Attribution of climate extreme events
Trenberth, K. E., Fasullo, J. T. and Shepherd, T. G. (2015) Attribution of climate extreme events. Nature Climate Change, 5 (8). pp. 725-730. ISSN 1758-678X
To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2657
There is a tremendous desire to attribute causes to weather and climate events that is often challenging from a physical standpoint. Headlines attributing an event solely to either human-induced climate change or natural variability can be misleading when both are invariably in play. The conventional attribution framework struggles with dynamically driven extremes because of the small signal-to-noise ratios and often uncertain nature of the forced changes. Here, we suggest that a different framing is desirable, which asks why such extremes unfold the way they do. Specifically, we suggest that it is more useful to regard the extreme circulation regime or weather event as being largely unaffected by climate change, and question whether known changes in the climate system's thermodynamic state affected the impact of the particular event. Some examples briefly illustrated include 'snowmaggedon' in February 2010, superstorm Sandy in October 2012 and supertyphoon Haiyan in November 2013, and, in more detail, the Boulder floods of September 2013, all of which were influenced by high sea surface temperatures that had a discernible human component.