Did global warming contribute to the heat wave much of the country endured during the summer of 2012? How about Superstorm Sandy?
A group of 78 scientists led by experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week gave their preliminary answers, releasing peer-reviewed analyses on those and other major weather events from last year. The picture they offer is of a planet in which warming has boosted the chances, in some cases significantly, that certain unwelcome weather or weather-related disasters will occur.
Of the 12 extreme weather events scientists studied, experts saw evidence of a climate-change component in only half.
One of them, though, was that 2012 heat wave: Global warming probably factored into the magnitude of the highs. One of the papers reckons that climate change was responsible for about 35 percent of last year’s heat.
Sandy, meanwhile, was an unlucky break, a big storm that slammed into New York during high tide. But, regardless of where the storm came from, rising sea levels related to climate change make catastrophic flooding more likely; the probability of a Sandy-like storm surge is already double what it was in 1950.
Continued warming will increase the frequency and severity of certain events, which will require humans to adapt. Then there are the long-term consequences that are harder to predict. These knowns and unknowns are why humans shouldn’t just adapt but head off excessive future warming by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions now.