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Concept: Extreme weather


Persistent episodes of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere summer have been shown to be associated with the presence of high-amplitude quasi-stationary atmospheric Rossby waves within a particular wavelength range (zonal wavenumber 6-8). The underlying mechanistic relationship involves the phenomenon of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA) of synoptic-scale waves with that wavenumber range becoming trapped within an effective mid-latitude atmospheric waveguide. Recent work suggests an increase in recent decades in the occurrence of QRA-favorable conditions and associated extreme weather, possibly linked to amplified Arctic warming and thus a climate change influence. Here, we isolate a specific fingerprint in the zonal mean surface temperature profile that is associated with QRA-favorable conditions. State-of-the-art (“CMIP5”) historical climate model simulations subject to anthropogenic forcing display an increase in the projection of this fingerprint that is mirrored in multiple observational surface temperature datasets. Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Wave, Global warming, Waves, Northern Hemisphere, Extreme weather


California is currently in the midst of a record-setting drought. The drought began in 2012 and now includes the lowest calendar-year and 12-mo precipitation, the highest annual temperature, and the most extreme drought indicators on record. The extremely warm and dry conditions have led to acute water shortages, groundwater overdraft, critically low streamflow, and enhanced wildfire risk. Analyzing historical climate observations from California, we find that precipitation deficits in California were more than twice as likely to yield drought years if they occurred when conditions were warm. We find that although there has not been a substantial change in the probability of either negative or moderately negative precipitation anomalies in recent decades, the occurrence of drought years has been greater in the past two decades than in the preceding century. In addition, the probability that precipitation deficits co-occur with warm conditions and the probability that precipitation deficits produce drought have both increased. Climate model experiments with and without anthropogenic forcings reveal that human activities have increased the probability that dry precipitation years are also warm. Further, a large ensemble of climate model realizations reveals that additional global warming over the next few decades is very likely to create ∼100% probability that any annual-scale dry period is also extremely warm. We therefore conclude that anthropogenic warming is increasing the probability of co-occurring warm-dry conditions like those that have created the acute human and ecosystem impacts associated with the “exceptional” 2012-2014 drought in California.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Climate change, Meteorology, Global warming, Extreme weather, Drought


Across the tropics, smallholder farmers already face numerous risks to agricultural production. Climate change is expected to disproportionately affect smallholder farmers and make their livelihoods even more precarious; however, there is limited information on their overall vulnerability and adaptation needs. We conducted surveys of 600 households in Madagascar to characterize the vulnerability of smallholder farmers, identify how farmers cope with risks and explore what strategies are needed to help them adapt to climate change. Malagasy farmers are particularly vulnerable to any shocks to their agricultural system owing to their high dependence on agriculture for their livelihoods, chronic food insecurity, physical isolation and lack of access to formal safety nets. Farmers are frequently exposed to pest and disease outbreaks and extreme weather events (particularly cyclones), which cause significant crop and income losses and exacerbate food insecurity. Although farmers use a variety of risk-coping strategies, these are insufficient to prevent them from remaining food insecure. Few farmers have adjusted their farming strategies in response to climate change, owing to limited resources and capacity. Urgent technical, financial and institutional support is needed to improve the agricultural production and food security of Malagasy farmers and make their livelihoods resilient to climate change.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Poverty, Weather, Food security, Security, Global warming, Extreme weather


Global warming has increased the frequency of extreme climate events, yet responses of biological and human communities are poorly understood, particularly for aquatic ecosystems and fisheries. Retrospective analysis of known outcomes may provide insights into the nature of adaptations and trajectory of subsequent conditions. We consider the 1815 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora and its impact on Gulf of Maine (GoM) coastal and riparian fisheries in 1816. Applying complex adaptive systems theory with historical methods, we analyzed fish export data and contemporary climate records to disclose human and piscine responses to Tambora’s extreme weather at different spatial and temporal scales while also considering sociopolitical influences. Results identified a tipping point in GoM fisheries induced by concatenating social and biological responses to extreme weather. Abnormal daily temperatures selectively affected targeted fish species-alewives, shad, herring, and mackerel-according to their migration and spawning phenologies and temperature tolerances. First to arrive, alewives suffered the worst. Crop failure and incipient famine intensified fishing pressure, especially in heavily settled regions where dams already compromised watersheds. Insufficient alewife runs led fishers to target mackerel, the next species appearing in abundance along the coast; thus, 1816 became the “mackerel year.” Critically, the shift from riparian to marine fisheries persisted and expanded after temperatures moderated and alewives recovered. We conclude that contingent human adaptations to extraordinary weather permanently altered this complex system. Understanding how adaptive responses to extreme events can trigger unintended consequences may advance long-term planning for resilience in an uncertain future.

Concepts: Weather, Complexity, Systems theory, Complex system, Aquatic ecosystem, Global warming, Extreme weather, Complex adaptive system


The effects of rapid Arctic warming and ice loss on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere is a topic of active research, lively scientific debate and high societal impact. The emergence of Arctic amplification-the enhanced sensitivity of high-latitude temperature to global warming-in only the last 10-20 years presents a challenge to identifying statistically robust atmospheric responses using observations. Several recent studies have proposed and demonstrated new mechanisms by which the changing Arctic may be affecting weather patterns in mid-latitudes, and these linkages differ fundamentally from tropics/jet-stream interactions through the transfer of wave energy. In this study, new metrics and evidence are presented that suggest disproportionate Arctic warming-and resulting weakening of the poleward temperature gradient-is causing the Northern Hemisphere circulation to assume a more meridional character (i.e. wavier), although not uniformly in space or by season, and that highly amplified jet-stream patterns are occurring more frequently. Further analysis based on self-organizing maps supports this finding. These changes in circulation are expected to lead to persistent weather patterns that are known to cause extreme weather events. As emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated, therefore, the continued amplification of Arctic warming should favour an increased occurrence of extreme events caused by prolonged weather conditions.

