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Weather Perceptions Linked To Belief In Climate Change, Study Shows

Sunlight peeking between rocky craigs, reflecting off the Unita Mountain snow pack.
NOAA Research
Warmer winter weather in Utah can have cascading impacts including faster melting snowpacks.

According to new research out of Utah State University, perceiving local weather as warmer or colder than normal is strongly connected to our pre-existing beliefs in climate change. 

Through collaborations with the University of Bergen and the Norwegian Citizen Panel, Howe collected survey data from a representative group of Norway citizens to understand the relationship between belief in climate change, and perceptions of whether the temperature and precipitation patterns deviated from normal.

"We also found a pretty strong relationship between what people thought about global climate change more broadly and what they said they had experienced in terms of the weather at the local level," said Peter Howe, an assistant professor of geography at Utah State University.

"So, people who said they think that climate change is happening and caused mostly by humans - which is consistent with the scientific consensus on the issue - were more likely to say that the winter that they had experienced was warmer than normal," he said. "The people who said that human-caused climate change wasn’t happening or that humans weren’t primarily the cause were significantly less likely to say that they had experienced a warmer-than-normal winter.”

A larger implication of Howe’s research is that people’s opinions about climate change can be a barrier to them responding and adapting to direct climate change impacts.

"Here in Utah we are seeing decreased snow packs, we’re seeing hotter weather," Howe said. "Last summer was the hottest summer on record in Salt Lake City. So it’s important to make those connections when we talk about these issues and when we talk about how the policies we want to put in place to mitigate the worst effects of climate change will also help us here at home." 

Howe’s continuing research focuses on how people think about and respond to extreme weather events that are related to climate change.

Access to Howe's recent article in the journal Climatic Change can be found here