On the Perils of Considering Extreme Events in Isolation

Leaders: Radley Horton and Colin Raymond
Thursday, October 10, 10:15am – 11:45am

About the Reading

Future climate risk from compound events
Zscheischler et al., 2018, Nature Climate Change
Most major weather and climate-related catastrophes are a result of the interaction between multiple drivers. This paper looks closely at compound events, or the combination of climate drivers and hazards that then leads to a significant impact. By using bottom-up methodologies to account for the dependencies between drivers and hazards, Zscheischler et al. argue that climate impact analyses can better predict the amount of risk that is facing an area. They find that a systematic research program focused on compound events is significantly overdue, and stronger collaboration across fields of research is necessary to identify and protect vulnerable communities.

Discussion Summary

Climate extremes are often studied according to traditional disaster event categories – hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes. Within Zscheischler et al.’s paper, the authors argue for a reframing of this approach, as many extreme events can be thought of as having some kind of multivariate, spatial, or sequential correlation. To better understand and prepare for these correlated events, there is a need to systematically study both the drivers of climate change and its social impacts. However, a correlated events approach is unlikely to change the policymaking process much; the nuances of correlated disaster events can be immaterial to policymakers. There is still a need for new structures that allow for greater institutional flexibility when responding to an extreme event.

The greatest innovation and response to correlated extreme events is happening at the city level, where governments are considering different frameworks of adaptation and resilience. Cities have also been able to build networks of learning communities outside of their regional geographies and political capacities. In the absence of federal action, however, many agreed that the rise of the city as the central actor may put rural communities at greater risk. Without the existence of regional governments to construct regulatory machinery, there is all the more need to mainstream the climate dialogue and use climate assessments to look at the potential interaction of extreme events.


  • What are the variables (i.e. location, timing, climate) that we should be particularly focusing on when considering correlated extreme events?
  • From a methodological perspective, what are the general implications of correlated extreme events for policy and adaptation?
  • How can we better unify the human narrative and physical climate modeling to best respond to correlated extreme events?
  • Is there a way to set up a monitoring system in experimental locations to improve our tracking of correlated extreme events?
  • How are we constructively reviewing the way that cities respond and learn from a disaster event?
  • How can we use the unit of a project as a catalyst towards greater resilience to correlated extreme events?