Developing a Rapid Assessment Capability and Understanding the Causes and Mechanisms of Extreme Climate Events

NOAA’s Climate Program Office (CPO) is announcing six new three-year projects starting in Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) and one new four-year project starting in FY21, through a multi-program collaboration that aims to develop a capability to explain the causes of and mechanisms driving extreme events. Specifically, the projects will focus on developing and examining long-term observational records; testing and applying models’ ability to simulate low-frequency, high-impact events; improving understanding of the mechanisms that control and allow for predictability of extreme events in the ways those high- and low-frequency phenomena interact; and improving communication of the risks ,drivers, and predictability of extreme events to stakeholders and communities to build resilience. The competitively selected projects total $6,440,313, including $2,614,070 in grants and $3,826,243 in other awards.


Scientists' confidence in studies to detect the influence of global warming on a specific extreme event (vertical axis) depends on the level of scientific knowledge about how global warming will affect the atmospheric processes that produce those types of events (horizontal axis). Graphic adapted from Figure 4.7 in NAS 2016.

Extreme events in the climate system have a profound effect on the safety of the American public and the security and productivity of the American economy. Together, these events create an annual cost burden of hundreds of billions of dollars for the U.S. economy. The ability to better predict, project, and prepare for these events is a growing field that requires improved understanding, observation, and modeling of their causes.

Current CPO and predecessor research programs have invested for decades in research to understand interactions between the climate system and extremes, dataset development to capture longer and fuller records of climate variability and change, evaluations of the ability of models to simulate extremes, and work to explain how climate variability and change impacts the occurrence and behavior of extreme events. This research is critical to efforts to prepare communities for extreme events and build resilience. To harvest the outcomes of these research efforts, in FY20 CPO solicited proposals to explore and develop the science of explaining climate extreme events, and to develop and test an experimental capability to rapidly assess and explain extreme events.

A number of CPO programs are collaborating to support the research and development activities around this topic of explaining extreme events. The programs include:

The new projects focus on particular types of extreme events—extreme heat or cold events, droughts, and/or marine extremes impacting the Nation’s blue economy—in the United States and outlying territories. Most of the projects have the goal of increasing our understanding of the climate processes and mechanisms that affect extreme events. In particular, they will focus on the influence of and interactions between low-frequency (e.g., interannual to multi-decadal) variability in the climate system and long-term trends, and how those interactions impact the ability to make scientifically sound, quantitative assessments of the factors that contribute to and cause extreme events. One of the projects, led by scientists collaborating across three NOAA Line Offices (NESDIS, OAR, and NWS), explores the research questions above as well as the development of a potential rapid event analysis and assessment capability. This project may result in a new operational capability at NOAA to perform rapid assessment of extreme events and their causes, which can help the Nation learn about these events, improve their prediction, and assess and improve model simulations of extremes. The new research will also complement the myriad modeling, observational, assessment, and product development and delivery activities across NOAA, and directly inform the National Climate Assessment.

The seven new projects funded by the CPO cross-program collaboration in FY20 are:

  • Developing a process-based understanding of marine heat waves: present and future
    • While heat waves on land have been studied extensively, research into extremes in the ocean impacting marine life, such as fisheries, is relatively new. This project will utilize new analyses, three-dimensional datasets, and multiple climate model simulations to develop a better understanding of extreme warm events in the ocean. Results will advance our understanding of how these extreme events may change in the future.
    • Lead Investigator: Michael Alexander, NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory
    • Co-Investigators: Clara Deser, National Center for Atmospheric Research; Michael Jacox, NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center
    • Collaborators: Adam Phillips, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Pulsing mass circulation: A new anchor point for understanding and attributing the variability and trends of U.S. extreme cold air outbreaks in a warming climate
    • Cold air outbreaks in the cool season pose great threats to human life and have profound economic and societal consequences. This project will examine the links between variability and trends of cold air outbreaks to anomalies associated with external radiative forcing, internal modes of variability, and climate feedback processes. Results will advance the analysis and attribution of extreme events.
    • Lead Investigator: Ming Cai, Florida State University
    • Co-Investigator: Yi Deng, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Development of a rapid response capability to evaluate causes of extreme climate events
    • As the climate continues to warm, the risks associated with climate extremes assume even greater importance. Since 1980, more than 250 extreme events have led to the loss of thousands of lives and damages exceeding $1 billion. This project will investigate extreme event risks and causes in a changing climate. Results from this project will serve as a foundation for NOAA to provide timely information regarding the role of various forcings in causing extreme events.
    • Lead Investigator: David Easterling, NOAA/National Centers for Environmental
    • Co-Investigators: Derek S. Arndt, NOAA National Centers for Environmental; Thomas L. Delworth, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; Martin P. Hoerling, NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory; Sarah B. Kapnick, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; Arun Kumar, NOAA National Centers for Environmental; Russell S. Vose, NOAA National Centers for Environmental; Joseph Barsugli, CIRES, Univ. of Colorado Boulder and NOAA/ESRL; Carl J. Schreck, CISESS, NC State University, and NOAA NCEI
  • Changes in the mean state of the tropical Pacific and the mechanism of extreme El Niño events
    • Extreme El Niño events over the last four decades have led to billions of damages worldwide. This project will examine mechanisms leading to the development of extreme El Niño events. Results have the potential to improve our ability to predict El Niño and anticipate changes in the occurrence of extreme El Niño events and their damaging impacts. 
    • Lead Investigator: Alexey Fedorov, Yale University
  • Assessing the influence of lower stratospheric dynamics on North American winter extreme events
    • Polar vortex events have been responsible for thousands of flight cancellations, ground transportation disruptions, record-breaking gas prices, as well as dozens of fatalities. This project will examine the factors that contribute to these extreme events to better assess their likelihood of occurrence and ultimately provide more accurate information for the future.
    • Lead Investigator: Andrea Lang, University at Albany
  • Anticipatory assessment: Future U.S. droughts under the influence of evolving modes of variability and long-term change
    • While we do not know exactly which climate conditions will drive the United States into a future drought, we do know that a future extreme drought will occur. This project will enable a real-time assessment of causes and mechanisms of extreme hydroclimate events over the United States. Results will improve drought intelligence, guide adaptation measures, and potentially show how droughts of the future will differ from those of the past.
    • Lead Investigator: Richard Seager, Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
  • Toward a rapid assessment capability for dry and oppressive excessive heat events over the United States
    • Excessive heat results in more fatalities than any other extreme event. This project will examine the influence of climate change and natural climate variability on the occurrence of extreme heat events. Results have potential to improve understanding and uncertainties associated with climate-driven extreme heat events.
    • Lead Investigator: Augustin Vintzileos, University of Maryland


Earth System Science and Modeling Research for Coastal Inundation 2023 Funding Opportunity Earth System Science and Modeling Research for Coastal Inundation 2023 Funding Opportunity

Earth System Science and Modeling Research for Coastal Inundation 2023 Funding Opportunity

In FY23, approximately $2.4 million will be available for approximately 5 new awards pending budget appropriations. Current or previous grantees are eligible to apply for a new award that builds on, but does not replicate, activities covered in existing or previous awards. Current grantees should not apply for supplementary funding through this announcement. Programs: MAPP/ESSM LOIs...

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Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather.