Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantifying statistical uncertainty in the attribution of human influence on severe weather


Event attribution in the context of climate change seeks to understand the role of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on extreme weather events, either specific events or classes of events. A common approach to event attribution uses climate model output under factual (real-world) and counterfactual (world that might have been without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions) scenarios to estimate the probabilities of the event of interest under the two scenarios. Event attribution is then quantified by the ratio of the two probabilities. While this approach has been applied many times in the last 15 years, the statistical techniques used to estimate the risk ratio based on climate model ensembles have not drawn on the full set of methods available in the statistical literature and have in some cases used and interpreted the bootstrap method in non-standard ways. We present a precise frequentist statistical framework for quantifying the effect of sampling uncertainty on estimation of the risk ratio, propose the use of statistical methods that are new to event attribution, and evaluate a variety of methods using statistical simulations. We conclude that existing statistical methods not yet in use for event attribution have several advantages over the widely-used bootstrap, including better statistical performance in repeated samples and robustness to small estimated probabilities. Software for using the methods is available through the climextRemes package available for R or Python. While we focus on frequentist statistical methods, Bayesian methods are likely to be particularly useful when considering sources of uncertainty beyond sampling uncertainty.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View