Extreme weather and climate change

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Today, the nonprofit Environment New Mexico released an interactive map showing county-by-county data related to weather-related disasters such as severe rain events, floods, snow and ice storms, and drought. New Mexico has experienced eight weather-related disasters since September 2010.

Scientists have been reluctant to link extreme weather events to climate change, citing the need for more information. But earlier this year, the National Academies Press reported that human-caused climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events—and in particular, drought, heat waves, and heavy rain and snow storms.

According to that report, studying the links between climate change and extreme weather events help people understand how and why the frequency and intensity of extremes has changed over time.

“There is an element of scientific curiosity,” write the authors. “But the primary motivation for event attribution goes beyond science.”

Extreme events are directly traceable to loss of life, rising food and energy prices, increasing costs of disaster relief and insurance, fluctuations in property values, and concerns about national security (for example, Superstorm Sandy led to supplemental Congressional legislation to increase the National Weather Service’s numerical weather modeling capacity). Further, global insurer Munich Re calculated that natural disasters cost over $90 billion in insured losses in 2015 alone. A study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society noted that weather affects about 3.4% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, or more than $500 billion per year.

On Tuesday, the Union of Concerned Scientists is scheduled to release a report about climate impacts to New Mexico.

 

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