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What caused the California drought? Global warming, and here's the study that could prove it

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Scientists suspect a link, but have not done the work to confirm it until now.

Extreme weather events are on the rise around the world. Bigger storms, longer droughts, and more of them. Yet explaining why has been difficult for scientists. Many suspect global warming is the culprit, but without evidence, there's no way to prove this is true. But now it seems, the evidence may have arrived.

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Folsom Lake was entirely drained during the drought that ravaged California. That drought is now believed to have been caused by human-induced global warming.

Folsom Lake was entirely drained during the drought that ravaged California. That drought is now believed to have been caused by human-induced global warming.

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) -- A study now affirms that human-induced global warming is responsible for extreme weather events during the northern hemisphere spring and summer. The study was limited in scope, but scientists suspect the same will hold true in future studies examining other seasons and parts of the globe.

Their research found that as the Arctic warms it causes the jet stream to become wavier, and for those patterns to become fixed in place. The wavy pattern allows cold Arctic air to reach farther south in some areas, and for warm, temperate air to reach father north in others. It also influences the paths of storms, delivering more rain to some areas, and depriving other areas of moisture. In this way, a few days of sunshine are more likely to become months of drought.


American and European scientists worked together on the study which has just been published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

In their study, the scientists concluded: "Combined with other additional proposed mechanisms for climate change impacts on extreme weather, this adds to the weight of evidence for a human influence on the occurrence of devastating events such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas heat wave and recent floods in Europe."

One example may be the prolonged drought that affected California for nearly five years. A high-pressure ridge formed off the coast of California, diverting the jet stream, and the storms in bring, north of the state. The feature, which is common in the summer, persisted during the winter for four years, causing the drought.

While the study's conclusion is that global warming is to blame, the study itself was rather limited. It only evaluated the spring and summer months of the northern hemisphere. Additional studies will need to be performed to confirm its conclusion.

It remains premature to label any extreme weather event the result of anthropogenic global warming. However, the first serious study linking these events to human activity is now up for review. Its conclusions remain controversial, even among climate change scientists. Further studies examining similar correlations should be expected in the years ahead.

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