Subcommittee Discusses Climate Change Impacts on Severe Weather

Dec 11, 2013
Subcommittee Discusses Climate Change Impacts on Severe Weather

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing entitled “A Factual Look at the Relationship between Climate and Weather.” The stated purpose of the hearing was to examine the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events. Members emphasized the prevailing scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is real, and discussed the need to better understand the relationship between severe weather events and climate to better manage the risks associated with a changing climate.

Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said in her opening statement, “The lesson of this hearing cannot be that a potential link between climate change and severe weather is too difficult to determine or understand, and therefore we should stop trying. It should not be controversial to examine if the weather will change as a consequence of global warming. Scientific projections from the IPCC make it apparent that we will live in a hotter world--we already have a warmer world than that of our grandparents. In many of our districts, residents will experience drier environments with more drought. Those of us who represent particularly wet areas may find that precipitation arriving in more intense storms. The oceans will be warmer and that may well produce stronger or more frequent tropical storms. To focus only on the question of whether there will be more extreme events misses the point that by the end of this century much of the world as we know it, in our districts and states, will be considerably altered by the weather effects of climate change.”

Minority witness Dr. David Titley (USN Rear Admiral, retired) said in his testimony, “Our country is dealing with a significant change in the world’s climate; it is a large challenge. Saying we don’t know today the impact of climate change on [weather] phenomena is very different than stating that climate change has no impact on typhoons and hurricanes. What we do know is that these storms are forming in a warmer, moister environment and above a warmer ocean. We also know that current research indicates our future may include more intense, and possibly more frequent, storms. That is a risk not to be summarily discounted.”

Earlier this week, the Reinsurance Association of America sent a letter to the committee stating their support for close examination of the critical issues of extreme weather and climate. “As the scientific community’s knowledge of changes in our climate and the resulting weather continue to develop, it is important for our communities to incorporate that information into the exposure and risk assessment process, and that it be conveyed to stakeholders, policyholders, the public and public officials that can, or should, address adaptation and mitigation alternatives. Developing an understanding about climate and its impacts on droughts, heat waves, the frequency and intensity of tropical hurricanes, thunderstorms and convective events, rising sea levels and storm surge, more extreme precipitation events and flooding is critical to our role in translating the interdependencies of weather, climate risk assessment and pricing.” The full letter can be found here.

In Response to a question by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) regarding the claims made that incidents of extreme weather are not increasing, Dr. Titley responded,  “One of the main definitions of ‘extreme’ is ‘away from the center.’ Again, just take the basic data. We have had for the last 36 years above normal temperatures, that is away from the center, and they are getting further and further away. A record like that is equivalent to flipping a coin and getting ‘heads’ 36 consecutive times. The chances of that happening with an un-weighted coin: 1 in 68 billion. Put another way, you are almost 400 times more likely to win the Powerball jackpot than you are to see this temperature record if the climate was not changing. I would say that is extreme. And the ice in the Arctic, that is extreme. We have seen geologic changes in less than 10 years.”

Dr. Titley’s presentation slides can be seen here.