This is what Hurricane Dorian did to the Bahamas in 2019. The future may look a lot worse.
This is what Hurricane Dorian did to the Bahamas in 2019. The future may look a lot worse.
Photo: Getty

Turns out that global warming may worsen future extreme weather a lot more than researchers previously thought.

A study published in Science Advances on Wednesday found that current attribution methods predicting the influence climate change will have on hurricanes, storms, heatwaves, and other weather events are likely underestimating what’s to come. In fact, the warming already baked into our planet should make heat events 80 percent more likely around the globe and wet events 50 percent more likely, per the study. This is at least 50 percent higher than previous predictions. The study could not find any significant increased influence, however, on dry events such as droughts. All our greenhouse gas emissions have yet to clearly leave their mark on those.

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Author Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth science at Stanford University, relied on climate model data, observational data, and a common methodology for attribution studies. He looked at the current historical timeframe that attribution methods use—1961 to 2005—and noticed that this period didn’t include the most recent extreme weather events. For instance, science has found that climate change made Hurricane Harvey in 2017 more likely. However, that hurricane isn’t included in current methodology because the timeframe ends at 2005. This study decided to add record-setting events from 2006 through 2017 into the mix.

Adding these years changed the results because additional greenhouse gas emissions have entered the atmosphere since 2005, furthering the influence of climate change over weather patterns. What these findings suggest is that a decade or two of additional warming continues to increase the likelihood of hot spells or storms. In turn, we’re seeing serious underestimates in predicting future disasters.

That’s concerning because, as the author points out, these predictions influence risk management decisions related to land use, finance, and water resources. If decision-makers are basing their decisions on the wrong numbers, they’re managing future risks pretty poorly. That means leaders aren’t preparing as well as they should be for future hurricanes and heatwaves.

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“We are seeing year after year how the rising incidence of extreme events is causing significant impacts on people and ecosystems,” Diffenbaugh said in a press release. “One of the main challenges in becoming more resilient to these extremes is accurately predicting how the global warming that’s already happened has changed the odds of events that fall outside of our historical experience.”

Right now, world leaders are doing very little even with what they know. Perhaps this new information will push them to action. Every year they don’t, these predictions will get worse.

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Senior staff writer, Earther. All things environmental justice, please. I'm addicted to Stardew and love few things more than I love my cat.

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