May 19, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Studies show climate change is increasingly driving extreme weather risks

Computer model depiction of high temperatures on May 19, 2022.

Computer model depiction of high temperatures on May 19, 2022. (

Two new climate attribution studies underline the growing role human-caused climate change plays in worsening extreme weather events.

Driving the news: The first study, out Wednesday from the U.K. Met Office, shows that climate change has already made the stifling and record heat seen this spring in northern India and Pakistan 100 times more likely to occur.

Why it matters: India in particular is seeing a sharp increase in urban heat extremes, which can sicken or kill thousands. This year, India saw its hottest March, and Pakistan along with parts of India had their hottest April. The record heat has continued this month as well.

What they found: The study examines the shifting probability of exceeding the record-breaking temperatures seen in April and May of 2010.

  • It shows the probability of setting such records without human influence is about once in 312 years.
  • But due to climate change, this has ballooned to once every 3 years.
  • By the end of the century, this level of heat, with widespread temperatures at or above 120°F, may be an annual occurrence.

Meanwhile, a separate study examined one of Japan's most damaging typhoons on record, 2019's Typhoon Hagibis, which brought devastating flooding.

Threat level: The study, from researchers affiliated with the international World Weather Attribution effort, found that human emissions of greenhouse gases made the extreme rainfall as the storm made landfall 67% more likely.

  • In a stark finding, the study concluded that the effects of climate change boosted the storm’s damage by at least $4 billion out of the $10 billion in insured losses.

Zoom in: The dollar figure attribution stands out in the emerging field of extreme event research, which works to reveal how global warming is shifting the odds of the occurrence and/or severity of heat waves, floods and other major events.

  • For the new research, scientists at Oxford University and Imperial College London studied rainfall amounts from the storm, and used computer models to compare how likely the deluge is in a world warmed by greenhouse gas emissions compared to one without human influence.
  • As air warms, it is able to hold more water vapor that can then fuel storms and yield much heavier precipitation totals.
  • A 2020 study found that $67 billion of Hurricane Harvey's damage could be pinned on climate change.

The bottom line: “The negative consequences of the continued burning of fossil fuels are now evident and can be felt also in wealthy countries like Japan," Friederike Otto, who leads the World Weather Attribution effort, said in a statement.

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