Has there been a Change in Extreme Events like Heat Waves, Droughts, Floods and Hurricanes?

Published: 23rd November 2012 19:24Last Updated: 14th July 2016 10:43
This material is extracted from the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section of the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group 1 (see full reference below).  

Since 1950, the number of heat waves has increased and widespread increases have occurred in the numbers of warm nights. The extent of regions affected by droughts has also increased as precipitation over land has marginally decreased while evaporation has increased due to warmer conditions. Generally, numbers of heavy daily precipitation events that lead to flooding have increased, but not everywhere. Tropical storm and hurricane frequencies vary considerably from year to year, but evidence suggests substantial increases in intensity and duration since the 1970s. In the extratropics, variations in tracks and intensity of storms reflect variations in major features of the atmospheric circulation, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation.

FAQ 3.3, Figure 1. Observed trends (days per decade) for 1951 to 2003 in the frequency of extreme temperatures, defined based on 1961 to 1990 values, as maps for the 10th percentile: (a) cold nights and (b) cold days; and 90th percentile: (c) warm nights and (d) warm days. Trends were calculated only for grid boxes that had at least 40 years of data during this period and had data until at least 1999. Black lines enclose regions where trends are significant at the 5% level. Below each map are the global annual time series of anomalies (with respect to 1961 to 1990). The orange line shows decadal variations. Trends are significant at the 5% level for all the global indices shown. Adapted from Alexander et al. (2006).


IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment, Report of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Further resources

For a more detailed explanation of the answer please see the original IPCC FAQ document at: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-faqs.pdf

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