It has been well established for quite some time that extreme weather events are, and will continue to be, a result of climate change (anthropogenic or otherwise). The question that remains, however, is exactly what types of weather events are affected by a shift in Earth’s climate.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recently “cleared the air” on this issue and shed some light on the wind, water and heat conditions future generations can expect to witness as a result of our changing climate.
Some changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have already been observed, such as those related to drought and flood patterns. Although these phenomena may strike you as events with opposite causes, the atmospheric and hydrologic processes behind very dry and very wet weather patterns are actually quite related.
There is already evidence of abnormal drought and flood conditions, to the point where we are seeing both types within a small geographic area (think Australia). Yet the IPCC reports “medium confidence” when it comes to drought and rain.
Their reasons for an indefinite answer? A lack of consensus within scientific research in this area. For instance, while some scientists claim that intensity and frequency of hurricanes will both increase, others believe as though hurricanes will become more intense, but not more frequent. The panel has been criticized for their wishy-washy statements on this issue; however, there are other weather events that are virtually guaranteed to intensify as the climate continues to change.
In fact, “virtually certain” are the exact words used by the IPCC to describe projections for heat waves and overall hotter (or colder) climate throughout much of the world, depending on specific regions (keeping in mind some areas will actually face extreme cold events as a result of climate change). Overall, however, there is a 90-100% chance of increased heat waves globally. Scientists generally agree that this is by far the most devastating news stemming from this report, considering dry spells and heat waves not only threaten environmental integrity, but also human health and well-being.
Of course, the IPCC will face criticism from various climate change skeptics, but serious consideration of these findings will help us not only plan for, but also possibly mitigate some of these foreseeable hurricanes, droughts, floods, and heat waves.