The Times podcast: Our Masters of Disasters know it’s windy; this time it’s the Atlantic.
If you’re a regular reader, you are probably already aware that, for several days in the past several weeks, we’ve been hearing about a storm heading for the northeast coast of the U.S. (See our coverage here). And if you know what a “cone of uncertainty” is, you’ll probably be shocked to learn that this storm was the result of a hurricane making its first landfall in the country in four decades.
That is an awful lot of wind for anyone who grew up on the coast. So what makes this storm especially devastating is that we have a very long history of bad weather.
According to a new study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Climate Change, the worst weather events on record have occurred on land far more often than one might have thought. In a long term assessment of the history of climate change, scientists used computer models to simulate the past 14,000 years of climate. In total, they assessed the chances of experiencing as many extreme weather events over the next century as we have over the past 500 years, which is to say that the odds are greater than 50-50.
What makes this even more grim is that, given the nature of climate change, it is almost certain that we will experience more of the same weather patterns in coming years. Over my career as a climate journalist I’ve done much of the modelling for this study, so I’m not surprised by the findings. The findings are not all grim however. When we consider the fact that, if every weather event is simply a statistical fluke, then, on average, people will experience about half as much of the very bad weather we’ve seen over the last half century, then the odds look better than 50-50.
This study shows that we are currently seeing more of the very worst weather than we have experienced for hundreds of years. The most extreme weather events in recent history are far, far worse than anything that we’ve experienced since the Middle Ages. They’re also happening to people we don’t even know about.
So we should be concerned. In particular, we should be concerned for our own communities on the ground. It is extremely rare that even one of the