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Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change

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As climate has warmed over recent years, a new pattern of more frequent and more intense weather events has unfolded across the globe. Climate models simulate such changes in extreme events, and some of the reasons for the changes are well understood. Warming increases the likelihood of extremely hot days and nights, favors increased atmospheric moisture that may result in more frequent heavy rainfall and snowfall, and leads to evaporation that can exacerbate droughts.

Even with evidence of these broad trends, scientists cautioned in the past that individual weather events couldn't be attributed to climate change. Now, with advances in understanding the climate science behind extreme events and the science of extreme event attribution, such blanket statements may not be accurate. The relatively young science of extreme event attribution seeks to tease out the influence of human-cause climate change from other factors, such as natural sources of variability like El Niño, as contributors to individual extreme events.

Event attribution can answer questions about how much climate change influenced the probability or intensity of a specific type of weather event. As event attribution capabilities improve, they could help inform choices about assessing and managing risk, and in guiding climate adaptation strategies. This report examines the current state of science of extreme weather attribution, and identifies ways to move the science forward to improve attribution capabilities.

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Suggested Citation

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/21852.

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Publication Info

186 pages | 7 x 10
ISBNs:
  • Paperback: 978-0-309-38094-2
  • Ebook: 978-0-309-38097-3
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17226/21852
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How did climate change affect that extreme weather event?

Record-breaking heat and heavy downpours are just two types of extreme weather that are on the rise as Earth has warmed. While climate change is never the sole factor in any particular extreme weather event, teasing out its role can help government officials and businesses assess changing risks and better plan for the future. Watch this short animated video from the National Academies explain how the science of extreme weather event attribution is like baking cookies.

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