Those who prefer simple explanations find it difficult to reconcile extreme weather events with climate change. Unfortunately, warming over an extended period in one area can intensify the winds, currents, or other conditions in a nearby region. The extreme cold we’ve just seen from the diversion and splitting of the normal seasonal polar vortex pattern is just one example. The recent trio of disastrous hurricanes producing previously unknown amounts of durations of rain are another.
Climate change, which is the subject of fierce debate, may lead to a “substantial increase” in the number of extreme rainstorms, according to a startling new study by NASA.
The study, published in the scientific journal, Geophysical Research Letters, looked at 15 years worth of data from the government agency’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument over tropical oceans and noticed that extreme storms tend to occur more frequently over warmer sea temperatures. For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit rise in ocean temperatures, 21 percent more storms form, the researchers found.
“It is somewhat common sense that severe storms will increase in a warmer environment. Thunderstorms typically occur in the warmest season of the year,” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) researcher Hartmut Aumann, explained in a statement. “But our data provide the first quantitative estimate of how much they are likely to increase, at least for the tropical oceans.”
Extreme storms are defined as those that produce at least 3 millimeters of rain per hour over a 16-mile area.
By the end of the century, ocean surface temperatures may rise as much as 4.8 degrees Fahrenheit, assuming a steady increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to current climate models.
Though the study notes climate models are not perfect, they do help to provide a guideline for those looking to prepare for the changes, such as lawmakers and citizens.
“Our results quantify and give a more visual meaning to the consequences of the predicted warming of the oceans,” Aumann added. “More storms mean more flooding, more structure damage, more crop damage and so on unless mitigating measures are implemented.”
In 2014, the World Health Organization estimated climate change could cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050, thanks to a rise in issues such as malnutrition, heat stress and malaria. However, a new study published earlier this month called that a “conservative estimate.”