What Does Extreme Weather Mean for Climate Change Educators?

Over the last month it has been hard to miss the news reports, blogs and editorial commentary on the extreme weather events that have been sweeping the country.  Tornadoes, flooding, and above normal temperatures have caught the media and the nation’s attention and looking for answers, inevitably the question has risen, “is THIS climate change?”, and furthermore as climate change educators, what do we say?

I have come across a number of great discussions and responses to these questions and these, in combination with some suggestions from co-workers and colleagues in the Climate Literacy Network, I have shared and tornadosummarized below.

The bottom line?  Linking a specific weather event to climate change is very difficult (although possible as described in the first source cited), and tornadoes are especially tricky because there is still little known about how they even form.  That said, most sources agree that these weather events “could signal the future,” “we ain’t seen nothing yet,” and finally:

“…our local weather-demons have dropped an important teaching moment on our doorsteps–in some cases with a mighty splash. We may not have reached the new normal yet, but we can probably see it from here. Asking if climate change caused our crazy weather this year misses a more focused and potentially important question: Is this something we should plan for over the long term?”

As educators this is a “teachable moment” to delve deeper into how weather works  and how models work.  Inevitably it also presents the opportunity to discuss what adaptation means, if these extreme weather events become more frequent, as the IPCC and many other credible sources have predicted.

Further Reading
Going to extremes:  Real Climate Blog
This summary of recent articles in Nature on whether we can attribute specific weather events to climate change was the best I came across.

Missouri weather whips up media discussion of climate change and extreme weather:  Joseph Romm for grist
Excellent overview of responses to the big question.

The “new normal” weather
Nice article one how this scientist has decided to answer the question and why it is important.

Are You Ready for More?
Comprehensive article on the consequences of inaction on climate change at the policy level as it relates to extreme weather.

Another Day, Another Deadly Tornado Strikes the US
Nice in depth explanation of how tornadoes and other extreme weather are linked to climate change and La Nina, including some videos

Yale 360Forum:  Is Extreme Weather Linked to Global Warming?
Eight climate scientists answer this very question.

Looking for causality in all the wrong places
This short commentary wonders if perhaps the media is just asking the wrong question.

Extreme Weather May Be The New Normal:  NPR’s Here and Now
Great 13 minute podcast
From floods to blizzards to wildfires, droughts and tornadoes, 2011 has seen some of the most extreme weather in decades. What’s fueling Mother Nature’s fury and can climate change alone explain the reason we are seeing more devastating and destructive storms?

A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!
Bill McKibben’s most recent op-ed call to action.


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