Peter Stott, of the U.K.'s Met Office, said: "We are much more confident about attributing [weather effects] to climate change. This is all adding up to a stronger and stronger picture of human influence on the climate."
The researchers also said that not every extreme weather event could be attributed to climate change. For instance, the extremely cold British winter of 2012-11 - starkly exemplified by the satellite picture of the U.K. and Ireland covered in white on Christmas Eve, as snow gripped the nations – was owing to variations in the systems of ocean and air circulation. Although such cold winters are now only half as likely as they were several decades ago, owing to a generally warming climate across the world, extremely low temperatures of this type are still possible depending on circulation effects – in this case, a negative North Atlantic Oscillation, the circulation system that is a key determinant of European weather.
Floods in Thailand last year, another example studied in the research, were also not judged to be due to climate change but to other factors such as changes in the management of local river systems.
Following and predicting temperature rises tends to be much less complex than predicting – and attributing the causes of – changes in precipitation patterns.
This year's weather in the U.K. is an example. The Met Office has said the record wet conditions, which have brought serious flooding to regions from Yorkshire to the south-west, were owing to "a particularly disturbed jet stream". That is the weather system across the north Atlantic that normally lies at higher latitudes during the British summer, but has been lower in latitude than usual for several years running, bringing wet and sometimes cold conditions. Some research has suggested that the massive melting of Arctic ice has been responsible for this effect – by changing the patterns of warmer and colder winds in the upper atmosphere.
The key question – of whether man-made global warming is putting a dampener on British summers – will take several years to solve, according to Stott. "This is an open question in terms of research – it is too early days to be able to say," he said.
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Environment Correspondent Fiona Harvey in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/10/extreme-weather-manmade-climate-change