Analysis: It's about time the connection between climate and weather was investigated scientifically


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The Independent Online

Meteorologists have always emphasised the difference between climate and weather, summing up the distinction by saying that "climate is what you expect, whereas weather is what you get".

In other words weather is the day-to-day stuff that comes out of the sky seemingly at random, whereas climate is what happens consistently, and more predictably, over many years, decades and even centuries.

Linking extreme weather to global warming scientifically, whether it is a particularly vicious hurricane in the Caribbean or a drought in the Horn of Africa, has been deemed nigh on impossible. Until now.

Kevin Trenberth of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado is one of several climate scientists taking a fresh look at extreme weather events to see if a climate change "signal" can be detected.

He believes, for instance, that Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, was made much deadlier by the extra heat of the ocean and added moisture in the air. He also thinks this year's deadly tornado season in the south-eastern part of the US was continuously fuelled by very warm, moist air streaming inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

This type of thinking will infuriate those who dismiss any link between extreme weather and climate change. But, with more scientists holding that global warming really is affecting people's lives, the possibility of such links is now to be investigated scientifically. As Peter Stott of the Met Office said: "It's not helpful just to brush off this question."