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Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide

Science & Tech  (tags: climate, discovery, environment, weather, energy, investigation, news, research, science, safety, world, scientists, study, society )

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Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge & flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commo

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JL A (281)
Sunday January 13, 2013, 2:46 pm

The New York Times

January 10, 2013
Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide

WORCESTER, England — Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

“Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva. “The heat wave in Australia; the flooding in the U.K., and most recently the flooding and extensive snowstorm in the Middle East — it’s already a big year in terms of extreme weather calamity.”

Such events are increasing in intensity as well as frequency, Mr. Baddour said, a sign that climate change is not just about rising temperatures, but also about intense, unpleasant, anomalous weather of all kinds.

Here in Britain, people are used to thinking of rain as the wallpaper on life’s computer screen — an omnipresent, almost comforting background presence. But even the hardiest citizen was rattled by the near-biblical fierceness of the rains that bucketed down, and the floods that followed, three different times in 2012.

Rescuers plucked people by boat from their swamped homes in St. Asaph, North Wales. Whole areas of the country were cut off when roads and train tracks were inundated at Christmas. In Mevagissey, Cornwall, a pub owner closed his business for good after it flooded 11 times in two months.

It was no anomaly: the floods of 2012 followed the floods of 2007 and also the floods of 2009, which all told have resulted in nearly $6.5 billion in insurance payouts. The Met Office, Britain’s weather service, declared 2012 the wettest year in England, and the second-wettest in Britain as a whole, since records began more than 100 years ago. Four of the five wettest years in the last century have come in the past decade (the fifth was in 1954).

The biggest change, said Charles Powell, a spokesman for the Met Office, is the frequency in Britain of “extreme weather events” — defined as rainfall reaching the top 1 percent of the average amount for that time of year. Fifty years ago, such episodes used to happen every 100 days; now they happen every 70 days, he said.

The same thing is true in Australia, where bush fires are raging across Tasmania and the current heat wave has come after two of the country’s wettest years ever. On Tuesday, Sydney experienced its fifth-hottest day since records began in 1910, with the temperature climbing to 108.1 degrees. The first eight days of 2013 were among the 20 hottest on record.

Every decade since the 1950s has been hotter in Australia than the one before, said Mark Stafford Smith, science director of the Climate Adaptation Flagship at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

To the north, the extremes have swung the other way, with a band of cold settling across Russia and Northern Europe, bringing thick snow and howling winds to Stockholm, Helsinki and Moscow. (Incongruously, there were also severe snowstorms in Sicily and southern Italy for the first time since World War II; in December, tornadoes and waterspouts struck the Italian coast.)

In Siberia, thousands of people were left without heat when natural gas liquefied in its pipes and water mains burst. Officials canceled bus transportation between cities for fear that roadside breakdowns could lead to deaths from exposure, and motorists were advised not to venture far afield except in columns of two or three cars. In Altai, to the east, traffic officials warned drivers not to use poor-quality diesel, saying that it could become viscous in the cold and clog fuel lines.

Meanwhile, China is enduring its worst winter in recent memory, with frigid temperatures recorded in Harbin, in the northeast. In the western region of Xinjiang, more than 1,000 houses collapsed under a relentless onslaught of snow, while in Inner Mongolia, 180,000 livestock froze to death. The cold has wreaked havoc with crops, sending the price of vegetables soaring.

Way down in South America, energy analysts say that Brazil may face electricity rationing for the first time since 2002, as a heat wave and a lack of rain deplete the reservoirs for hydroelectric plants. The summer has been punishingly hot. The temperature in Rio de Janeiro climbed to 109.8 degrees on Dec. 26, the city’s highest temperature since official records began in 1915.

At the same time, in the Middle East, Jordan is battling a storm packing torrential rain, snow, hail and floods that are cascading through tunnels, sweeping away cars and spreading misery in Syrian refugee camps. Amman has been virtually paralyzed, with cars abandoned, roads impassable and government offices closed.

Israel and the Palestinian territories are grappling with similar conditions, after a week of intense rain and cold winds ushered in a snowstorm that dumped eight inches in Jerusalem alone.

Amir Givati, head of the surface water department at the Israel Hydrological Service, said the storm was truly unusual because of its duration, its intensity and its breadth. Snow and hail fell not just in the north, but as far south as the desert city of Dimona, best known for its nuclear reactor.

In Beirut on Wednesday night, towering waves crashed against the Corniche, the seaside promenade downtown, flinging water and foam dozens of feet in the air as lightning flickered across the dark sea at multiple points along the horizon. Many roads were flooded as hail pounded the city.

Several people died, including a baby boy in a family of shepherds who was swept out of his mother’s arms by floodwaters. The greatest concern was for the 160,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon, taking shelter in schools, sheds and, where possible, with local families. Some refugees are living in farm outbuildings, which are particularly vulnerable to cold and rain.

Barry Lynn, who runs a forecasting business and is a lecturer at the Hebrew University’s department of earth science, said a striking aspect of the whole thing was the severe and prolonged cold in the upper atmosphere, a big-picture shift that indicated the Atlantic Ocean was no longer having the moderating effect on weather in the Middle East and Europe that it has historically.

