As it turns out, this is a difficult question to answer because it is generally thought that it is impossible to attribute a single weather event to climate change. Extreme weather events will happen whether or not there is climate change. But the field of attribution science has made significant progress over the past five years.
In a recent (January 2, 2017) Scientific American interview with Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, Dr. Otto discusses how attribution science works and why it’s a critical part of helping communities prepare for and adapt to climate change.
According to Dr. Otto, “All extreme events have different forcings [factors that influence Earth’s climate], and one of the forcings can be climate change. With this research, we can now say an event of this magnitude has been made more or less likely due to climate change, or we can say what was once a one-in-150-year event in the past is now a one-in-50-year event.”
She says there are three reasons attribution science is important:
“One is that we don’t currently know very well what the actual impacts of climate change today are. We can predict the large-scale changes, but global average temperature increase does not kill people. What kills people are extreme weather events. This research allows us to get a more comprehensive picture of what climate change actually means.
“Second, it provides scientific evidence to the public discourse. When extreme events happen, people ask if climate change played a role. Quite often in the past it has been a politician who has answered that question, and it was completely independent of any scientific evidence.
“This research also allows us to make better planning decisions. When we know a drought is becoming more likely by a factor of 10 because of climate change, then we know we need to focus our adaptation efforts on that.”