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Extreme Weather and Climate Change

2011 has been filled with wild weather and extreme climate across the U.S., including record heat and wildfires in Texas.

Devastating deluges, record floods and deadly heat waves have raised the question of whether there’s a connection between these events and global warming.

The bottom line answer is yes: Heat waves are longer and hotter than they used to be and some regions are suffering from catastrophic drought.  Heavy rains are more frequent and can be more intense and rainfall records have been smashed. These events fit a pattern that climate scientists have long expected to appear as the result of increased greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. That doesn’t mean global warming is the only culprit: extreme weather was happening before global warming began. But there’s general scientific agreement that global warming has contributed to a trend toward more intense extremes of heat and precipitation around the world, is partly to blame for specific extreme weather events over the last decade and will continue to influence both in the future.

The Northeast

A quick summary of 2011 weather highlights would read approximately like this:  Devastating snowstorm, devastating snowstorm, blizzard, heat wave, heat wave, torrential rains, hurricane (more torrential rains), floods, hurricane remnants (even more torrential rains), worse floods, even more devastating snowstorm—and that only takes you through October. For more info, download our Northeast Fact Sheet.

The Southeast

People who live in the southeastern U.S. are no strangers to tornadoes, which tend to strike during the hot, humid days of spring and summer. But the outbreaks that struck in April and May of 2011 were especially numerous and deadly. For more info, download our Southeast Fact Sheet.

The Midwest

Spring 2011 brought some of the worst flooding in history, from the Upper Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico. Snowmelt and more than three times the normal spring rainfall in the Ohio Valley made rivers, including the Ohio, Missouri and the Mississippi overflow their banks along with many smaller tributaries. For more information on floods, snowstorms and heatwaves this year, check out our Midwest Fact Sheet

The Southwest

Texans love to brag about how big their state is along with everything in it. Not so much this year, though, as record-breaking heat, drought and wildfires relentlessly pummeled Texans. The heat struck nearby Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico too, pushing all of the states’ resources, along with their residents, to the brink of disaster—and in many cases, right over the edge. For more information, check out our Southwest Fact Sheet

You can read more of Climate Central's in depth coverage of extreme weather and climate change, and contact our experts about this topic.