Is there a relationship between extreme weather and global warming? A recent documentary that aired on NBC called Our Year of Extremes: Did Climate Change Just Hit Home? suggested that there is such a relationship. The documentary interviewed a number of scientists who theorize that rising temperatures is causing the arctic ice to melt which in turn is causing a number of extreme weather phenomenon such as the current drought that is afflicting California and the unusually cold weather in North America that resulted from the migration of the polar vortex further south than is usually the case.
Climate scientists interviewed for the documentary believe, global warming will cause even more extreme weather going forward. There will be more powerful storms, more extremes of heat and cold as the planet’s climate is disrupted, and, with rising sea levels, many coastal areas will be flooded. The time to address these problems, by reducing CO 2 emissions into the atmosphere, is now, according to the documentary.
There is, however, some dissension. Scientists caution that a single year of unusual weather does not a trend make. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, who was interviewed for the documentary, refused to make a direct link between climate change and extreme weather, but suggested that temperature changes makes things like the migration of the polar vortex more likely.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Bjorn Lomborg, an economics professor who writes frequently on environmental matters, cited a number of scientific studies that concluded that the net effect of global warming on weather is a little more nuanced than some would be led to believe by some in the media.
For instance, global warming means that temperatures will rise. But that means that there will be both more heat waves and fewer cold snaps. Lomborg points out that people are more prone to die in extreme cold than in extreme heat.
Global warming will cause more heavy rain. However that would help to alleviate water scarcity, a vexing problem in the third world. Droughts will be generated in some parts of the world but will decrease in others. Water levels will rise but not as much as some fear, impacting about .1 percent of the world’s economy.
Hurricane wind speeds will increase, but the frequency of hurricanes will decrease. The number of extra-tropical cyclones will decrease as well.
Wildfires in North America are increasing, but this seems to be a function of fire suppression efforts that are leaving more fuel to feed these conflagrations.
Studies suggest that damage wrought by droughts; floods, hurricanes, and other weather phenomenon have actually decreased over the past several decades. They will continue to decrease going further, according to Lomborg.
Thus there is a debate not only about global warming but also about what its ultimate effects will be and what needs to be done about it.