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USU Researchers link Weather Extremes and Climate Change

Tuesday, May. 13, 2014

USU faculty member and researcher Simon Wang

Co-authors Simon Wang (pictured), Robert Gillies and Larry Hipps released a study linking California's severe drought and the frigid winter in the Midwest and Northeastern United States to climate change. (Gary Neuenswander photo)

A study funded by NASA and conducted by Utah State University researchers recently linked California’s severe drought and the frigid winter in the Midwest and Northeastern United States to climate change.

Co-authored by Simon Wang, Robert Gillies and Larry Hipps, climate professors in Utah State University’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, the study was featured in several news outlets, including the Associated Press, U.S. News and World Report, The Washington Post, the Discover Magazine blog, CBS and

Using a model produced by Jin-Ho Yoon of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the study noted that strong and high atmospheric pressures in the West and low, deep pressures in the East caused the extreme cold and severe drought. This pattern, known as a “dipole,” is a natural occurrence. However, an analysis of historical data showed that this dipole has been intensifying since the late 1970s.

In conducting a computer simulation, Wang, Hipps and Gillies found that with the Earth’s natural variation, the dipole pattern should have weakened in the last 30 years. It wasn’t until the researchers added emissions from greenhouse gasses into the simulation that the dipole intensified over time. They credited this intensification to the human influence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Wang, Hipps and Gillies discovered that greenhouse emissions are also causing the dipole to occur one year before El Niño, a natural, tropical Pacific warming that results in global climate anomalies. Without the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, these two events remain separate. However, with the increase of these emissions that we currently observe, the connection between the two has become stronger, Wang said.

“It is important to note that the dipole is projected to intensify, which implies that the periodic and inevitable droughts California will experience will exhibit more severity,” wrote the researchers.

Related links:

Contact: Simon Wang, (435) 797-3121,

Contact: Robert Gillies, (435) 797-8023,

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