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WMO on extreme climate

By Colin Ricketts - 17 Jul 2013 12:59:0 GMT
WMO on extreme climate

Hurricanes and other extreme events are damaging even the biggest economies. More than just the road closed when Katrina hit New Orleans; Hurricane Katrina damage image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Many factors affect our earth's climate these days. Measurement is vital as we unravel the puzzle of warming, and the patterns of ocean, atmosphere and external influence that we don't yet understand. The extremes with which we now cope need to be understood, otherwise it is back to the loony toons that we heard when global warming was first suggested.

Many recent extreme events would have occurred differently or not at all without our recent climate change. Heat-waves, and connected fires, with flooding are the most obvious events concerned, but many take place in parts of the world that we rarely hear from. We could all benefit from reading reports that deliver full details of what we suffer globally. In that way it will be possible to see what will happen in our individual areas, based on similar worldwide situations. There is as yet no clear trend globally in storm intensity or frequency.

What has happened is that the last decade has observations of more extreme types of event. If this is a trend, longer timeframes are required. The World Meteorological Organisation now present, The Global Climate 2001-2010: a decade of climate extremes.

The organisation's Commission for Climatology uses new techniques to address such assessment and monitoring, as well as using the ubiquitous climate models. Ice sheet melting is reported elsewhere, along with sea-level rise and coastal management programmes. Typhoon and hurricane measurements show various increases, in maximum winds and sheer activity.

NOAA-NCDC data from the US recorded the most active decade since 1855 in the N. Atlantic Basin. The year 2005 was one to remember, producing 27 storms, that including 7 major hurricanes. These have to be Category-3 or higher. In 2005, Category-5 Katrina, of course, will never be forgotten, until the next most severe hit! Cyclones elsewhere were often below-average in their activity, with few making landfall in the Pacific. The dreadful Philippine cyclone, Durian, badly affected millions in 2006. In contrast, Europe was affected by severe storms in 3 years of the decade.

Droughts are the most feared natural disaster and they made their horrifying mark in Australia, East Africa and the Amazon Basin throughout the decade. In a similar vein, flooding was much more frequent, in Thailand, Australia and elsewhere with much more calamitous results than normal worldwide. This probably combined with the recording of the wettest decade since 1901, apart from the 1950s.

Temperatures on the rise in every part of the earth easily increase evaporation and therefore the heavy rainfall. This doesn't mean that extreme cold had no effects. The whole Northern Hemisphere had one particularly dangerous spell from December 2009 to February 2010, joined by similar chilling deaths and agricultural disasters in Bolivia, Australia, North and South Africa and southern Asia.

The point of reports like this is that precious little is done. More and more study is needed to ensure that politicians have no excuse other than to identify the issues and act. "Events" are the key to pushing for change as they become more and more severe.