Explaining extreme events of 2015 from a climate perspective

This fifth edition of explaining extreme events of the previous year (2015) from a climate perspective continues to provide evidence that climate change is altering some extreme event risk. Without exception, all the heat-related events studied in this year’s report were found to have been made more intense or likely due to human-induced climate change, and this was discernible even for those events strongly influenced by the 2015 El Niño. Furthermore, many papers in this year’s report demonstrate that attribution science is capable of separating the effects of natural drivers including the strong 2015 El Niño from the influences of long-term human-induced climate change.

Confidence in results and ability to quickly do an attribution analysis depend on the “three pillars” of event attribution: the quality of the observational record, the ability of models to simulate the event, and our understanding of the physical processes that drive the event and how they are being impacted by climate change. A result that does not find a role for climate change may be because one or more of these three elements is insufficient to draw a clear conclusion. As these pillars are strengthened for different event types, confidence in the presence and absence of a climate change influence will increase.

Researchers also link how changes in extreme event risk impact human health and discomfort during heat waves, specifically by looking at the role of climate change on the wet bulb globe temperature during a deadly heat wave in Egypt. This report reflects a growing interest within the attribution community to connect attribution science to societal impacts to inform risk management through “impact attribution.” Many will watch with great interest as this area of research evolves in the coming years.

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Publication date 2016
Author(s) Herring, S.C.; Hoell, A.; Hoerling, M.P.; Kossin, J.P.; Schreck III, C.J.; Stott, P. A.
Number of pages 145 p.