Why Are Extreme “One-In-A-Lifetime” Weather Events Becoming More Frequent?

Reading Time: 3 min

Summer 2022 is coming to an end, and it has been the most extreme weather season in the past 50 years.

Europe has witnessed one of the hottest summers on record, with wildfires taking over Southern Europe. Asia has seen extreme shifts in their monsoon season patterns, with Pakistan now experiencing the worst flooding in its history with over 1,000 people dead in the past month.

Wildfires in Spain June 2022
Flooding in Pakistan August 2022

Meteorologists across the news state time and time again, that these events are “once in a lifetime.” However, these “once in a lifetime” events seem to be happening every year.

What Is Meant by “Once-In-A-Lifetime”?

When meteorologists say an event is “once-in-a-lifetime” or “once in hundred years” it doesn’t mean that it will happen only once in our lifetime, but rather through studying weather patterns across history, meteorologists can predict how often such events should happen.

What is undeniable about the significant increases in such events is that they are undeniably caused by climate change.

How Is Human Behaviour Affecting the Climate?

We all know that human behaviour has impacted the climate in one way or another. We have read the articles on how to be better sustainable citizens. However, what is the science behind our impact on the planet?

Starting in the early 2000s, scientists worldwide started to thoroughly investigate the relationship of the human impact on extreme weather events. This was named “extreme event attribution.” Extreme event attribution can be defined as “a field of scientific study that tries to measure how ongoing climate change directly affects recent extreme weather events.”

Initially, extreme event attribution started with almost 400 peer review studies across the world, ranging from typhoons in Asia to record-breaking downpours in the UK and fires across the United States. However, today more and more climate organizations are using extreme event attribution to explain the connections between why these “once in a hundred year” events are becoming more frequent and their link with climate change.

Check out this interactive map from Carbon Brief which tracks how climate change has been increasing the frequency of extreme weather events across the world.

Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world

What Has Extreme Event Attribution Been Able to Tell Us?

First of all, extreme event attribution cannot tell us that global warming for sure caused a severe weather event, however, it can tell us whether there is a historical link between the burning of fossil fuels, or increasing population and the frequency of such weather events.

For example, by looking at rain patterns throughout weather history in the Gulf of Mexico, we can see that the frequency of years between massive rain events has decreased from 50 years to 30 years, and the intensity of rain has also increased by 10%. What has also been identified is that carbon emissions have also significantly increased in those years, as well as fossil fuel production.

Increased Extreme Rainfall Events in The Gulf of Mexico

Other studies have found that human-related climate change has had a 70% chance of impacting the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Most importantly, human-related climate change has a direct impact on heat, specifically as it is the main contributing factor to the hole in the ozone layer.

Increased heat has caused glaciers to melt and average temperatures across the world to significantly increase. China is currently experiencing one of their hottest summers on record with daily average temperatures at 40 degrees. Due to this Chinese people have turned to indoor skiing to cool down. Spain and Portugal witnessed 40-degree heat across July, and Pakistan is currently drowning in mass flooding due to melting glaciers.

Indoor Ski Resort in Beijing China
Largest Indoor Ski Resort in Beijing China

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