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What do these small-sounding numbers mean to you? 

They are now widely used in the context of climate change, but few of us have the tools to understand them and what they mean for our day-to-day lives, or what risks they pose to society. 

We didn’t fully understand them either. So we started asking climate scientists practical questions about what climate change would look and feel like in different places around the world. We found the answers to be useful, intuitive, and profound. We created Probable Futures to share them with you.

1.5°

2.5°

This platform offers interactive maps of future climate scenarios using widely accepted climate models, along with stories and explanations designed to help you understand our changing world. We designed it to be experienced like a book, so we encourage you to read to the bottom of each page and follow the arrows.

Heat

A warming world means our days will be hotter, our nights warmer, and our air more humid. It also means there will be less snow and frost.

If you live in the Western United States, you are likely showering in and drinking water that originated from snow, as snowmelt makes up around 75% of the region’s water supply. How will your life be affected as snow becomes less reliable in a warming world?

This map depicts the number of days in a year that are projected to stay below freezing temperatures (0°C and 32°F). Observe how, as the earth warms, fewer days allow for the accumulation of snow.

Drought

Extreme drought has historically been a catalyst for migrations of humans, animals, and plants.

If warming continues to 3°C, large regions on every continent are likely to experience near-annual droughts that, today, are unprecedented or very rare. How many people will be exposed to potentially unlivable conditions? And how might they respond?

Annual likelihood of extreme drought

Annual likelihood (%)
  • 0-10
  • 11-33
  • 34-50
  • 51-66
  • 67-90
  • 91-100

This map projects the annual likelihood of an “extreme drought,” defined here by a six-month period of precipitation and soil moisture conditions that were extremely rare (0.1% probability) for a given location in the recent past. As the earth warms, the probability of such an event will increase rapidly and significantly. Note: because the definition of drought is relative to the climate history of a given location, absolutely dry places like deserts will not be highlighted in the data.

Data source: CORDEX-CORE ensemble (REMO 2015 and RegCM4). Processed by Woodwell Climate Research Center.

Precipitation

Warmer air can hold more moisture. With climate change, our rainstorms will be heavier and precipitation events that we now consider “rare” will occur more frequently.

The term “1-in-100 year storm” is crucial in many countries where people purchase insurance against the risks storms pose. Risks that have a higher probability, however, are often uninsurable. What will happen when insurers, banks, and governments recognize that the next 100 years won’t have the stability of the previous centuries?

This map depicts the frequency with which a precipitation event currently defined as a “1-in-100 Year Storm” (or a 1% chance storm) will return, at different scenarios of warming. For example, places highlighted in bright pink will see the currently defined “1-in-100 Year Storm” return on average every 11 to 25 years. In other words, that storm would be between 4 and 10 times more likely in that warming scenario.

Welcome to Probable Futures. We bring together leaders across culture, business, technology, and design, in collaboration with scientists at the renowned Woodwell Climate Research Center. We are not a business; rather, our goal is to increase the chances that the future is good.

As you move through this platform, you will become familiar with the small-sounding numbers that carry big consequences for our world. You will also learn about the fundamentals of our climate system, take a deep dive into the workings of heat, and explore interactive maps of Earth’s probable futures. Along the way, we’ll help you develop a mindset for understanding the risks we face and responding to them. Start your journey below.