Is Extreme Weather the New Normal?

Saturday, May 21, 2011
By Paul Martin

By Deborah Zabarenko
Bloomberg.com
Fri May 20, 2011

Heavy rains, deep snowfalls, monster floods and killing droughts are signs of a “new normal” of extreme U.S. weather events fueled by climate change, scientists and government planners said on Wednesday.

“It’s a new normal and I really do think that global weirding is the best way to describe what we’re seeing,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University told reporters.

“We are used to certain conditions and there’s a lot going on these days that is not what we’re used to, that is outside our current frame of reference,” Hayhoe said on a conference call with other experts, organized by the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists.

An upsurge in heavy rainstorms in the United States has coincided with prolonged drought, sometimes in the same location, she said, noting that west Texas has seen a record-length dry period over the last five years, even as there have been two 100-year rain events.

Hayhoe, other scientists, civic planners and a manager at the giant Swiss Re reinsurance firm all cited human-caused climate change as an factor pushing this shift toward more extreme weather.

While none would blame climate change for any specific weather event, Hayhoe said a background of climate change had an impact on every rainstorm, heat wave or cold snap.

“What we’re seeing is the new normal is constantly evolving,” said Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of Swiss Re’s Global Partnerships team. “Globally what we’re seeing is more volatility … there’s certainly a lot more integrated risk exposure.”

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