CORRESPONDENCE

Attributing extreme weather to climate change is not a done deal

National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, UK; on behalf of 5 co-signatories
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Your claim that the connection between extreme weather and climate change is “now routine and reliable science” misrepresents the current state of climate-extreme attribution science (see Nature 560, 5; 2018).

Although methods to quantify the contribution of climate change to particular extreme weather events are developing rapidly, the science is at an early stage, and there is as yet no consensus on which approach is best. We are still a long way from achieving high confidence in quantitative results (see go.nature.com/2wlyuc6).

Attribution depends fundamentally on global climate models that can adequately capture regional weather phenomena — including circulation anomalies such as the weak jet stream and large, persistent planetary-scale atmospheric waves that characterized this summer’s weather. Accurate simulation of such extremes remains a challenge for today’s models.

It is not enough to increase the size of the ensemble of simulations if the models themselves have fundamental limitations. Any statement on attribution should therefore always be accompanied by a scientifically robust demonstration of the model’s ability to simulate the global and regional weather patterns and the related weather phenomena that lie at the root of extreme events.

Nature 561, 177 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06631-7

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Supplementary Information

  1. List of co-signatories