Concepts: Scientific method, Causality, Climate, Weather, Emergence, Season, Global warming, Extreme weather


In recent years, several extreme weather disasters have partially or completely damaged regional crop production. While detailed regional accounts of the effects of extreme weather disasters exist, the global scale effects of droughts, floods and extreme temperature on crop production are yet to be quantified. Here we estimate for the first time, to our knowledge, national cereal production losses across the globe resulting from reported extreme weather disasters during 1964-2007. We show that droughts and extreme heat significantly reduced national cereal production by 9-10%, whereas our analysis could not identify an effect from floods and extreme cold in the national data. Analysing the underlying processes, we find that production losses due to droughts were associated with a reduction in both harvested area and yields, whereas extreme heat mainly decreased cereal yields. Furthermore, the results highlight ~7% greater production damage from more recent droughts and 8-11% more damage in developed countries than in developing ones. Our findings may help to guide agricultural priorities in international disaster risk reduction and adaptation efforts.

Concepts: Weather, Temperature, Harvest, Disaster, Global warming, Development, Extreme weather, Weather hazards


Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather conditions and patterns of extreme weather events. It may lead to changes in health threat to human beings, multiplying existing health problems. This review examines the scientific evidences on the impact of climate change on human infectious diseases. It identifies research progress and gaps on how human society may respond to, adapt to, and prepare for the related changes. Based on a survey of related publications between 1990 and 2015, the terms used for literature selection reflect three aspects - the components of infectious diseases, climate variables, and selected infectious diseases. Humans' vulnerability to the potential health impacts by climate change is evident in literature. As an active agent, human beings may control the related health effects that may be effectively controlled through adopting proactive measures, including better understanding of the climate change patterns and of the compound disease-specific health effects, and effective allocation of technologies and resources to promote healthy lifestyles and public awareness. The following adaptation measures are recommended: 1) to go beyond empirical observations of the association between climate change and infectious diseases and develop more scientific explanations, 2) to improve the prediction of spatial-temporal process of climate change and the associated shifts in infectious diseases at various spatial and temporal scales, and 3) to establish locally effective early warning systems for the health effects of predicated climate change.

Concepts: Scientific method, Health, Infectious disease, Human, Weather, Science, Empirical, Extreme weather


Salmonella is a leading cause of acute gastroenteritis worldwide. Patterns of salmonellosis have been linked to weather events. However, there is a dearth of data regarding the association between extreme events and risk of salmonellosis, and how this risk may disproportionately impact coastal communities.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Salmonella, Diarrhea, Gastroenteritis, 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack, Extreme weather


The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the Earth’s most prominent source of interannual climate variability, exerting profound worldwide effects. Despite decades of research, its behaviour continues to challenge scientists. In the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, the anomalously cool sea surface temperatures (SSTs) found during La Niña events and the warm waters of modest El Niño events both propagate westwards, as in the seasonal cycle. In contrast, SST anomalies propagate eastwards during extreme El Niño events, prominently in the post-1976 period, spurring unusual weather events worldwide with costly consequences. The cause of this propagation asymmetry is currently unknown. Here we trace the cause of the asymmetry to the variations in upper ocean currents in the equatorial Pacific, whereby the westward-flowing currents are enhanced during La Niña events but reversed during extreme El Niño events. Our results highlight that propagation asymmetry is favoured when the westward mean equatorial currents weaken, as is projected to be the case under global warming. By analysing past and future climate simulations of an ensemble of models with more realistic propagation, we find a doubling in the occurrences of El Niño events that feature prominent eastward propagation characteristics in a warmer world. Our analysis thus suggests that more frequent emergence of propagation asymmetry will be an indication of the Earth’s warming climate.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Global warming, Extreme weather


It is predicted that the coastal zone will be among the environments worst affected by projected climate change. Projected losses in beach area will negatively impact on coastal infrastructure and continued recreational use of beaches. Beach nourishment practices such as artificial nourishment, replenishment and scraping are increasingly used to combat beach erosion but the extent and scale of projects is poorly documented in large areas of the world. Through a survey of beach managers of Local Government Areas and a comprehensive search of peer reviewed and grey literature, we assessed the extent of nourishment practices in Australia. The study identified 130 beaches in Australia that were subject to nourishment practices between 2001 and 2011. Compared to projects elsewhere, most Australian projects were small in scale but frequent. Exceptions were nine bypass projects which utilised large volumes of sediment. Most artificial nourishment, replenishment and beach scraping occurred in highly urbanised areas and were most frequently initiated in spring during periods favourable to accretion and outside of the summer season of peak beach use. Projects were generally a response to extreme weather events, and utilised sand from the same coastal compartment as the site of erosion. Management was planned on a regional scale by Local Government Authorities, with little monitoring of efficacy or biological impact. As rising sea levels and growing coastal populations continue to put pressure on beaches a more integrated approach to management is required, that documents the extent of projects in a central repository, and mandates physical and biological monitoring to help ensure the engineering is sustainable and effective at meeting goals.

Concepts: Sediment, Weather, Coast, Beach, Sand, Coastal geography, Extreme weather, Beach nourishment