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How does extreme weather effect climate change?
Question Date: 2015-02-20
Answer 1:

Hi! Thanks for asking such a great question. I’m glad you recognize that there is a difference between extreme weather and climate change. Many people think that weather and climate are the same thing, but I see that you know better.

While weather is something we deal with on a day-to-day basis, climate is actually the average weather over a very long period of time. Most scientists consider climate the average weather over a 30 year period! So when it is warm outside one day and cold the next we don’t call it climate change, instead we just consider it normal changes in weather. Even though weather changes all the time and we even have extreme weather, like floods, if you look at the average temperatures and rainfall over a 30 year period you can get an idea of the global climate.

This brings me to your question on how extreme weather affects climate change. In fact, it is climate change that affects extreme weather rather than the other way around. A prediction of climate change is that extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts, and even blizzards – will happen more often. Many people point to big storms with a lot of freezing or snow as evidence that climate change isn’t happening, but in fact even big blizzards and hail storms agree with scientist’s predictions for climate change. When CO2 and other greenhouse gases are emitted into our atmosphere, our planet warms up. This can happen in many ways but a major way this happens is from humans burning fossil fuels like gasoline. When our planet is warmer our atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, which results in more extreme rainstorms or blizzards. This is because when warm air rises up, the moisture in the air cools down and turns into raindrops (or sometimes snow) and if there is more moisture in the air then more rain or snow will fall when the air cools down.

So, you may now be wondering how climate change could also cause extreme droughts. If we have more moisture in the air, why are so many states, including California, experiencing droughts? This is because as warm, moist air rises it dumps a lot of rain and then continues traveling towards the poles of the Earth as very dry air. This air then sinks back down in a region we call the subtropics – California and much of the Southern United States lie within the subtropics. When the dry air sinks in these areas it causes droughts Warmer global temperatures cause these dry winds to extend over a larger area than during cold times, meaning that droughts are more widespread due to global warming.

Scientists now agree that although it’s hard to point to any specific extreme weather event and say that it’s because of global climate change, that overall extreme weather events are happening more often, which is a result of climate change. I hope this answers your question!

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