Climate change as a matter of weather frequency

Experts in the field of “climate communications” (yes, there is one), say this summer’s record-breaking temperatures across the country will have little long term impact once snowy weather sinks in this winter. Yes, people are that ADD when it comes to having a weather memory.

Part of the confusion is that as weather changes, all the vagaries can chart people off course and keep them from seeing the bigger picture of climate. Now, if sweltering summers become the norm, or the expectation, it’s possible that people will begin to face how the climate is dramatically changing. And that’s just the kind of perspective that’s most accurate when it comes to understanding climate change.

Climatologist Heidi Cullen has written a new book – The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet. In a recent interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, Cullen explains how climate change should be viewed in terms of statistical frequency. A 100 year flood becomes a 10 year flood, or triple digit heat waves go from once every generation to every few years.

By looking at climate change in terms of the frequency of extreme weather events, rather than stand alone episodes, a clearer picture emerges of the future we are painting.

“We have this lone gunman theory. Was this climate change, was it caused by climate change?” says Cullen on Fresh Air. “When climatologists approach this weather event and attempt to do a weather autopsy … what they say is to what extent did human actions increase the likelihood of that happening?”

She gives as an example the 2003 European heat wave, in which human-caused global warming doubled or even quadrupled the chances of it happening.

“Climate change – the way we burn our fossil fuels – is literally working its way into our weather,” Cullen says. “So the same way we know cigarettes cause lung cancer, we know that climate change causes more extreme heat.”

A new normal is being established — one that some day no one will mistake as merely fluke weather.