As Wildfires Burn, Assigning Blame Is Complicated

Eve Driver in Undark:

WHILE FOR DECADES there has been scientific consensus that the climate is changing, only in the past few years has it become possible for scientists to link that change to particular weather events. Even as it advances, however, attribution science, also called probabilistic extreme event attribution, has uncertainties built into it. Broadly speaking, it’s done by comparing two computer models — one that reflects the world as it is, and another that reflects the world as it would have been without global warming — to determine whether the probability of a weather event was affected by climate change and, if so, by how much.

But the results come with caveats. For instance, attribution science doesn’t determine whether climate change made an event possible, but rather if it made the event more likely. The method is also difficult to apply in locales that have little historical data on weather patterns. And certain kinds of events — hurricanes and droughts, for instance — are harder to model than others. Hard evidence of climate change’s influence on Hurricane Sandy, which battered the northeastern U.S. in 2012, didn’t come until years after the fact.

But for wildfires like the ones currently burning in the West, the links with climate change are relatively easy to model and affirm.

More here.