Better science can now show how humans are making extreme weather worse

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Political squabbles over global warming don’t extend to scientists, who are forming an increasingly clear picture of how climate change is contributing to present-day “natural” disasters.

In a report published in December’s Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, researchers show human actions directly contributed to multiple heat waves and droughts in 2014. They also found that humans are making some events like wildfires and tropical cyclones more likely.

This sort of attribution science, where scientists use historical data and models to find where extreme weather surpasses natural expectations, has now become widely accepted, says Michael Tippett, chief data scientist with the Columbia Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate.

But the research is far from complete. Particularly for complex storms, like wildfires, tornados and hurricanes, saying humans caused a particular disaster would require more information. For now, scientists have to settle with knowing that human-driven climate change makes many such events more likely.