatures have warmed about 1.5 degrees F on average.

“We are projecting significantly more of [total] rainfall coming as a larger event,” Wuebbles said. “So, there is more of a possibility of droughts [in the summer], and in the winter and spring more of a likelihood for floods.”

Woodhouse said the meeting will focus on the role of climate and extreme weather on droughts in Texas and North America, as well as on wild animal species. She said speakers will be looking at how the media covers extreme weather and climate as well.

Wuebbles said weather forecasters should be doing more to incorporate the changing climate into their predictions and looking at the “long-term.” He said when forecasters look at changes in climate over longer periods of time they tend to have those “something’s happening” moments.

“Short-term forecasters are still catching up,” Wuebbles said. “They are so focused on this near-term thing that they are missing the forest for the trees.”