Scientists are learning just how climate change impacts extreme weather events – NPR

by | Jul 6, 2022 | Climate Change

For decades, it was impossible to say that a specific weather event was caused, or even made worse, by climate change. But advanced research methods are changing that.

A derecho barreled through South Dakota yesterday. A heat wave is lingering over Texas, and wildfires are burning across Alaska. When weather gets extreme, a lot of people wonder and worry about climate change. Michael Wehner is a senior scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
MICHAEL WEHNER: People want to know – you know, has climate change affected me? Did climate change flood my house? Did climate change make it so hot that my power went out? Those kinds of questions – and those are good questions.
SUMMERS: For a long time, scientists did not really have answers. But as NPR’s Rebecca Hersher reports, that’s changing.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: This is cutting-edge science, and here’s how it works. After a flood or a heat wave or some other disaster, scientists sit down and compare what actually happened – like, how hot it got or how much rain fell – to what would have happened if there was no global warming. And to do that, they use really powerful computers, excellent weather satellites and fancy new math. And it’s easier to do for some types of weather. Wehner was one of the OG scientists working on this problem.
WEHNER: Well, the heat waves were where we started.
HERSHER: Because heat …

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