How Meteorologists Are Predicting Undprecendented Extreme Events

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Climate Adaptation Meteorologist predict frequency of unprecedented extreme events

The UNDRR report shows a staggering increase in extreme events in the last 20 years. The report, Human Cost of Disasters, published in 2020, shows 3,656 climate-related events between 1980 and 1999 and 6,681 climate-related disasters from 2000-2019, showing a sharp increase in numbers.

The number of major floods has doubled from 1,389 to 3,254, while the incidence of storms grew from 1,457 to 2,034 in the last two decades. Floods and storms were the most prevalent events, the report says.

As the world becomes hotter, phenomenal weather events that are considered rare will become more common. For instance, one-in-a-century floods or droughts can happen once every decade.

According to The Economist’s “How to predict record-shattering weather events,” this shift in weather patterns, particularly the occurrence of rare weather events, had inspired modellers to look closer to the tails of the frequency distributions of meteorological possibility that their models generate to look for these unprecedented extremes (How to Predict, 2023).

How to Predict (2023) explains the method used to predict the occurrence of rare and unprecedented, rare events. One is the approach used by Dr Erich Fischer at eth Zurich, which he demonstrated during last year’s annual jamboree of the European Geosciences Union, how the heatwave that destroyed Lytton could have been foreseen with data available at the time. 

Another is from Britain’s Met Office, unseen (Unprecedented Simulation of Extremes with Ensembles), which was first used by Dr Vikki Thompson and her colleagues at the Met Office to try to understand the 2014 catastrophic floods in Southern England and Wales that resulted in $743m) of insurance claims, and try to predict the next big event.

Dr Thomson and her colleagues simulated the British winters between a certain period a thousand times, with each simulation adding a few perturbations – a small amount of heating in the atmosphere, for example. Doing so, they have generated a range of virtual winters, including extreme events that can happen in the future.

“In the case of floods, the group found a 34% chance each winter that rainfall records would be broken in at least one of four broad regions of Britain. They concluded that decision-makers would do well to prepare for new record-breaking inundations “in the next few years.” They were vindicated when their warnings came to pass in the early months of 2020.”

The article says that these approaches are prompting others to follow for them to assess the risk of a possible extreme event happening in their locations and its consequences. For example, France has created a “heat plan” to prepare for sweltering days that can strike the country during the Paris Olympics next year. The plan involves an early warning system and cool spaces for people, athletes, and visitors to shelter if needed.

Scientists predict that climate change will lead to worsening weather. According to NOAA, climate change does not cause these extreme events; instead, climate change makes these weather events more frequent and intense (Lindsey, 2016).

For example, climate change increases the chances of heavy rains and adds 10 to 20% of its amount, making an average rainfall event catastrophic.

Research has already linked warming to changes in the frequency of extreme events like heat waves and heavy rains. Using modelling to predict the occurrence of these extreme events and their likely consequences to a specific location can help them anticipate and prepare to reduce and manage risks and vulnerability of people, properties, and infrastructure.


How to predict record-shattering weather events. (2023, February 8). The Economist. Retrieved from

The human cost of disasters: an overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019). UNDRR. Retrieved from

Lindsey, R. (2016, December 15). Extreme event attribution: the climate versus weather blame game. NOAA. Retrieved from

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