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Global Warming and the

Future of Extreme Weather

Extreme weather events trigger disasters

when they cause damage that

outstrips a community’s ability to

cope. Global warming has altered the

climate in ways that make certain types

of extreme weather events more likely.

At the same time, sea level rise and other

changes brought about by global warming

are diminishing the ability of natural

and man-made systems to withstand

extreme weather events, increasing the

amount of damage they can cause.

Defining Extreme Weather

“Extreme weather” is a relative term.

A storm that brings 12 inches of snow

to Buffalo in January is not extreme. A

storm that brings 12 inches of snow to

Buffalo in early October – or 12 inches

of snow to Washington, D.C., at any

time of year – is extreme.

Weather or climate events, therefore,

can be considered “extreme” in relation

to the historical record at a particular

location. The Intergovernmental Panel

on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s

leading scientific authority on climate

change, has defined a “climate extreme”

as follows:

The occurrence of a value of a

weather or climate variable above

(or below) a threshold value near

the upper (or lower) ends of the

range of observed values of the

variable. 4

The IPCC’s definition of “climate

extreme” combines both weather events,

which are of short duration, and climate

events, which take place over a longer

period of time. 5 In this report, we use

the more common and colloquial term

Global Warming and the Future of Extreme Weather 11

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