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Warming Temperatures in the Atmosphere and Oceans Are Altering Global Climate Patterns

Surface Temperatures

Average surface temperatures have risen by 0.14°F per decade since 1880, and accelerated warming of 0.32°F per decade has been occurring since 1981

Ocean Temperatures

Ocean heat content, the measure of energy from the sea surface to a depth of over a mile, has increased by 0.55 to 0.78 watts per square meter in the last 30 years

Sea Level Rise

Rising temperatures have contributed to the melting of sea ice and ocean-terminating glaciers, resulting in an average sea level increase of 8-9 inches since 1880

Projections of Warming By the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Projections of the rate of warming temperatures are constructed from greenhouse gas emissions and socio-economic scenarios​. Several Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), which are trajectories of greenhouse gas concentrations, are used to highlight the energy added to the earth system under different emissions scenarios.

Recent work from the IPCC has investigated the additional layer of socioeconomic scenarios that reflect various levels of mitigation and adaptation taken globally. IPCC reports, which are produced and reviewed by international teams of climate experts, assess the underlying science and socioeconomic effects of anthropogenic climate change based on published sources.

Key Findings from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

  • Economic and population growth has caused greenhouse gas emissions to increase since the pre-industrial era, allowing for concentrations of carbon dioxide to reach levels unprecedented in the last 2 million years as well as methane and nitrous oxide to reach levels unprecedented in the last 800,000 years
  • Extreme weather and climate events are changing—there's a decrease in cold temperature extremes and increases in warm temperature extremes, sea level height, and heavy precipitation events in many regions
  • Surface temperature is projected to continue to rise over the 21st century regardless of emission scenarios, supporting the likelihood of more frequent and intense heat waves, more frequent extreme precipitation events, an increasingly warming and acidifying ocean, and the continued rise of global mean sea level
  • Without significant mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will amplify existing and create new risk regions for extreme weather

KCC Climate Experts Translate the Latest Climatology into Accurate Catastrophe Models

Warming temperatures are affecting the intensities and frequencies of catastrophes worldwide. KCC's weather-related models incorporate the expected impacts of climate change based on the most advanced global climate models and the latest research by the broader scientific community. KCC climate experts translate the complexities of a warming climate into realistic and simulations of future perils.

Warming's Effects on Weather-Related Perils

An Increase in the Strongest Extratropical Cyclones (ETCs)

Climate change may result in a northward shift of the jet stream, which generates and channels ETCs through the North Atlantic and European storm track.

  • The annual frequency in ETCs across Europe may decrease, but there may be an increase in the strongest ETCs during the winter months (December–February), particularly for the United Kingdom and central Europe, reflecting the slight northern shift in the storm track.
  • The frequency and intensity of rapidly deepening ETCs impacting Europe are expected to increase in a warming climate. Such ETCs have been observed to generate the most intense surface wind gusts.

More Frequent Coastal and Inland Flooding

It is highly likely that flooding will increase due to climate change. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor and will generally lead to a global increase in precipitation. However, the geographical spatial distribution of increases or decreases also depends on changes in global wind and weather patterns and has a high level of uncertainty.

  • There is some evidence that Atlantic basin hurricanes may be “slowing down,” especially in the Gulf as they move west. This could lead to more frequent flooding events from tropical cyclones because slow-moving storms can linger over the same area for several days.
  • Coastal flooding from tropical cyclones will also likely increase due to sea level rise.

Severe Convective Storm Instability

Trends in SCS are not always observed due to their high interannual variability, but increases in low-level moisture and temperature may result in enhanced instability and stronger updrafts. This would affect storm intensity.

  • In the US, there is a slight chance that SCS frequency will increase in the winter months, especially in the Southeast, but decrease in the summer months in some regions, such as the Southern Plains.
  • In the US, general spatial shifts of SCS activity eastward and northward are expected in a warming climate, particularly in the spring and summer months.

More Intense Tropical Cyclones

The intensity of tropical cyclones are expected to increase, resulting in lower sea level pressure, higher wind speeds, and greater amounts of precipitation. While the proportion of the most severe tropical cyclones are projected to increase, the frequency of tropical cyclones is expected to remain the same as the historical past.

  • There is a high likelihood that the forward speed, the rate at which a tropical cyclone moves, is expected to become more variable with the potential for slower-moving storms.
  • Slow-moving storms can unleash devastating amounts of precipitation and high wind speeds in one area for a longer period of time.

Increased Area Burned From Wildfires

Wildfires in the Western US are largely dependent on fuel moisture, especially in forested areas. Increased vapor pressure deficit (VPD), the difference between the amount of moisture in the air and the total moisture that the air can hold, has been shown to correlate with seasonal area burned. This is because warm air can hold more moisture than cool air, and the unsaturated warm air pulls more moisture from vegetation.

  • Increased VPD in a warming climate leads to drier conditions and more burnable fuel for wildfires.
  • There is a very high likelihood that VPD will continue to increase based on a consensus among many climate model projections.

Arctic Amplification and Winter Storms

The Arctic is warming faster than any other region of the globe—a phenomenon known as Arctic Amplification. This is resulting in the melting of land and sea ice, and existing ice is becoming dirtier. Clean ice reflects solar energy, whereas exposed land, exposed water, and dirty ice absorb solar energy. This amplifies warming and affects the behavior of the jet stream, which drives winter storms.

  • Research has shown that the winter season may get shorter, but winter storm events during January through February (Northern Hemisphere’s polar night) may become more intense.
  • Snow will likely see the greatest impact from climate change, with less accumulations expected farther south than the historical past.
  • There is considerable uncertainty regarding the effects of climate change on cold air outbreaks in the next few decades.

Manage Your Global Catastrophe Risk With Confidence

KCC utilizes the best available data, science, and technology to create high resolution, accurate, and transparent global catastrophe models and software solutions that allow you to make decisions with confidence.