What do weather patterns tell us about climate change?

This post is part of a series of interviews on the impacts of climate change and the COP21 talks in Paris. The author is one of 79 signatories to an open letter from CEOs to world leaders urging climate action. 

What are the most important connections and conclusions we need to be aware of when it comes to weather patterns and climate change?

It is often said that climate is what you expect but weather is what you get. The reality, however, is that people have a hard time relating to what climate is and the concept of climate change. They do relate though to weather and especially extreme weather events where the consequences are immediate and visible. So, as we see more extreme weather events, we are starting to see both people and businesses understand that a changing climate has real consequences. For example, in the U.S. Northeast where I live, the amount of precipitation falling during very heavy events – those top 1% of all daily events – has increased by 70% between 1958 and 2010. Also we have increased coastal flooding due to a rise in sea level of approximately one foot since 1900.

Just look at the significant increase in heavy precipitation events in the U.S., according to the National Climate Assessment. The resulting floods are another example that climate change is real and currently impacting us, and that immediate actions must be taken to avoid more change as well as adapt to the changes we expect.

What are the most critical ways we must adapt in order to manage climate change in the future?

At The Weather Company, our focus is always on our customers making the best possible decisions when weather affects their lives or businesses. A precise forecast is only the first step. For example, when thunderstorms impact aviation, our software minimizes delays and fuel by giving useful direction on flight timing and routes. Helping people and businesses adapt to climate change is orders of magnitude more difficult than immediate weather, but the fundamentals will be the same.

The global science community is producing its best projections on how the climate will change. However, much work is needed to make this information actionable. It must be combined with up-to-date information on how weather and other environmental parameters are changing, and it must be done at a scale that can be applied to a family, a business, a community, or even a nation.  All of this must be managed to identify possible adaptation options and recommendations for the best course of action.

For example in the U.S. as we deal with sea level rise impacting coastal communities, local and regional authorities must envision and evaluate solutions that consider other environmental factors (e.g., frequency of heavy rain events, water quality, etc.) and accommodate many sectors (e.g., recreation, transportation, etc.). Amassing this variety of information on local and regional landscapes, analyzing it, and identifying alternatives will be tremendously important moving forward. Developing proven approaches to tackle these complex problems will be crucial to adapt in a timely and effective manner. We must leverage the Internet of Things to augment traditional data sources and cloud computing to develop scalable solutions. 

At first glance, cloud computing and the Internet of Things sound far removed from climate change… where do they intersect?

The intersection of the two creates massive amounts of data ripe for gleaning weather and climate insights. Cloud computing offers a high-capacity, internet-based storage solution for the large-scale data available across industries and sectors. With the growing influx of sensor data coming from the Internet of Things – from devices such as smartphones, refrigerators, thermostats, car windshield wipers, airplane wings and more – it will be possible to assist businesses and communities in adapting to climate change. The realm of possibility, of course, lies within the right interpretation of that data.

In October following a successful partnership, IBM announced it was acquiring our B2B, mobile and cloud-based web properties. The marriage of weather data with the cognitive computing capabilities of IBM Watson and IBM’s cloud platform positions us to both expand in serving business sectors in weather but also positions us to take on large global challenges such as climate change. Imagine decision-making services for climate adaptation – things like building resiliency, water resource management, aggregated climate impacts on health issues, and so much more.

A climate deal in Paris is an important step – what do you hope to see next?

Coming away from COP21, more private organizations or corporations need to step up, make specific commitments, and look for deeper public-private partnerships. I believe we all need to take part in the sharing economy to solve our world’s large-scale problems such as climate change. I recently wrote about this as part of the LinkedIn Take Action series. The actions and investments of the private sector can be aligned to the agendas of governments, NGOs, academia and more. Since our goals are collective, our work toward them should be done in tandem as well. More public-private partnerships are needed to share resources and help realize results with true impact.

Author: David Kenny, Chairman and CEO of The Weather Company

Image: Meteorology measuring instruments are pictured at Meteo-France Toulouse site, called Meteopole, outside the city of Toulouse, France, November 3, 2015. REUTERS/Fred Lancelot

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