Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective

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This BAMS special report presents assessments of how human-caused climate change may have affected the strength and likelihood of individual extreme events.

This sixth edition of explaining extreme events of the previous year (2016) from a climate perspective is the first of these reports to find that some extreme events were not possible in a preindustrial climate. The events were the 2016 record global heat, the heat across Asia, as well as a marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska. While these results are novel, they were not unexpected. Climate attribution scientists have been predicting that eventually the influence of human-caused climate change would become sufficiently strong as to push events beyond the bounds of natural variability alone. It was also predicted that we would first observe this phenomenon for heat events where the climate change influence is most pronounced. Additional retrospective analysis will reveal if, in fact, these are the first events of their kind or were simply some of the first to be discovered.

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