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TCB quick hit: Is climate change causing the Texas heat wave?
In the midst of a sweltering heat wave in Texas and Mexico, it's tempting to ask the question: Is climate change causing this extreme weather event? It turns out this is not quite the right way to think about this weather event.
Climate change doesn't typically cause extreme weather. Rather, climate change is an amplifier for extreme weather. You can think of climate change as “steroids for the weather”:
Thus, the right way to think about climate change is that it injects an extra dose of intensity into existing weather patterns. So climate change doesn’t cause a hot day, but it can transform a run-of-the-mill hot day into a record-breaking scorcher.
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Based on this, you might want to ask if climate change is making the Texas heat wave worse. The answer is an unambiguous yes. There shouldn’t even be any debate about that. It’s hard to imagine a convincing argument that this heat wave is not warmer than it would have been 100 years ago, when the planet was 1C (2F) cooler.
That’s so obvious that it’s not even a particularly interesting question. Rather, the real question is the extent of that impact. How much hotter, more destructive, or longer-lasting has this heatwave become due to the influence of our changing climate?
Answering that requires scientists to perform a detailed attribution study. Scientists will certainly do that, which is great because we need that research to help us understand the true cost of climate change and how we can better prepare for and adapt to its effects. Because the truth is, these “steroids for the weather” aren't going away anytime soon. And the more we understand, the better equipped we'll be to deal with the enhanced challenges they present.