The rapid succession of precedent-shattering extreme weather events in North America and Europe this summer is prompting some scientists to question whether climate extremes are worsening faster than expected, Andrew writes.
Why it matters: Extreme weather events are the deadliest, most expensive and immediate manifestations of climate change.
- Any miscalculations in how severe these events may become, from wildfires to heat waves and heavy rainfall, could make communities more vulnerable.
Driving the news: The West is roasting this summer, with heat records falling seemingly every day. Forests from Washington State to Montana to California are burning amid the worst drought conditions of the 21st century.
- Authorities in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are still searching for victims of a devastating flood event that killed more than 180.
What they're saying: Axios spoke to nine leading scientists involved in extreme event research.
The Pacific Northwest heat wave is being viewed with more suspicion than the European floods as a possible indicator of something new and more dangerous that researchers have missed: a climate science blind spot.
- For example, Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, says he is no longer sure if climate models are accurately capturing how global warming is playing out when it comes to regional extremes specifically.
- "If you'd asked me this three months ago, I would have said 'models are doing fine,'" he says. "But this last string of disasters has really shaken my confidence in the models' predictions of regional extremes."
Zoom in: Some scientists, such as Penn State's Michael Mann and Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, have shown that even the most up-to-date climate models fail to capture one of the main mechanisms that's contributing to some of these extremes — a phenomenon known as "planetary wave resonance."
- Such weather patterns feature stuck, sharply undulating jet stream patterns, like a meandering river of air at high altitudes, which can lock weather systems in place for long periods.
- This type of weather pattern existed across the Northern Hemisphere in the run-up to and during the Pacific Northwest heat wave.
Of note: Society's vulnerability to extreme events is somewhat independent of any weather extremes successfully outpacing expectations.
- Policymakers should improve public warning systems, according to Friederike Otto, a climatologist at the University of Oxford. "The imperfectness of models is not a reason our societies are not prepared."
The bottom line: Philip Duffy, executive director of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, says accelerated extreme weather events show the urgent need to address climate change.
- "We already know what we need to do: Initiate rapid decarbonization, remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and improve resilience to future extreme events," he adds.