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Wisconsin Floods Make Worst Weather List

December 8, 2008

Madison, WI - They're still talking about the Wisconsin floods last summer. "They" are meterologists and climate scientists across the country, and they've put their heads together to compile a list of the "Top 10 Extreme Weather Events" of 2008. They've also provided their input about how these events may, or may not, have been related to global warming, says Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

"There's more rain and more risk of flooding than there was 30 years ago, simply because there's more water vapor in the atmosphere."

Many of the experts linked climate change to stronger hurricanes, as well as heat waves, floods and droughts that were either more intense, or lasted longer.

The record snow Wisconsin experienced last winter may also have roots in a warming climate, according to Trenberth. He says warmer temperatures increase evaporation, especially over the oceans.

"The fact that there's more moisture in the atmosphere means you can actually get heavier snows as a consequence of global warming, especially at the beginning and end of the season."

The links between climate change and weather events aren't solid in every case. For example, Trenberth explains, the formation of tornadoes is dependent on many factors; most have nothing to do with climate change, although he says more moisture in the air can play a role.

The complete list of "Top 10 Extreme Weather Events" includes: Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, tornadoes, Midwest flooding (both in spring and summer), the Southeast drought, the California wildfires, Western snow, Colorado's heat wave, and the amount of Arctic Sea ice, which scientists say was measured at its second-lowest extent on record.

Glen Gardner/Deb Courson, Public News Service - WI