Climate Change

Is Extreme Weather Becoming the New Norm?

The year 2019 witnessed many weather extremities, such as droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires in various parts of the world. While many of such events routinely occur, there is evidence to suggest that they were more frequent in 2019 than in most of the previous years on record – a trend continuing since the past decade or so. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), in its provisional statement on the State of the Global Climate, highlights some of these extreme weather conditions across the world during 2019, summarized below.

Heatwaves

The summer of 2019 saw two major heatwaves strike Europe, one of which took the temperature to a staggering 46 degree Celsius in southern France. The other heatwave set national records in several northern and western European countries, reaching up to 42.6 degree Celsius in Germany. Similar unusual heatwaves were experienced in many other parts of the world during 2019, including South America, Australia, and Japan.

Droughts

The continuing drought in eastern Australia intensified during 2019, where January to October rainfall was 70 to 80 percent below average in parts of New South Wales and Queensland. The same period for South Australia was the driest on record. For the country as a whole, this period was the driest since 1902, and the rainfall was far below average in most parts of Australia. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia suffered extreme dry spells July onwards, while Singapore had its driest recorded July-to-September spell.

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The dry river bed of Darling River in New South Wales, Australia (Courtesy EPA-EFE)

While some areas of Africa also experienced poor rainy seasons, the drought particularly affected countries in Central America, such as Panama. Central Chile also had an unusually dry year, with rainfall in the capital, Santiago, being merely 82 mm for nearly the whole year – less than 25 percent its long-term average. Many parts of Europe also suffered a dry extended summer for the second consecutive year in 2019.

Cyclones and Hurricanes

The number of cyclones was above average during 2019 globally, with a noticeably extreme season in the Indian Ocean. Cyclone Fani hit eastern India and Bangladesh, killing about 90 people. Cyclone Idai carried sustained winds of up to 105 knots, making it one of the strongest cyclones to hit the east coast of Africa, and causing considerable damage in parts of Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Even more intense was Dorian, originating in the western Atlantic Ocean, and carrying maximum sustained winds of 165 knots – equalling the highest intensity on record for a North Atlantic landfall. The hurricane remained near-stationary over Bahamas for about 24 hours as a category 5 system. It caused at least 60 deaths in the Caribbean island nation, while its economic losses were estimated at around USD 3 billion.

Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc in Bahamas in early September (Courtesy BBC)

Typhoon Hagibis hit the Japanese coast west of Tokyo in October, bringing rainfall in excess of 400 mm in some parts of the country. The ensuing flooding claimed at least 96 lives. The Zhejiang province of China was hit by Typhoon Lekima during August, again, causing major flooding and being the second costliest typhoon in Chinese history.

Storms

A number of regions were affected by severe storms during 2019. Widespread thunderstorms and associated dust storms claimed at least 39 lives in Pakistan during April, while at least 50 deaths were reported in neighbouring India. A storm in Venice raised water levels to 1.85 m, the highest since 1966.

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Similar storms hit other parts of Europe, such as Spain, France, and Greece, where 7 deaths were reported near the city of Thessaloniki. The United States experienced its most active tornado season since May 2011, with 555 tornados reported in May alone – the second-most on record for any single month.  

Floods

While the usual flooding occurred in some parts of the world, such as the monsoon flooding in India, other regions were badly affected by non-regular floods. Life was disrupted in the Shiraz region of Iran, with at least 76 deaths and huge economic losses, due to flooding in March and early April. Another flood in Australia’s Queensland at the start of 2019 caused economic losses worth USD 2 billion, with considerable damage to the livestock.

The Shiraz region of Iran was heavily flooded causing severe losses (Courtesy IRCS)

The Papua province of Indonesia suffered flash flooding, owing to 235 mm of rainfall within 8 hours during March. The impact, coupled with the resulting landslides, claimed at least 112 lives in the region. In South America, major flooding in Argentina and Uruguay caused losses worth USD 2.5 billion, while southern Brazil was also affected. Many other regions, such as East Africa, United States, Canada, and New Zealand also experienced heavy flooding.

In addition to these, there have been other high-impact climatic events in 2019, such as the prolonged and destructive wildfires in Australia and Amazon, typically as a result of abnormally dry or warm summers. The fact that such extreme weather events are occurring more frequently than before, and causing considerable damage to our communities and ecosystem, should stimulate coordinated worldwide action against climate change.

You can download the WMO Provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019 here.

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