Francis Zwiers

University of Victoria, Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium

“Changing Weather Extremes: Who or What is to Blame?”

Date: Friday, October 20, 2017

Stories about extreme weather and climate events around the world often make media front-page headlines. They draw our attention because of their immediacy and the devastating impacts, which often include deaths and up to billions of dollars in damage. The stories often draw links to human induced climate change, and one could be excused for wondering whether there might be an element of the reporting of “alternative facts” (fake news).

Often, when attribution studies are conducted following an extreme event, climate science does find that human influence played a role, consistent with the large body of evidence indicating a human contribution to the observed changes in average climatic conditions over the past century. Two Canadian examples that follow this pattern include the Fort McMurray wildfire (2016, >$3.6B in insured losses) and the Calgary floods (2013, $6.7B USD in total losses).

Nevertheless, at a localized level, the effects of climate change can be hard to detect, leading to possible discrepancies between our own personal experience of climate change and the findings of climate science, and to difficulty in projecting how climatic loads on infrastructure may change in the future. In this new era of “alternative facts”, it would be a fallacy to rely solely on personal experience, reject the findings of the climate science community and consequently fail to prepare for the climatic changes ahead. The potential risks to infrastructure are central to this concern. While the difficulties in quantifying historical future changes in climatic loads on infrastructure at the local scale are real, information that can be used to mitigate at least some risks is available.

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Dankit K. Nassiuma, Ph.D. (1992)

Leo Odongo, Ph.D. (1993)