Jun 23, 2018 - Energy & Environment

Cheat sheet: How climate change affects our weather

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One way we're each experiencing climate change today is in the form of extreme weather.

Why it matters: According to numerous studies, climate change is making some events, like heatwaves and heavy downpours, more intense and more likely to occur. These can be deadly, damaging and expensive.

"There is essentially no uncertainty that the Earth is warming, and that we're responsible. There is uncertainty in what exactly this means, for whom, and where.  This uncertainty isn't comforting, it's terrifying: if we knew exactly what was coming, we could plan ahead. But we don't, and we're facing a huge and certain threat partially in the dark."
— NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel to Axios

Between the lines: Think of climate change as an aggravating factor in our weather, rather than something that causes a specific event to occur. For example, Axios' Amy Harder wrote that climate change "is like diabetes for the planet," because it aggravates pre-existing conditions.

  • Heat waves: Scientists have the most confidence when it comes to making a connection between heat waves and global warming.
  • Heavy precipitation events: Similarly, scientists are confident in making links between heavy downpours and climate change, since a warmer atmosphere carries more water vapor.
  • Hurricanes: We know that climate change is melting land ice, which is causing sea levels to rise.
  • Wildfires: Most scientific studies show that large wildfires across the western U.S. have increased in recent decades. The two biggest reasons:
    • Hotter temperatures: Forests dry out and are more primed for wildfires that grow more rapidly than they otherwise would have been with lower temperatures.
    • More firefighting: The century-old practice of suppressing wildfires has ironically helped cause wildfires to be more intense when they do burn because there is more forest to burn.

What's next: Scientists are racing to get a better understanding of the stability of the planet's ice sheets, which determine sea level rise and coastal flooding.

  • Recent studies have revised sea level projections upward from just a few years ago.

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Editor's note: Axios energy reporter Amy Harder contributed reporting.

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