Impossible to link meteorological and climate events? bloomer

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The root of the problem

At first, it is natural that scientists traditionally hesitate to confuse meteorology and climatology: although they are related, they are Two distinct branches of science. The first refers to the study of atmospheric phenomena to predict the weather in a short time and in a particular place. The second relates to studying trends over a long period of time (at least 30 years). Climate scientists’ projections also cover large geographic areas, even the entire planet.

Thus what distinguishes weather from climate is the temporal scale (short term vs long term) and the spatial scale (limited areas on one hand, extending on the other).

In addition, scientists are not the only ones reluctant to make links between extreme weather events and climate change. Media too: There are rarely any reports linking these events to the main trend of global warming.

2017 study It concluded, for example, that less than 10% of articles in major US media go into this region regarding historical wildfires or floods, while 33% of articles link climate change to extreme heat waves, and 24% to droughts standard.


However, if even 15 years ago it was impossible to attribute meteorological events to climate change, today it is less and less the case. A modern branch of climatology is devoted exclusively to this. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated climate models, climate scientists – like these from Refer the weather in the world – Calculate in a very short time The probability of an extreme weather event occurring without climate change.

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More than 400 studies Attribution studies published to date have overwhelmingly concluded – about 70% – that weather-related disasters in the past decade have been more likely or more severe due to human-caused climate change. Many of the most devastating weather events in Canada since the early 2010s are listed among the links illustrated by this approach, which has also entitlement From eulogy In the last years. Attributing an extreme event to climate is now “routine” and constitutes a “reliable science”, Introductory judgment from the magazine temper nature in 2018.

European researchers For example concluded That the 2018 heatwaves — which, among other things, caused 74 deaths in Quebec — would have been nearly impossible without climate change. There was a wildfire in 2016 in Fort McMurray up to six times more due to climate change. It was the 2017 wildfire season in British Columbia two to four times more impressive.

This led to the issuance of experts from the World Meteorological Organization Recommendations To help scientists better explain the role of climate change in the recent weather event to the media. Instead of starting with the usual caveats […]talk of attribution of extreme conditions should begin with a reminder of how anthropogenic climate change affects the type of phenomenon involved,” they argue.

It’s hard to say if the whole thing really affected communication. study Published in 2020, which looked at how a small sample of one-fifth of California’s media attributed droughts in California to the climate, concluding that there was “interest” from its journalists, but it was hard to see a trend there.

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This is because the science of attribution works in terms of probabilities – such an event is four or six times as likely due to warming. By comparison, the temptation for journalists and the public often remains to reduce the problem to a binary answer – the extreme event is caused solely by global warming, or not – as Explains Wolfgang BlauCo-founder of the new Reuters Institute Program for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (Oxford Climate Press Network).

Image credits: Port Arthur, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey, August 2017 / SC National Guard / Wikipedia Commons

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