How Climate Change Affects Extreme Weather in the US.

By Bobbi Peterson - 19 Dec 2017 11:15:0 GMT
How Climate Change Affects Extreme Weather in the US.

You get heat, you get wild fires, whether in Australia, Spain. Portugal or southern France. The West Coast of the USA has become, more and more, one of the prime candidates for these extensive fires, particularly in California. This one is in the north of the state, in Siskiyou County. Klamath National Forest image Credit: Matt Howard

Global warming is a bit of a misnomer. While the average earthly temperature does climb in correlation to the amount of atmospheric carbon, people tend to rely on their observations of the weather to validate or repudiate the science behind climate change. After an unusually warm winter, many will claim they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, while others might point to record low temperatures in other parts of the world as evidence to the contrary.

While such observations are convenient to use as evidence for already-formed opinions on the matter, these should not hold as scientific proof for or against the climate change science. When observing weather-related phenomena, it is important to look at the factors concerning the weather and to determine how slight changes in global temperature might impact them.

Tides, for instance, will shift depending on the temperature of the water and the seasonal currents. One of the most significant controlling factors in weather across the globe, tides oscillate in somewhat predictable patterns, supplying cold and warm water to various parts of the world. With the changes in global temperature and the melting of icecaps, infusions of cold water from ice melt drastically change the orderly machinations of the tides.

In this instance, strange weather is indicative of global climate change. The following are a couple of extreme weather phenomena and how global warming can exacerbate them.


The West Coast has been experiencing increasingly worse droughts each summer. Many scientists are attributing the dramatic uptick in dryness and wildfires to global climate change. Here’s how:

Increased global temperatures have reduced the annual snowpack on mountains around the West Coast. Because of this, and the little remaining snow melting earlier in the season than usual, the availability of water during peak dry season is harder to find. Other human activity, including using water for irrigation and in urban settings, put an ever-greater strain on the water and result in drier summers.

With hotter, drier summers, vegetation suffers the most. Trees and shrubbery dry out quicker, and the buildup of dry, dead fuel in and around forested areas results in more forest fires, as seen this year in California. Fires become harder to control because the water is so limited and the availability of fuel has significantly increased.


A plethora of oceanic factors contributes to the worsening of tropical storms and hurricanes in recent years. First, simply having a higher ocean temperature will naturally intensify storms and hurricanes, which feed on warm air and water as they intensify. Warm air rises, creating the cyclone motion of hurricanes.

However, other factors also contribute to the worsening tropical weather. A warmer atmosphere naturally carries more humidity and moisture, which worsens rainstorms and adds to the ferocity of the storm at hand and the flooding that comes with it. Keep in mind that the majority of the destruction caused by hurricanes is due to flooding, even more so than the initial storm surge.


Ironically, global warming is contributing to severe snowstorms in different areas of the world. Snowfall comes down to slightly increased atmospheric temperatures and the increased moisture associated with said warmth. More moisture in the atmosphere means snowstorms are more likely — snow is freezing atmospheric precipitation — and more severe when storms do occur. Expect continuing harsh winter weather, and make sure you prepare accordingly this season. The science runs deeper than just this, however. The increased atmospheric temperatures also allow for more

days when the atmosphere hits the perfect Goldilocks temperature — when the temperature is slightly below freezing, allowing for maximum atmospheric moisture while still supporting snowfall. On winter days when the temperature might typically fall too far below that threshold, resulting in scattered, tiny flakes, we instead experience massive, thick snowfall.

A Look to the Future

Things are going to get strange over the coming decades. We can expect continued coastal beatings from increasingly powerful tropical storms and hurricanes. KL. Rasmussen of Colorado State University gave us this paper yesterday on exactly how we expect climate change will be affected locally by global warming: This summary can be used to reach Climate Dynamics, the journal involved. What we expect is that some parts of the U.S. will progressively dry into desert, while others will see massive snowfall in the winter. Temperature fluctuations may not be noticeable for a while, but strange weather patterns will continue, showing us just how severe global climate change can be.