“The intensity of the cold is unusual,” Mr. Lynn said. “It seems the weather is going to become more intense; there’s going to be more extremes.”

In Britain, where changes to the positioning of the jet stream — a ribbon of air high up in the atmosphere that helps steer weather systems — may be contributing to the topsy-turvy weather, people are still recovering from the December floods. In Worcester last week, the river Severn remained flooded after three weeks, with playing fields buried under water.

In the shop at the Worcester Cathedral, Julie Smith, 54, was struggling, she said, to adjust to the new uncertainty.

“For the past seven or eight years, there’s been a serious incident in a different part of the country,” Mrs. Smith said. “We don’t expect extremes. We don’t expect it to be like this.”

Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem; Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah, Israel; Fares Akram from Gaza City, Gaza; Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth from Moscow; Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan; Dan Levin from Harbin, China; Jim Yardley from New Delhi; Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon; Matt Siegel from Sydney, Australia; Scott Sayare from Paris; and Simon Romero from Rio de Janeiro.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 11, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated part of the name of the organization for which Omar Baddour works. It is the World Meteorological Organization, not the World Meteorological Association. It also misspelled the name of a location in Cornwall, England. It is Mevagissey, not Megavissey.

Roger G (154)
Sunday January 13, 2013, 3:42 pm
noted, thanks !

JL A (281)
Sunday January 13, 2013, 4:13 pm
You are welcome Roger!

Terry V (30)
Sunday January 13, 2013, 5:01 pm
Polution and Global Warming

Pollution is a Global Killer

Earth Cry

JL A (281)
Sunday January 13, 2013, 5:38 pm
Thanks for the links Terry. If anyone hasn't followed them, it is worth doing so.You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last week.

David C (29)
Sunday January 13, 2013, 11:56 pm
You know, when I was at school in the UK over 50 year ago, we used to have to walk there in the rain, snow, high winds and at no time was this called extreme, the local road used to flood every year, till we had the flood wall put in 40 years ago, but this did not get on the local news or called extreme.
I lived in a mill town in the north of England, where the streets had be planned so that the workers could get to work, if there was very bad snow, when did they do this over 140 years ago when snow 10 to 20 feet high was normal in the winter not extreme.
Most winters 80 years ago you got sea ice in most ports around the UK, 40 tears later most airports would have to close because of ice and fog at times in the winter was this not called extreme no it was called winter time.
In Scotland people planned for being cut off from the outside world by snow for weeks at a time in the winter and for the flooding later, my grandmother home had a way to put wooded boards up to stop the water coming in the house.
Yes I know about Global Warming but I sorry but the word extreme is being use when a lot of the time its is not. if you keep potting homes in areas that flood when it rains, you will get water in your home, if you do not plan for snow and ice in the winter then toads and train-lines will close down, Over the years we have stopped planned for this, as we stopped having very bad winters for a time!

Robert O (12)
Monday January 14, 2013, 12:31 am
Pretty worrisome and I'm sure climate change is to blame. Thanks.

Giana P (398)
Monday January 14, 2013, 12:51 am
Scary business. Have we really lost control this time?

Gloria picchetti (304)
Monday January 14, 2013, 3:33 am
Chicago - It's so cold I wanted to put a hat on but I couldn't get out of bed to get the hat!

Past Member (0)
Monday January 14, 2013, 4:17 am
Interesting, thanks.

Past Member (0)
Monday January 14, 2013, 5:14 am
Let's start doing something before it's too late

Joy W (103)
Monday January 14, 2013, 6:16 am
Noted. I agree with you, Fiona T. We have to do something, anything before we destroy everything.

Elaine Flynn (0)
Monday January 14, 2013, 8:43 am

JL A (281)
Monday January 14, 2013, 9:27 am
David, Thank you for providing the opportunity for all to understand definitions of extreme.
Denmark used to experience weather like you describe, too (heavy precipitation and snow). However, their weather has undergone such an extreme shift that they no longer require sloped roofs on new construction because snow has become so little and so rare. Given the similar latitude and longitude, Britain's changes are probably similar so prior events no longer need to be planned for. Elsewhere in the world they are having this kind of weather where it rarely or never happened before and related plans and infrastructure do not yet exist and it is indeed extreme weather for them.
You cannot currently send a star to David because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Robert because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Giana because you have done so within the last week.
You are welcome John.
You cannot currently send a star to Joy because you have done so within the last week.

David C (133)
Monday January 14, 2013, 10:51 am
the world is changing.......

JL A (281)
Monday January 14, 2013, 11:02 am
It is indeed Dave...and sometimes change doesn't feel too good. You cannot currently send a star to Dave because you have done so within the last week.

. (0)
Monday January 14, 2013, 4:51 pm
Yep and certain naughty angels have been messing with the ionosphere.

JL A (281)
Monday January 14, 2013, 5:11 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.

Natalie S (13)
Wednesday January 16, 2013, 12:21 am
Reading this has made me even more aware that pronounced climate change is really a worldwide thing and we need to step up our actions to save the planet from further destructions.

JL A (281)
Wednesday January 16, 2013, 12:55 pm
You cannot currently send a star to N because you have done so within the last week.
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