Extreme weather in 2022 showed the global impact of climate change

This year’s extremes were a glimpse of the future, if climate change continues unabated

photo of cars backed up on a freeway with a sign above that reads, "EXTREME HEAT SAVE POWER 4-9PM STAY COOL"

A sign on the 110 freeway in Los Angeles warns drivers of extreme heat and urges energy conservation during a heat wave that baked the western United States in September.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

It was another shattering year.

Climate change amped up weather extremes around the globe, smashing temperature records, sinking river levels to historic lows and raising rainfall to devastating highs. Droughts set the stage for wildfires and worsened food insecurity. Researchers found themselves pondering the limits of humans’ ability to tolerate extreme heat (SN: 7/27/22).

The extreme events from 2022 pinpointed on the map below are just a sample of this year’s climate disasters. Each was exacerbated by human-caused climate change or is in line with projections of regional impacts.

In its Sixth Assessment Report, released in 2021 and 2022, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, warned that humans are dramatically overhauling Earth’s climate (SN: 8/9/21). Earth’s average surface temperature has already risen by at least 1.1 degree Celsius since preindustrial times, thanks to human inputs of heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide and methane (SN: 3/10/22). That warming has shifted the flow of energy around the planet, altering weather patterns, raising sea levels and turning past extremes into new normals (SN: 2/1/22).

And the world will have to weather more such climate extremes as carbon keeps accumulating in the atmosphere and global temperatures continue to rise. But IPCC scientists and others hope that, by highlighting the regional and local effects of climate change, the world will ramp up its efforts to reduce climate-warming emissions — averting a more disastrous future.

Carolyn Gramling is the earth & climate writer. She has bachelor’s degrees in geology and European history and a Ph.D. in marine geochemistry from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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