One frequently sees a question in the form of, “Was [some weather event] caused by global warming?” The answer is yes.
All the weather on Earth is caused by all the energy on Earth. It has always been that way; it cannot be any other way. Barren frozen rocks spinning through intergalactic space do not have weather.
Global Warming is the name we give to a continuing process whereby the amount of free energy stored in the system we call Earth increases. One of the ways we measure energy is by measuring temperature. If the average temperature is higher (and it is) we have directly measured the presence of more energy. Since all weather is caused by all available energy, and we have increased the available energy, all weather has more power.
So yes, the weather event you were wondering about was global warming weather. It’s the only weather we have.
Was some specific event “caused by” global warming? Yes. Global warming is not a separate thing laid over some other real world where we usually live. Global warming is where we live. Where we live makes our weather. There is more energy in the system all day every day. Weather is caused by energy. There is more free energy in the world than there used to be. Any specific weather event under discussion was formed, caused, created by all the available energy at the place and time it happened. Once again, global warming is simply a handy name for an increase in the amount of energy stored in, on, and around the earth. Literally every single weather event since the measurable increase began, its magnitude and power, wherever it happened, happened exactly like it did because of global warming. Every time without exception. It is pointless to ask. The more the temperature increases, the more powerful weather events become.
We have always had weather, but never before have we had this weather. We live in global warming weather. It is not rational to try to parse whether some particular weather event was “caused by” some describable, different, separately measureable thing. If that’s the global warming you’re looking for it’s not there. Global warming is energy imbedded into, on average, every single thing on Earth. That’s how energy works. The dirt outside your door is part of global warning. It is, on average, warmer than the dirt outside that door 150 years ago. Your hair is warmer than your great-great grandfather’s hair. Forget for a moment the “might happens” of global warming and look around you. Weather. Weather is winning. We are not.
This is almost so simple that it can’t be grasped. One definition of energy in physics is “The property which must be transferred to an object in order to do work.” Energy is also referred to as force. The object in question can be anything which has mass. A molecule of air or water is an object.
In turn, the physics definition of work is the motion of matter as a result of applied force (energy). From Wikipedia: “In physics, a force is said to do work if, when acting, there is a displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force.” The “point of application” can be any material object. Molecules. Stuff. Mass. Everything. Air. Water. More energy equals more force. Measuring temperature is, at the actual cause-and-effect level, measuring how fast molecules are moving and how hard they hit stuff, specifically your thermometer. If you run into a wall at 2 mph it’s going to be less violent than if you run into it a 4 mph. A lot less violent. Molecules work the same way. The wind blows harder. More water evaporates. Warmer air automatically is able to contain more water. All these things show up as weather. The details can be hard to measure and difficult to comprehend, but at the root it is blindingly simple: energy moves matter. The more energy there is, the more matter will move, perhaps as measured in rate of motion, perhaps in quantity of moving matter, perhaps both.
It is easy to think that just a degree or two Celsius of average temperature can’t really be that much energy. A degree and a half is a big deal? You can barely feel it if the temperature in your room rises or falls by one degree. How much change can there really be?
As it turns out, a degree and a half average temperature increase in the entire atmosphere, hydrosphere (rivers lakes and oceans), and geosphere (dirt and rocks) is a big deal. It is almost incomprehensible how much raw energy it took to create this measurable change. For starters, all the atomic bombs ever dropped or tested, in the aggregate, did not release enough energy to cause a measurable increase in average temperature worldwide, yet just one atomic bomb, and a crude early version at that, released enough energy to reduce an entire city to rubble and widespread death.
Only the sun showers enough energy onto the earth to raise the temperature worldwide, to heat all the air, all the land and all that lives upon it, and all the water. And the sun has energy to spare; after it warms our planet, much of that energy bounces back into space. In recent times, though, incomprehensible numbers of carbon (and related) atoms have captured more of that energy and held it here, have kept it from radiating back out into space. More energy. We measure it with thermometers.
Weather today is more powerful than it used to be by a factor greater than all the atomic explosions man has ever triggered. One hurricane can slam more energy into the land than an atomic bomb.
Yes. Global warming caused that particular storm, wherever and whatever it was. There might have been a storm without global warming but it wouldn’t have been that storm, the storm that happened. There is only one earth, only one atmosphere, only one hydrosphere. It all contains more energy. Every weather event reflects that fact. Global warming did, indeed, cause that storm.