More extreme climatic events (ECEs) are among the most prominent consequences of climate change. Despite a long-standing recognition of the importance of ECEs by paleo-ecologists and macro-evolutionary biologists, ECEs have only recently received a strong interest in the wider ecological and evolutionary community. However, as with many rapidly expanding fields, it lacks structure and cohesiveness, which strongly limits scientific progress. Furthermore, due to the descriptive and anecdotal nature of many ECE studies it is still unclear what the most relevant questions and long-term consequences are of ECEs. To improve synthesis, we first discuss ways to define ECEs that facilitate comparison among studies. We then argue that biologists should adhere to more rigorous attribution and mechanistic methods to assess ECE impacts. Subsequently, we discuss conceptual and methodological links with climatology and disturbance-, tipping point- and paleo-ecology. These research fields have close linkages with ECE research, but differ in the identity and/or the relative severity of environmental factors. By summarizing the contributions to this theme issue we draw parallels between behavioural, ecological and evolutionary ECE studies, and suggest that an overarching challenge is that most empirical and theoretical evidence points towards responses being highly idiosyncratic, and thus predictability being low. Finally, we suggest a roadmap based on the proposition that an increased focus on the mechanisms behind the biological response function will be crucial for increased understanding and predictability of the impacts of ECE.This article is part of the themed issue 'Behavioural, ecological and evolutionary responses to extreme climatic events'.