2010 weather more extreme: 21,000 dead

Highlights

More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined.

“It just seemed like it was back-to-back and it came in waves,” said Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. It handled a record number of disasters in 2010.

“The term ’100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year.”

And we have ourselves to blame most of the time, scientists and disaster experts say.

Even though many catastrophes have the ring of random chance, the hand of man made this a particularly deadly, costly, extreme and weird year for everything from wild weather to earthquakes.

Climate scientists say Earth’s climate also is changing thanks to man-made global warming, bringing extreme weather, such as heat waves and flooding.

In the summer, one weather system caused oppressive heat in Russia, while farther south it caused flooding in Pakistan that inundated 62,000 square miles, about the size of Wisconsin. That single heat-and-storm system killed almost 17,000 people, more people than all the worldwide airplane crashes in the past 15 years combined.

No one had to tell a mask-wearing Vera Savinova how bad it could get. She is a 52-year-old administrator in a dental clinic who in August took refuge from Moscow’s record heat, smog and wildfires.

“I think it is the end of the world,” she said. “Our planet warns us against what would happen if we don’t care about nature.”

The excessive amount of extreme weather that dominated 2010 is a classic sign of man-made global warming that climate scientists have long warned about. They calculate that the killer Russian heat wave — setting a national record of 111 degrees — would happen once every 100,000 years without global warming.

Preliminary data show that 18 countries broke their records for the hottest day ever.

“These (weather) events would not have happened without global warming,” said Kevin Trenberth, chief of climate analysis for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Flooding alone this year killed more than 6,300 people in 59 nations through September, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, 30 people died in the Nashville, Tenn., region in flooding. Inundated countries include China, Italy, India, Colombia and Chad. Super Typhoon Megi with winds of more than 200 mph devastated the Philippines and parts of China.

Through Nov. 30, nearly 260,000 people died in natural disasters in 2010, compared to 15,000 in 2009, according to Swiss Re. The World Health Organization, which hasn’t updated its figures past Sept. 30, is just shy of 250,000. By comparison, deaths from terrorism from 1968 to 2009 were less than 115,000, according to reports by the U.S. State Department and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The last year in which natural disasters were this deadly was 1983 because of an Ethiopian drought and famine, according to WHO. Swiss Re calls it the deadliest since 1976.

The charity Oxfam says 21,000 of this year’s disaster deaths are weather related.

HOW EXTREME:

After strong early year blizzards — nicknamed Snowmageddon — paralyzed the U.S. mid-Atlantic and record snowfalls hit Russia and China, the temperature turned to broil.

The year may go down as the hottest on record worldwide or at the very least in the top three, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The average global temperature through the end of October was 58.53 degrees, a shade over the previous record of 2005, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Los Angeles had its hottest day in recorded history on Sept. 27: 113 degrees. In May, 129 set a record for Pakistan and may have been the hottest temperature recorded in an inhabited location.

In the U.S. Southeast, the year began with freezes in Florida that had cold-blooded iguanas becoming comatose and falling off trees. Then it became the hottest summer on record for the region. As the year ended, unusually cold weather was back in force.

Northern Australia had the wettest May-October on record, while the southwestern part of that country had its driest spell on record. And parts of the Amazon River basin struck by drought hit their lowest water levels in recorded history.

HOW COSTLY:

Disasters caused $222 billion in economic losses in 2010 — more than Hong Kong’s economy — according to Swiss Re. That’s more than usual, but not a record, Schraft said. That’s because this year’s disasters often struck poor areas without heavy insurance, such as Haiti.

Ghulam Ali’s three-bedroom, one-story house in northwestern Pakistan collapsed during the floods. To rebuild, he had to borrow 50,000 rupees ($583) from friends and family. It’s what many Pakistanis earn in half a year.

Even the extremes were extreme. This year started with a good sized El Nino weather oscillation that causes all sorts of extremes worldwide. Then later in the year, the world got the mirror image weather system with a strong La Nina, which causes a different set of extremes. Having a year with both a strong El Nino and La Nina is unusual.

And in the United States, FEMA declared a record number of major disasters, 79 as of Dec. 14. The average year has 34.

A list of day-by-day disasters in 2010 compiled by the AP runs 64 printed pages long.

“The extremes are changed in an extreme fashion,” said Greg Holland, director of the earth system laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

For example, even though it sounds counterintuitive, global warming likely played a bit of a role in “Snowmageddon” earlier this year, Holland said. That’s because with a warmer climate, there’s more moisture in the air, which makes storms including blizzards, more intense, he said.

White House science adviser John Holdren said we should get used to climate disasters or do something about global warming: “The science is clear that we can expect more and more of these kinds of damaging events unless and until society’s emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles are sharply reduced.”

The source article 2010's world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards was published December 19, 2010 by The Associated Press via Bloomber .

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