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Better Models Needed to Link Extreme Weather to Global Warming

Editorial (18 September 2012): Extreme Weather. Nature 489: 335-336 doi:10.1038/489335b.
This latest Editorial commentary in Nature, a leading Journal in climate change science begins with a statement "better (climate) models are needed before exceptional events can be reliably linked to global warming." The editorial further refers to "record summer Arctic sea-ice melt" and implies how rapid climate change may be affecting nations, communities and individual citizens who may begin to seek compensation for losses and damages arising from global warming. The editorial also refers to a recent workshop in Oxford (UK) convened by the "attribution of climate-related events group" where several scientists expressed doubts about climate models' ability to generate "attribution claim" and whether climate model outputs can be of any use to any section of the society.

The main emphasis of the editorial appears to be on development of better models to identify "fingerprints" of AGW (Anthropogenic Global warming) on extreme weather (EW) events, which can inflict disastrous impacts on human societies. What is however sorely missing from the editorial is any reference to past extreme weather events, which occurred long before the AGW became a possible factor! The editorial also omitted any reference to the development of a comprehensive climatology of past extreme weather events. Such a comprehensive climatology is important to determine if EW events have indeed become more frequent in recent years!

Improved communication technology and recent interest in EW events have helped provide increased coverage of such events in print and TV media. According to Unger (1999) American television viewers are three times more likely to see a story on EW today than they were just 30 years ago. This is possibly true in Europe and other nations as well. This recent media hype on EW events has created a perception of a link between EW and AGW. As summarized by Khandekar (2005) "the link between extreme weather and global warming is more a perception than reality."

The Nature editorial appears to have accepted this tenuous link between EW and AGW, without thoroughly examining the climatology of EW events. The editorial also ignores past EW events, which were most likely due to natural climate variability and were not linked to AGW.

Additional References
Khandekar, M.L., Murty, T.S. and Chittibabu, P. 2005. The global warming debate: A review of the state of science. Pure & Applied Geophysics 162: 1557-1586.

Unger, S. 1999. Is strange weather in the air? A study of US national network news coverage of extreme weather events. Climatic Change 41: 133-150.

Archived 3 October 2012