By Jeff Johnson
Is the climate changing, and are we really seeing more extreme and volatile weather events? We certainly believe so based on our company’s experience forecasting the weather around the world for the past three decades. Climate is an everchanging process with numerous cycles involving the oceans, the sun, and the Earth’s surface all interacting with each other and creating variability and change over time. Our observations suggest that the patterns have produced more unusual events in recent years, with some of the more extreme ones having a direct impact on our day-to-day lives.
It is important for individuals and organizations grappling with the effects of climate change to strengthen their awareness of the many risks posed by these weather fluctuations. A heightened understanding of the challenges associated with climate change will support the development of a more robust strategy that allows for creative solutions to address these risks.
While knowledge of how the climate system works has grown significantly over the past few decades, many questions remain unanswered. Many forces, both man-made and natural, can affect the climate, but quantifying those influences and accurately projecting the future is still a work in progress. The recent increased volatility of the climate system, however, is one change that stands out to many researchers.
A few examples of this changed climate system being researched include:
- Increased incidence of extreme dryness or wetness
- More extended periods of abnormally warm or cold weather
- Higher rainfall totals in the heaviest rain events
- More concentrated periods of severe weather
- Higher incidence of extreme warmth—but extreme cold still occurs
What are the impacts of the increased climate volatility?
- Increased flooding risk
- Extended dry periods or drought
- Warm and cold periods tend to linger
- Greater risk of wildfires in dry areas
- Severe weather tending to cluster more in active periods
- Slower movement and changes in jet stream patterns leading to more stalled weather systems in specific regions of the globe
- More “Black Swan” events or ones that are unusual and unexpected, such as 2012’s Hurricane Sandy
Even with improved weather observations, modeling, and forecasting, these extreme and unexpected events can still be difficult to predict. A greater awareness of some of the primary impacts of climate change is important in creating effective short-term and long-term adaptive strategies.
It is important for both businesses and governments to recognize the effects of climate change and develop greater risk awareness for increased weather volatility. The increased frequency of heat waves, drought, and wildfires can cause significant economic losses, higher food and commodity costs, and disruptions in the supply chain, meaning greater financial risks for large corporations. Warming temperatures, especially in large urban areas at night, put new strains on electric grids as well as human health. Increased urban flooding resulting from intense rainfall events will create issues for utilities and storm water management, as well as disrupt transportation. Implementing a flexible and thorough plan that addresses the risk potential of disruptive weather will allow businesses and governments to more quickly respond to these challenges.
While we can’t control the weather, we can control our preparation for and response to extreme weather. Mitigation and adaptation are reasonable courses of action. Investing in systems, tools, and infrastructure to ensure the best response to extreme weather events is prudent. In order to prepare, utilities, cities, and counties need to invest now in state-of-the-art decision support equipment, software, and resilient infrastructure to stand up to the threats of our changing climate and society’s increased sensitivity to it.
Johnson is chief science officer at Schneider Electric and has been with the company for more than 30 years. He is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist, whose certification illustrates the highest level of professionalism and overall knowledge of the science of meteorology.