Extreme Weather and Climate

Extreme Weather and Climate Laser Talk

Question:  What’s the connection between global warming and extreme weather?

Answer:  Rising greenhouse gases interfere with the radiant cooling of the earth, causing excess heat energy to build up in the atmosphere and the oceans. All weather is driven by energy. With more energy building up in the system, the normal ups and downs of weather become supercharged with more heat and moisture. [1]

That leads to more extreme weather. While the precise timing and location cannot be predicted far in advance, hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, massive downpours, and even extreme snowfall in some areas are becoming more frequent and more severe. [2,3] Adding to this disruption is the loss of Arctic sea ice and ice sheets, which may be changing the large-scale patterns of jet streams that govern weather all over the globe. [4,5] These Arctic changes may also change ocean currents that in turn affect our weather. [6]

Climate-induced supercharging of weather is not just an academic topic, but one that impacts our economy. Since1980, extreme weather events have cost the U.S. a jaw-dropping $1.88 trillion, with a third of that cost in just the last five years. [7] Climate change is known to contribute to that cost. [8,9] The size of that contribution is still far from being pinned down, but judging from discussions inside the insurance industry, [10] it’s safe to say it’s far above zero.

In a Nutshell: Global warming builds up heat energy in the atmosphere and the oceans, disrupting every kind of weather and costing our economy hundreds of billions.

  1. Pappas, S. “What is Global Warming?” LiveScience (10 Aug 2017).
  2. “Extreme Weather.” National Climate Assessment, U.S. Global Change Research Program (Oct 2014).
  3. “Climate Change and Extreme Snow in the U.S.” NOAA (accessed 90 Apr 2018).
  4. Serreze, M.C. “Comment: Arctic warming and midlatitude weather: Is there a connection?.” Earth: the Science Behind the Headlines (4 Dec 2017).
  5. Trouet, V. et al. “Recent enhanced high-summer North Atlantic Jet variability emerges from three-century context.” Nature Communications 9:180 (12 Jan 2018).
  6. Cho, R. “Could Climate Change Shut Down the Gulf Stream?” State of the Planet, Columbia University Earth Institute (6 Jun 2017).
  7. Smith, A.B. “2020 U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in historical context.” NOAA Climate.gov (8 Jan 2021).
  8. Leahy, S. “Hidden Costs of Climate Change Running Hundreds of Billions a Year.” National Geographic (27 Sep 2017).
  9. “Calculating the Cost of Weather and Climate Disasters.” NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (29 Oct 2021).
  10. Hulac, B. “Climate Change Goes Firmly in the ‘Loss’ Column for Insurers.” Scientific American (15 Mar 2018).

This page was last updated on 12/27/21 at 18:50 CST.