Freakish weather disasters — from the sudden October snowstorm in the Northeast U.S. to the record floods in Thailand — are striking more often. And global warming is likely to spawn more similar weather extremes at a huge cost, says a draft summary of an international climate report obtained by The Associated Press.
The final draft of the report from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a wild future for a world already weary of weather catastrophes costing billions of dollars. The report says costs will rise and perhaps some locations will become “increasingly marginal as places to live.”
This marks a change in climate science from focusing on subtle changes in daily average temperatures to concentrating on the harder-to-analyze freak events that grab headlines, cause economic damage and kill people. The most recent bizarre weather extreme, the pre-Halloween snowstorm in the U.S., is typical of the damage climate scientists warn will occur — but it’s not typical of the events they tie to global warming.
So while in the past the climate change panel, formed by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization, has discussed extreme events in snippets in its report, this time the scientists are putting them all together. The report, which needs approval by diplomats at the mid-November meeting, tries to measure the confidence scientists have in their assessment of climate extremes both future and past.
The report does say scientists are “virtually certain” — 99 percent — that the world will have more extreme spells of heat and fewer of cold. Heat waves could peak as much as 5 degrees hotter by mid-century and even 9 degrees hotter by the end of the century.
The report said hurricanes and other tropical cyclones — like 2005’s Katrina — are likely to get stronger in wind speed, but won’t increase in number and may actually decrease. Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel, who studies climate’s effects on hurricanes, disagrees and believes more of these intense storms will occur.
And global warming isn’t the sole villain in future climate disasters, the climate report says. An even bigger problem will be the number of people — especially the poor — who live in harm’s way.
Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters, said the basics of the report seem to be proven true by what’s happening every day. “In the U.S., this has been the weirdest weather year we’ve had for my 30 years, hands down. Certainly this October snowstorm fits in with it.”