Our planet’s climate is changing. Precipitation patterns are shifting, and extreme climate- and weather-related events like wildfires, record high and low temperatures, and heavy rainstorms are happening more frequently than ever. Research from top climate and weather scientists at the UW and around the globe point to a link between these observed changes and climbing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Climate change, extreme temperatures, wildfires, and storms are interrelated, and UW’s experts—through their depth of knowledge, convening power, and ongoing engagement with partners—are working to fuel big ideas that lead to meaningful impact.

Climate Change

The University of Washington’s natural hazards work touches every facet of climate change—from its effects in the Pacific Northwest and impacts on the developing world, to long-term climate cycles, geoengineering, and more. Exploring every corner of climate—including its past, present, and future, as well as mitigation and adaptation strategies—the UW and its partners are generating new, useful knowledge about how we can all participate in making the world a better place in the face of this global challenge.

Extreme Temperatures

All species and ecosystems are susceptible to the impacts of extreme heat and cold. Extreme temperatures meet you where you are, no coast or fault line required. Temperatures that hover above the average high for multiple weeks are extreme, as are temperatures colder than a region’s average low for an extended time. Both warm and cold waves can set the stage for a variety of health-related ailments—especially for children and older adults. Temperature-related natural hazards can also cause damage to agriculture, infrastructure, and property. Scientists and researchers at the University of Washington are working to understand warm and cold weather events and patterns, from both meteorological and climate perspectives, to better prepare us for an increased occurrence of both due to climate change.



Wildfires are capable of burning millions of acres of forested land and countryside each year in the United States. In 2015, nine million acres were charred by forest fires that couldn’t be tamed. Magnified by drought and climate change, wildfires are predicted to be worse in the future. Brush fires can start naturally or through human activities, but are exacerbated by environmental conditions that can lead to dryer vegetation and less yearly average rainfall. Scientists at the UW recently outlined their suggestions for overhauling forest fire management to reduce the impacts of inevitable wildfires in the coming years, and many groups at the university work on issue areas related to wildfires.

Severe Storms

Around the world, there are an estimated 16 million thunderstorms yearly. In the United States, there are roughly 100,000 thunderstorms each year—ten percent of which reach severe status. Severe storms, and the hail and wind they bring, can damage or destroy homes, infrastructure, and sometimes entire neighborhoods. These serious storms can also trigger other natural hazards, including floods, wildfires, and tornadoes.

‘Black swan’ events strike animal populations

Black swan events are rare and surprising occurrences that happen without notice and often wreak havoc on society. The metaphor has been used to describe banking collapses, devastating earthquakes and other major surprises in financial, social and natural systems.
A new analysis by the University of Washington and Simon Fraser University is the first to document that black swan events also occur in animal populations and usually manifest as massive, unexpected die-offs. 

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UW’s Kristin Laidre awarded Pew marine fellowship to study effects of climate change, subsistence hunting on polar bears

Polar bears depend on sea ice for essential tasks like hunting and breeding. As Arctic sea ice disappears due to climate change, bears across the species’ 19 subpopulations are feeling the strain.
But even as scientists try to quantify just how much melting sea ice is affecting polar bears, another group that depends on the iconic mammal for subsistence also is at risk of losing an important nutritional and economic resource. 

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‘The blob’ of abnormal conditions boosted Western U.S. ozone levels

An unusually warm patch of seawater off the West Coast in late 2014 and 2015, nicknamed “the blob,” had cascading effects up and down the coast. Its sphere of influence was centered on the marine environment but extended to weather on land.
A University of Washington Bothell study now shows that this strong offshore pattern also influenced air quality. The climate pattern increased ozone levels above Washington, Oregon, western Utah and northern California, according to a study published Feb. 

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