Global Warming, Climate Change and Extreme Weather
The average global surface temperature is increasing, as reported by NOAA, NASA, the UK Met Office, and other leading scientific institutions. Worldwide surface temperature changes are not uniform (some areas have experienced cooling), but on average, the global surface temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since 1900.
In November 2011, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report concluding that human activity had not just caused warming of the earth’s atmosphere, but also an increase in extreme weather and climatic events around the world. The science linking extreme weather and the observed increase in average global temperature is extremely complex and not completely understood; regional and local extreme weather events are the result of the interplay of numerous variables that change with time and location. Statistical data, however, strongly point to a link between increasing temperature and extreme weather. An overly simplified explanation is that heat is a form of energy, and higher temperatures increase the energy available to weather events. Also, warmer air holds more water vapor (a greenhouse gas,) that can result in increased precipitation (snow, rain, etc.) Although it is impossible to link one weather event to climate change, there is a clear trend of increasing severe weather.
The year 2012 was the hottest on record for the contiguous United States. Severe weather has many direct and indirect impacts, from heat stroke to facilitating the spread of diseases such as West Nile Virus. In 2012 there were 123 reported deaths directly related to heat. Severe drought not only hurt the livelihoods of local farmers, it made food more expensive for everyone. Possibly the most publicized climate-related event of 2012 was Superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October. Sandy cost an estimated $50 billion in damages and caused 131 deaths. The New York Stock Exchange and the subway system were flooded. New York State is now listing climate change as a risk for bondholders.
Munich RE, a multinational reinsurance company, attributes the rise of weather related events to climate change. Their records show a nearly quintupled number of weather related events in North America over the past three decades. They estimate a loss of US$ 1,060 billion (in 2011 values) from 1980 to 2011. Munich RE also identified 2011 as the costliest year for insurance reimbursement in recorded history.
Watch this short video from NOAA on climate change and extreme weather in the US over 2012:
Extreme Weather Observations:
- 2012 was the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States, with at least 123 heat related deaths
- July 2012: the hottest month ever recorded in US history
- Summer 2010: Russia and much of Eastern Europe experience the worst heat wave in 130 years. Temperatures in Moscow reach 38.2°C (100.8°F) resulting in numerous deaths and wildfires. Estimates for Russia indicate about 55,000 heat related deaths, 25% annual crop loss, more than 1 million hectares (about 2.5 million acres) of burned areas, and an economic loss of US$ 15 billion.
Drought and Fire
- Summer 2012: Worst drought to hit the US since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, causing US$ 20 billion in agricultural crop losses
- August 2012: More than half of all counties in the US designated disaster areas by the USDA
- August 2012: Highest year-to-date total of acreage (over 7.72 million acres) burned by wildfires in the United States
- July 2012: US drought in midwest causes world prices to reach all-time high for corn and soybeans
- June/July 2012: Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado is the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. Burning nearly 18,000 acres, the fire claimed 346 homes, forced 32,000 people to evacuate and caused at least 2 deaths.
- Spring/Summer 2011: Drought, heat waves and wildfires hit the southern/southwestern United States causing loses of over $12 billion and least 4 deaths. In Texas alone, the drought caused an estimated $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses from November 2010 to August 1, 2011.
- July 2011: Drought in East Africa causes a severe food crisis. Tens of thousands of deaths from starvation in the region prompt the United Nations to declare a famine for the first time in nearly thirty years. Famine exacerbates tensions in regions experiencing frequent armed conflict, and unsettles nearby regions with mass influx of refugees.
Hurricanes, Blizzards, Storms and Flooding
- October 2012: Superstorm sandy hits northeastern United States, causing 131 deaths and $50 billion in estimated damages.
- June/July 2012: Sudden derecho kills 28 people in the northeastern United States
- August 2011: Hurricane Irene hits the northeastern United States causing wind damage, flooding and numerous tornadoes. Over seven million homes and businesses lost power. Irene caused an estimated $9.8 billion in damage and killed at least 45 people.
- Summer 2011: The Missouri River and its tributaries swell beyond their banks, due to above-average precipitation followed by above-average snow melt in the Rocky mountains. Flooding across the Upper Midwest exceeded $3 billion in losses and caused at least 7 deaths.
- November 2011: Flooding in Thailand affects more than 13.4 million people; the death toll is estimated to be over 650. As of December 1, 2011, the World Bank estimates economic damages at US$ 45.7 billion, with more than 4 million homes damaged or destroyed.
- Spring 2011: Flooding in Columbia, South America is the most severe in the country’s recorded history, killing 116 and causing about US$ 6 billion in damage.
- February 2011: The “Groundhog Day Blizzard” hits the central, eastern and northeastern United States. Between 1 and 2 feet of snow paralyzed the city of Chicago. Total costs are estimated at $1.8 billion; 36 people died in storm related deaths.
- August 2005: Hurricane Katrina is the costliest and deadliest single weather event in the history of the United States, causing 1,322 deaths and an US$ 125 billion in damages (original values).
- April/May 2011: The United States was hit with an unprecedented wave of tornado activity. NOAA reported over 1200 tornadoes in the United States over the two month period, causing over $26.4 billion in total estimated losses and at least 545 deaths.