This Is Your Brain On Extreme Weather

Is the weather getting weirder? Your answer probably depends on the weirdness of the weather you’ve been experiencing lately. For example, after the U.K. got doused with one of its rainiest weeks on record, the Brits who reported experiencing flooding were much more likely than their drier compatriots to say they’d noticed wetter and wetter weather over the course of their lives. And before a withering drought struck the American Midwest in 2012, only 41% of residents thought they detected a long-term uptick in the frequency and intensity of dry spells – but after that one dessicating summer, 66% said they’d been seeing worsening droughts for decades. Rain or shine, our minds tend to prize their freshest impressions. But even when we experience the same weird weather events as other people, we don’t always agree on how weird they actually were. Data from more than 4000 meteorological stations tell us that the winter of 2012 was the third-warmest on record in the U.S. But according to the Americans who lived through it…well, those who thought of global climate change as a serious, man-made threat were significantly more likely to report that their local winter weather had been warmer than usual. Even after adjusting for beliefs about global warming, there was a political divide, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to rate the winter as unusually toasty Clouding the issue further, these days we get less of our weather information first-hand and more from the media, where different channels compete for our attention by mentioning “extreme weather” far more often than they used to and spicing up not-so-apocalyptic events with terms like ‘polar vortex’ and ‘snowmaggedon.’ The Weather Channel has even co-opted the World Meteorological Organization’s practice of naming destructive tropical storms by christening every biggish snowstorm that trundles over North America. With so many sources of information, it’s easy for us to choose the ones that align with our broader worldviews, no matter what they are.

As a result, much of what we hear about the frequency of extreme weather can end up reinforcing whatever we already believe, rather than giving us new information about what’s really going on. So, did this video tell you what you wanted to hear?.