These weather events turned extreme thanks to human-driven climate change


GONE DRY Villagers try to catch fish in a dried-up pond in West Bengal, India. A deadly heat wave that swept across Asia in 2016 led to widespread drought that affected hundreds of millions in India. Such an intense and prolonged heat wave, scientists now report, could not have happened without human-caused climate change.

NEW ORLEANS — For the first time, scientists have definitively linked human-caused climate change to extreme weather events.

A handful of extreme events that occurred in 2016 — including a deadly heat wave that swept across Asia — simply could not have happened due to natural climate variability alone, three new studies find. The studies were part of a special issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, also known as BAMS, released December 13.

These findings are a game changer — or should at least be a conversation changer, Jeff Rosenfeld, editor in chief of BAMS, said at a news conference that coincided with the studies’ release at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting. “We can no longer be shy about talking about the connection between human causes of climate change and weather,” he said.

For the last six years, BAMS has published a December issue containing research on extreme weather events from the previous year that seeks to disentangle the role of anthropogenic climate change from natural variability. The goal from the start has been to find ways to improve the science of such attribution, said Stephanie Herring of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Boulder, Colo., who was lead editor of the latest issue.

To date, BAMS has published 137 attribution studies. But this is the first time that any study has found that a weather event was so extreme that it was outside the bounds of natural variability — let alone three such events, Herring said.

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Southeast Asia sweltered under a record-breaking heat wave in April 2016 (yellow shows highest temperatures). Although a strong El Niño contributed to the high temperatures, a new study concludes that the heat wave would not have reached such extremes without human influence on the climate.

FEELING THE HEAT

In addition to the Asia heat wave, those events were the record global heat in 2016 and the growth and persistence of a large swath of high ocean temperatures, nicknamed “the…

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