Not Real News

An overturned tree sits in front of a tornado damaged home in Mayfield, Ky., on Dec. 11, 2021. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming climate, weather or meteorological events that we would classify as “extreme” have declined in severity over the last 20 or 30 years. 

CLAIM: Climate, weather or meteorological events that we would classify as “extreme” have declined in severity over the last 20 or 30 years.

THE FACTS: While the impacts of climate change vary across the globe, scientists agree that overall, human-caused warming is supercharging events such as extreme precipitation, droughts and forest fires. But a podcast clip shared on Instagram falsely claims that extreme climate, weather and meteorological events are actually declining in severity.

“We could look at accumulated cyclonic energy — typhoons in the Pacific, hurricanes in the Atlantic — and it’s actually declined over the last 20 or 30 years,” the speaker says in the video, which amassed thousands of likes. “We could look at forest fires, they’ve declined. We could look at droughts. By any measure that we care to look at, we can see that actually things have kind of calmed down a bit.”

Scientists who study climate patterns say these kinds of extremes are aggravated by climate change — and are becoming more severe, not less.

“Heat extremes are getting more frequent, more severe; precipitation extremes are getting more frequent, more severe,” said Kai Kornhuber, a lecturer and research scientist at Columbia University. “Fire weather, which is linked to wildfires, is getting more frequent, more severe, more areas that didn’t see these conditions before.”

Kornhuber and other scientists reached by the AP pointed to rigorous studies and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association data that show how many types of extreme weather and disasters, including those noted in the podcast clip, have become more intense as a result of climate change. For example, climate change has created warmer and drier conditions in the western United States, leading to fire seasons that last longer and burn more area in recent decades, according to NOAA.

Droughts are complicated because “there are big regional and temporal variations,” according to Andrew Dessler, the director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies and a professor at Texas A&M University. “But you cannot say things are ‘calming down.’”

A study published earlier this month used satellite data to show that the intensity of extreme drought and rainfall has “sharply” increased across the globe over the past 20 years. The researchers said the data confirms that both the frequency and intensity of rainfall and droughts are increasing due to burning fossil fuels and other human activity that releases greenhouse gases. The AP has previously debunked false claims that U.S. hurricane landfall data disproves climate change. Studies show the intensity of tropical cyclones has been increasing globally.

The clip also ignores “some of the most certain ways climate change makes extreme weather more extreme,” including increasing the chances of heat waves, extreme precipitation, and extreme sea level events, according to Dessler. A United Nations climate report published in 2022 also cited evidence that climate change is making it more likely for humans to die from extreme weather. Today’s children who may still be alive in the year 2100 will experience four times more climate extremes than they do now, even with just a few more tenths of a degree of warming, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in the report.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.