Research Challenges Affecting Extreme Events in a Changing Climate

Friday, 14 February 2014
Grand Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Michael Wehner , Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA
Extreme weather and climate events can have serious impacts on human and ecological systems. Changes in the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather associated with changes in the average climate are likely the most serious consequence of human induced global warming. Understanding what the future portends is vital if society hopes to adapt to a very different world. 

The definition of “extreme” event is highly subjective. Some types of weather and climate events are extreme because of their rarity. Others types of events are extreme in the context of their impacts.  As average temperatures continue to rise due to the human changes to the composition of the atmosphere, it is very likely that events we currently consider to be heat waves will occur more frequently and be more severe over the course of this century. In fact, events that are currently considered rare will likely become commonplace. For instance, daily temperatures currently expected to occur about once every twenty years are projected to be experienced as frequently as every other year over large portions of the continental United States by the end of the 21st century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to follow historical trends.  Accurate simulation of precipitation presents a much more difficult problem to climate models than does temperature.   

This presentation will discuss opportunities enabled by current state of the art statistical methods and the rapidly increasing fidelity of climate models.