Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Extreme weather brings global chaos

Many parts of the world are suffering from particularly extreme weather which has resulted in widespread damage to crops and brought death and destruction. Some are citing it as proof that global warming is real while for others it is just a topic of conversation. But while some are basking in the heat, others are suffering and many people have died in the extreme weather that has swept the globe in recent weeks.

Scores die in Russia

In Russia a heatwave which has lasted weeks has caused massive forest fires near Moscow and residents have been warned to keep windows shut.

Dozens of Russians have died amid the heatwave that shows no sign of breaking. Many of the dead have drowned after taking a swim, often after having drunk too much vodka. Temperatures across much of western Russia have soared past 35°C, in the hottest and longest heatwave in decades. It has brought with it the worst drought in more than 100 years, and with virtually no rain since winter crops are shrivelling and farms are struggling. All this has prompted the government to declare a state of emergency in 16 Russian regions, and increase loans to try to help farmers avoid bankruptcy.

In recent days massive forest fires have destroyed thousands of acres of woodland. Temperatures hit 38°C in Moscow the highest since records began 130 years ago. As smog descended over the city doctors warned people to stay indoors [BBC / Telegraph]. The Middle East has also suffered from extremely high temperatures with highs of 45°C in parts. But despite being warmer than usual, this has failed to make the headlines.

Hundreds dead in China floods

Further east it is the excess amount of water that is causing problems. Weeks of torrential rain has left more than 1,250 people dead or missing and the economic losses are estimated to be more than $22 bn (£14 bn). China suffers monsoon-type rains every year but this year's rainfall has been the heaviest in more than a decade [Xinhua / BBC].

Global temperatures rising

But it is the heat that is a growing cause for concern. Last year was the second warmest on record, and this year could be the planet's hottest, this according to a forecast from Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, which says uncharacteristically warm conditions are being felt across the northern hemisphere.

The northern hemisphere is experiencing record high temperatures. While the south of China is suffering from heavy rain the north is sweltering. Authorities have issued a fresh heatwave alert after a week of soaring temperatures. The Beijing Meteorological Bureau issued a yellow-coded heat alert on Saturday, after three consecutive days in excess of 35°C [Xinhua].

Parts of Northern Africa, the United States and the Middle East are also experiencing scorching heat, with some regions recording above 50°C. David Jones, a senior climatologist at the Australian weather bureau's National Climate Centre, says the weather is particularly uncharacteristic. "We actually got into the low 50s for parts of the Middle East and Pakistan a couple of weeks back, so some extreme numbers, but more generally numbers approaching 40°C and 41°C. Beijing the other day just fell short of 41°C. We're seeing 40s right up and down the US eastern seaboard," Jones told ABC.

US also sweltering

In the United States many parts of the country have suffered weeks of high temperatures. New York has seen temperatures in the 30s and in Washington DC to the north highs of 35°C took its toll on those taking part in the Scouting centennial parade. Several people were transported to medical facilities for heat-related injuries and paramedics had to help dozens of others with heat-related complaints [WJLA].

In other parts of the country the unusually warm, oppressive and stormy summer has brought dangers of another kind. A tornado ripped through northwest Connecticut on Wednesday last week, touching down four times and in the process hit the towns of East Litchfield, Thomaston, Terryville and Bristol, according to the National Weather Service. The event follows another tornado which hit on June 24 and caused extensive damage in Bridgeport. The extremes have prompted some to ask weather it is further evidence of global warming.

An isolated hot, stormy summer is no more convincing evidence of global warming than a series of winter snowstorms are proof of global cooling. For better evidence scientists look for long-term trends and there the substantiation of a warming Earth is stronger. An analysis of global surface temperatures by NASA scientists found that 2009 was tied for the second warmest year since 1880.

Global warming

And in the Southern Hemisphere, the past year was the warmest on record according to NASA. January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record, the space agency says. Looking back to 1880, when modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, say NASA scientists. Average global temperatures have increased by about 0.7°C since 1880. Climatologically speaking, that seemingly small number is actually dramatic, NASA says [NASA].

But in the southern hemisphere many might be hoping the temperatures might rise even further as extreme cold brought with it death and starvation across many regions. The Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency across half the country due to cold weather. Most of the areas affected are in the south, where temperatures regularly drop below zero centigrade at this time of year. But this year has brought temperatures as low as -24°C. The state of emergency means regional authorities can dip into emergency funds to provide medicine, blankets and shelter to those most affected. Hundreds of people, nearly half of them very young children, have died of cold-related diseases, such as pneumonia, in Peru's mountainous south where temperatures have plummeted at night to -20°C. Even in Peru's hot and humid Amazon region, temperatures dropped as low as 9°C [BBC].

Weather remains British obsession

There are some parts of the globe which remain mild in comparison. Britain has experienced a warmer summer than usual, but temperatures have only touched 30°C. As the school holidays started, temperatures across the country ranged from 20°C to 26°C and the risk of rain hangs over holiday makers hoping for a warm day by the beach. Of course when it comes to the British, it is rare that every one is entirely happy. When temperatures soar many will exclaim that it is too hot, but last years wash out summer was slated especially after a declaration by the Met Office that the country would experience a 'barbecue summer'. Britons will complain about the rain and the snow and the cold. It is perhaps not surprising that talking about the weather has become a national obsession.

In fact it has been estimated the British spend six months of their entire lives talking about the weather. A study of 2,018 adults by pollsters ICM found Britons talk about the weather for about 49 hours every year and the subject comes up more often than work, TV, sport or gossip. According to the research about 19% of over 65s questioned said they believed they could predict the weather as well as a professional weatherman. And then there are the old wives' tales such as cows sitting down, said to signify the onset of rain, or a red sky at night which is said to forecast clear skies the next day. One in five put more trust in these than the daily weather forecast published by the meteorological office [Daily Mail / AFP].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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