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    Climate Wars: How Science Unveils the Human Impact on Today’s Intense Weather Events

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    Hurricane Ida is pictured as a category 2 storm” by NASA Johnson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    As the remnants of Hurricane Ida faded, leaving a swath of destruction across Louisiana and the Northeast in August, 2021, questions surged: Was climate change the puppeteer behind the tragedy that claimed 82 lives? Science now offers a resounding response, not just for Ida, but for a multitude of extreme weather events ripping across the globe.

    Severe Weather” by Zach Frailey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Attribution science, a relatively new field, strides forward, quantifying the human fingerprint on climate catastrophes. Ten years ago, this would have been near impossible, but today, scientists wield sophisticated tools to determine not if climate change caused an event but if it fueled its ferocity.

    Extreme weather and the trig pillar” by Ordnance Survey is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    For instance, the World Weather Attribution initiative’s real-time analyses dissect climate calamities swiftly after they occur, piecing out the climate change component.

    Drought” by Mundoo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Hurricane Ida’s deluge was a grim showcase of this new forensic climatology. It’s an intricate dance, determining the role of climate change in such events, especially given their variability.

    brown wooden boat on brown sand during daytime
    Photo by YODA Adaman on Unsplash

    Climate scientist Radley Horton from Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory revealed the challenge in pinpointing the climate’s role in extreme rainfall, a factor in Ida’s fury.

    drought” by IRRI Images is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Climate models, while continually improving, grapple with extreme precipitation due to their broad-brush approach. With grid boxes spanning vast areas, they often miss the hyper-localized nature of the most severe downpours.

    brown tree branch on brown field during daytime
    Photo by Juanita Swart on Unsplash

    As Horton explained, the task is formidable but not insurmountable. Each passing decade delivers richer datasets and technological advances, like satellites and higher resolution models, sharpening the image of climate change’s impact.

    brown animal skull on gray sand during daytime
    Photo by Upesh Manoush on Unsplash

    The lens turns to Europe and Asia, where attribution science has flexed its muscles, dissecting the threads of human-induced climate change woven into recent heatwaves.

    Philly Snow Storm Feb. 6, 2010” by Kevin Burkett is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Germany’s catastrophic flooding in July, 2021 was analyzed by the WWA, revealing human actions had raised the event’s likelihood up to ninefold compared to a century ago, with warming temperatures hiking the rainfall volume by 19%.

    Storm” by Dick Sijtsma is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    Across the Pacific Northwest, an unprecedented heatwave shattered records, now assessed as a 1 in 1,000-year event – which, without the clutches of climate change, might have never occurred. And when Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas and Louisiana in 2017, attribution studies found that climate change tripled its likelihood, adding a 15% increase to the storm’s rainfall.

    body of water surrounded by fog
    Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

    The scientific community is reaching a consensus: while extreme weather has always menaced humanity, climate change has loaded the dice. Extreme events like heatwaves, droughts, and severe storms are no longer rogue waves but rising tides, with human-induced climate change firmly at the helm.

    lightning strike at night
    Photo by Max LaRochelle on Unsplash

    But the reach of attribution science doesn’t end with academia. It’s now a beacon in the courtroom, with the Climate Attribution Database supporting legal disputes tied to climate policies and impacts.

    huge wave at daytime
    Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash

    It empowers policymakers, equipping them with the rigorous data needed to justify regulations and potentially, in the future, anticipate extreme events for proactive measures.

    thunderstorm with dark clouds
    Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash

    As attribution science matures, it steers us towards a harsh reality: the days of dismissing the human role in extreme weather are over. The field not only sharpens our understanding but also arms us with the accountability necessary for decisive action.

    big waves crashing on lighthouse during daytime
    Photo by Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash

    In the relentless push and pull between natural variability and anthropogenic influence, attribution science is a revolutionary step towards understanding our changing world. This is not just about numbers; it’s about lives, economies, and the future we forge on this increasingly volatile planet.

    Relevant articles:
    Attribution Science: Linking Climate Change to Extreme Weather, State of the Planet
    The value of attributing extreme events to climate change | Explained, The Hindu
    Climate attribution tools critical for understanding extreme events, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (.gov)
    Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world, Carbon Brief

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