Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mother Nature Strikes Back: A Review of Extreme Weather in 2016

Extreme weather is a deadly corollary of climate change. A UN study found that between 1995 and 2015, 600,000 people died from natural disasters. Global warming is known to exacerbate the intensity of extreme weather events. We are already seeing clear evidence of climate change playing a role in a growing number of natural disasters. Thanks to advances in attribution science we can now see the role that climate change plays in driving a succession of increasingly severe extreme weather events.

According to a report from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, floods accounted for 30 percent of the world's top ten natural disasters in 2015. In 2015, three of the world's top 10 natural disasters by the number of fatalities were floods. In first place was heat waves, accounting for four of the top 10.

The warming trend and associated extreme weather events continued in 2016, which has replaced 2015 as the hottest year on record. Decades of hot data are the harbingers of a climate catastrophe. As published in Insurance Journal, here is a list of some of the extreme weather events we experienced in 2016
  • Flooding in China’s Yangtze Basin from May through August killed at least 475 people and caused $28 billion in losses.
  • A drought in India that started earlier in the year and stretched through June caused about $5 billion in damage.
  • Flooding in West Virginia and the mid-Atlantic in June killed 23 people and damaged more than 5,500 buildings.
  • Typhoon Nepartak hit the Philippines, Taiwan and China in July, killing 111 people and causing at least $1.5 billion in damage.
  • Flooding in northeast China in July killed 289 people and caused about $5 billion in damage.
  • Temperatures reached 129 degrees (54 degrees Celsius) in Kuwait and Iraq in July.
  • Flooding in Louisiana in August killed 13 people and caused around $15 billion in damage.
  • Flooding in Sudan and South Sudan in July and August killed 129 people and damaged more than 41,000 buildings.
  • A long heat wave coupled with high humidity afflicted the U.S. South and East. Savannah, Georgia, had 69 straight days when the temperature hit 90 or higher.
  • Typhoon Lionrock hit Japan, China and Korea in August and killed 77 people while damaging more than 20,000 buildings.
  • Spain set a record for the hottest September temperature recorded in Europe, with marks of 114 and 115 degrees.
  • Localities in the United States broke nearly 15,000 daily records for hot nighttime minimum temperatures from May into September.
Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc in Cuba and the Bahamas and it killed almost one thousand people in Haiti. Although not as severe the effects of the Hurricane were felt in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. What makes this hurricane noteworthy is that advances in attribution science are making it easier to see the role played by climate change.  The relationship between extreme weather and climate change was explored in a recent Scientific American article.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about extreme weather in the US is the GOP's refusal to accept reality. Republicans ignored unprecedented heat and record breaking precipitation while boldly revealing policy platforms that will exacerbate the situation. The GOP's love of fossil fuels and disdain for climate action is equaled only by their hatred for science.

In the span of six months two once in 500 year storms have devastated Louisiana. Similar catastrophic flooding has gripped many pats of the world in 2016 including China, India, Macedonia, Pakistan and Sudan.

As reported by Damian Carrington in a Washington Post article, this warming trend has dire implications for extreme weather which costs lives, destroys crops and contributes to food insecurity.

"The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue...Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen...Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular," Carrington said.

The WMO said human-induced global warming had contributed to at least half the extreme weather events studied in recent years, with the risk of extreme heat increasing by 10 times in some cases.

"It is almost as if mother nature is making a statement," said climate scientist Michael Mann, at Penn State University in the US.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2016 extreme weather and climate events have adversely affected agriculture impacting the food security of more than 60 million people.

"Climate change is not like other issues that can be postponed from one year to the next,” he said. “The US and world are already behind; speed is of the essence because climate change and its impacts are coming sooner and with greater ferocity than anticipated."

The situation is dire as indicated by new research published at the end of 2016. The findings are from a Stanford University doctoral dissertation by Carolyn Snyder, a climate policy official at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As reported in Nature the research suggests the Earth is currently warmer than it has been in 100,000 years. The conclusion of the Snyder study suggests that current levels of fossil fuel use indicate the Earth is 'locked into' temperatures not Seen in 2 million years. The research suggests that we may see temperature rises of up to 9° Celsius.

As reported in an accompanying Nature article: "Even if the amount of atmospheric CO2 were to stabilize at current levels, the study suggests that average temperatures may increase by roughly 5° C over the next few millennia." If Trump delivers on his promise to extract and burn even more fossil fuels the situation could be even worse that predicted by the research.

"The kinds of extreme weather we have seen over the past year or so will be routine all too soon, but then even worse records will be set," Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s leading climatologists, told Think Progress' Joe Romm.

The Eye of the Storm: Hurricane Matthew, Attribution Science and Climate Change (Video)
Review of Extreme Weather in 2015
Growing Levels of GHGs are Warming the Planet and Contributing to Disasters
Extreme Weather and Existential Reflections on Life in the Anthropocene
Strong Body of Evidence for a Changing Climate
Extreme Weather Makes a Convincing Case for Climate Change

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