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Climate Curious: Does climate change make predicting the weather more difficult?

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Tropical Weather
This GOES-16 satellite image taken midday Aug. 31, 2019, and provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows Hurricane Dorian churning over the Atlantic Ocean, with Florida at left.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via AP file

Welcome to Climate Curious, where we answer your most pressing questions about climate change, from the complicated to the too-afraid-to-ask. Got a question you’re dying to ask? Share it here. And while you’re there, vote for the other questions you think we should tackle next.

How is climate change affecting meteorologists’ ability to accurately predict the weather? 

— Mary Dow-Bunnell, Cottage Grove, Minn.

For this question, Climate Cast helped us out.

“There is evidence that climate change is affecting jet-stream patterns,” said Climate Cast host and MPR’s chief meteorologist Paul Huttner. “Jennifer Francis at Rutgers University is one of the premier authors of a theory called arctic amplification, and here’s how it works: Basically the poles are warming more rapidly than the equator, and it’s that difference in temperature that drives jet streams. So, that makes a slower, more erratic jet stream — a loopier jet stream. It can mean slower, wetter storms and quicker, more intense droughts, and that can be more difficult for meteorologists to forecast.”

“It also produces changing precipitation patterns,” he said. “More water vapor in the atmosphere can mean heavier rain and snow events, so sometimes we have to goose our predictions and take that into account a little bit.”

Huttner also said forecast models are still catching up with new atmospheric assumptions driven by climate change, which can make predicting the weather tricky.

To hear the full conversation, hit play on the audio player above. Submit your own climate change question and vote for the ones you’d like answered here.