Fact checks: Experts say extreme weather events are increasing in severity, not decreasing

The claim: Extreme climate events are decreasing in severity

A March 11 Instagram post shows two men talking about the climate.

"What the evidence has overwhelmingly shown is a lot of those events that we would think of as extreme climate or weather or meteorological events are actually declining in severity," one of the men says.

He goes on to assert that cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, forest fires and droughts have all lessened in severity in the last 20 to 30 years, while periods of cold weather have increased in frequency and extremity.

The post garnered more than 2,000 likes in five days.

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Our rating: False

Extreme climate events have increased in frequency, severity and even cost in the last several decades, according to data provided by experts.

Data shows climate events are wreaking more havoc

Randall Cerveny, a rapporteur on extreme records for the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization, told USA TODAY extreme weather events are increasing in severity.

"For example, we currently have four ongoing weather extremes evaluations... within our (World Meterolological Organization) extremes evaluation project," Cerveny said in an email. "The three temperature extremes involve record-high temperature extremes in Europe, in Australia and for the globe, while the tropical cyclone investigation involves the potentially record-breaking duration of recent tropical cyclone Freddy."

The data shows increasing severe weather events of many kinds, said Alison Gillespie, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson. NOAA data shows a steady increase in billion-dollar climate events since 1980.

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The graph shows 2017 was the most expensive year on record, followed by 2005 and 2022. It also shows the five-year average costs of these events were nearly seven times higher in 2022 than in 1984.

Severity and frequency of each event is increasing

Experts and government agencies that track severe weather events report an upward trend in numerous categories.

Heat waves occur three times more often now than they did in the 1960s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The average heat wave season lasts 49 days longer and individual heat waves have become more frequent and intense.

The increase in heat waves is due to climate change, said Michael Wehner, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"First, the additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels traps more of the sun’s energy," Wehner previously told USA TODAY. "Second, the generally warmer conditions from global warming result in drier soils, leading to less ... evaporation from the ground and transpiration (emission of water vapor) from the plants, which means there is less cooling from that process."

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) distilled six landmark reports totaling 10,000 pages prepared by more than 1,000 scientists over the last six years.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) distilled six landmark reports totaling 10,000 pages prepared by more than 1,000 scientists over the last six years.

Tropical storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico has also increased in the past 20 years, with storm intensity rising noticeably, the agency found.

Climate change has also led to an increase in the extent of land burned by wildfires each year since the 1980s, National Interagency Fire Center data shows.

As for droughts, the United States Geological Survey found climate change has altered the natural pattern of droughts, making them more frequent, longer and more severe. Since 2000, the western United States has experienced some of the driest conditions on record, according to the organization.

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Cerveny told USA TODAY this increase in severity is caused by human activity.

"Scientists have pretty unequivocally attributed recent decadal changes in climate to the effect of human activity, particularly the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane," Cerveny said.

USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the post for comment.

The claim has been debunked by AFP and the Associated Press as well.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Extreme weather events are becoming more severe, not less