Are Extreme Climatic Events Caused by Extreme Forcing Factors?
Kumar, A., Chen, M., Hoerling, M. and Eischeid, J. 2013. Do extreme climate events require extreme forcings? Geophysical Research Letters 40: 3440-3445.
Kumar et al. addressed this subject within the context of the severe U.S. Great Plains drought of May-July 2012, which had "a rapid onset, and little indications or early warnings for its sudden emergence." This was accomplished via the use of "a dynamical seasonal climate forecast system," where "states of the ocean, atmosphere, land, sea ice, and atmospheric trace gases were initialized in late April 2012, and an ensemble of forecasts was made."
As a result of their findings, the four U.S. researchers felt confident in stating, "based on the diagnosis of a spectrum of possible outcomes for precipitation over the Great Plains from this system, it is concluded that the extreme Great Plains drought did not require extreme external forcings and could plausibly have arisen from atmospheric noise alone." In commenting on this finding, among a number of other things, Kumar et al. write "processes inherent to the atmosphere alone, with no intervention of external forcing, may cause extreme events." And they say "the evolution of these atmospheric processes is highly sensitive to initial conditions such that two analyzed states that are only slightly different rapidly diverge," which they say "is typically viewed as a consequence of the so-called 'butterfly effect'," citing Hilborn (2004). And so it was they ultimately conclude the mechanism responsible for the occurrence of extreme events in such nonlinear systems may simply be "the (unpredictable) sensitivity to small differences in initial conditions."
Hilborn, R.C. 2004. Sea gulls, butterflies, and grasshoppers: A brief history of the butterfly effect in nonlinear dynamics. American Journal of Physics 72: 425-427.