Flood

January to May 2019 was the wettest on record for the United States, with multiple severe-weather outbreaks in Nebraska and throughout the Midwest. (Nebraska National Guard)

(Lincoln) -- A new study suggests Nebraska farmers, and the general population, would be better served if climate scientists acted more like weather forecasters when linking extreme weather events to climate change.

Dale Durran, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington and the report's author, said while it's important to get predictions right, to avoid "crying wolf" and losing credibility, Durran said scientists need to remember the second important job facing forecasters: sounding the alarm when trouble is on the way.

"As a forecaster, you have two important considerations, and you want to do your best simultaneously on both of them," Durran explained. "One thing is, you want to get a warning out; you don't want to miss and fail to warn people when a tornado comes through."

Some skeptics have argued that there is not enough hard data to link extreme weather events, such as last year's massive flooding in the Midwest, to climate change with certainty.

But Durran maintained warning people in time to make the changes necessary to avoid the worst potential impacts of climate change may be more important than reducing the likelihood of false alarms.

Durran added most current approaches to attributing extreme weather events to human-caused climate change, such as conditions leading to ongoing wildfires in Colorado and California, focus on avoiding false alarms.

Durran noted farmers and other stakeholders that would be impacted if the planet continues to warm - by prolonged drought, more frequent and powerful storms, wildfire and flooding - should ask themselves a central question.

"The decision that you need to make as a farmer or just as an individual about whether or not you want to be warned about changes in the climate, like you probably want to be warned about tornadoes: Do you want the warning or not?" Durran inquired.

Durran stressed if people do want to be warned, they'll need to accept some level of uncertainty about the link between specific extreme weather events and climate change, just as they do when their local weather forecaster predicts rain, snow or dry, hot days ahead.

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