92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Monday, 23 January 2012: 11:00 AM
Causes of Weather and Climate Extremes: Communicating the State of Knowledge
Room 243 (New Orleans Convention Center )
Thomas R. Karl, NOAA/NCDC, Asheville, NC

During this past year, a record number of billion dollar weather and climate extremes have occurred within the United States. This has raised numerous questions about the causes of such a large number of extremes that have resulted in loss of life, human hardship, and staggering economic damages. From a weather perspective, providing pertinent of information about the cause of a specific phenomena occurs in near-real time, and is often linked to unusual strength or persistence of one or more atmospheric or oceanic circulation patterns. However, from a climate perspective rapid response to such questions is more problematic, in particular, the often-posed question from the public, “Is this Global Warming?” To complicate the situation, such questions are often posed to both weather and climate experts.

Most scientists would prefer to address questions about the causes of a specific extreme event based on focused research and peer-review, followed by thorough assessments. The span of time for such an investment however, misses a key opportunity to educate the public about the state of knowledge about potential human influences on various weather and climate extreme phenomena. No doubt, following such protocol is certainly necessary, but not sufficient to educate the public. To supplement such a protocol, the weather and climate community would be well served to speak from a readily available peer-reviewed set of “State of Knowledge Fact Sheets.” These fact sheets should address a broad spectrum of weather and climate extremes. The fact sheets should focus on whether climate science can determine the human contribution to any specific event, and the state of knowledge about the human and natural causes of observed trends and changes in specific kinds of extreme events, e.g., heat waves or hurricanes. They need to address theory, modeling, and attribution studies. Fact sheets are needed for the full spectrum of weather and climate extremes, from tornadoes and hurricanes to heat waves and severe snows.

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