By Jeff Masters and Bob Henson
Whether it be in media coverage or in statements by politicians, the connections between our warming planet and extreme weather events are too often ignored or downplayed (or sometimes overplayed).
Those who want to learn more about the global climate models that bolster our understanding of past, recent and future change can face a seemingly impenetrable wall of jargon, formulas and technical terms. Where can you quickly find the context to put a breaking weather event into a solid climate perspective or to get a handle on how global climate models work? Two excellent resources are now available to meet both of these needs.
A New Tool for Connecting the Dots Between Extreme Events and Climate Change
Debuting in beta form last month, the Climate Signals website—created by the nonprofit organization Climate Nexus—offers a quick and handy way to explore the climate change elements that are most pertinent to a given extreme weather event.
The site’s main page allows you to click on a U.S. map that shows ongoing, recent and significant past events, including heat waves, floods and other weather disasters as well as ecosystem shocks such as wildfire and high-latitude ice loss. Click on an event and you get a brief summary, together with a curated list of media reports and relevant research findings. Each event also features a schematic “tree” that shows the chain of physical and social processes running from greenhouse gases to the event. Some of the trees are richly branched; others have as little as a single connection. Rather than showing the relative strength of the various factors compared to each other or to natural variability, the trees are intended simply to show which aspects of climate change are most relevant to a given event. There is a “dashed line” branch used for links that are not yet firmly supported by observations but are consistent with model projections.
For journalists, policy makers or any other interested parties delving into such high-profile events as Hurricane Sandy or the multi-year California drought, Climate Signals will serve as a convenient and easy-to-navigate starting point. Peer-reviewed attribution studies—which are referenced throughout the Climate Signals site—are the place to dig deeper when researching how much a given facet of climate change may have influenced a particular extreme event.
We also found that the Real Time Data page—which contains more than 50 links to various websites on current extreme temperatures, rainfall, storms, drought, fire, sea level, insect activity, snow and ice—is a fantastic resource for researching the real-time impacts of extreme weather. The Climate Signals team is now seeking feedback on its beta site.