Saturday, January 09, 2016

Paying the price for a warmer world

Last year is likely to be the warmest since records began in 1880, beating 2014.

Yet, 2016 is expected to be even warmer.

Throw in the impact of possibly the strongest El Nino since 1950, and we have all the makings of another year with an unusually high number of extreme weather events.

There is no doubt that the world is warming at an alarming rate. Nine out of the 10 warmest years since 1880 have occurred over the last 15 years. Only 1998, another El Nino year, breaks that monopoly.

On a monthly analysis, since the turn of the 20th century, eight of the 10 warmest months occurred in 2015, with December’s figures still pending.

Put another way, 2015 holds the top eight positions out of a total of 1259 months.

With the El Nino expected to exert its influence until at least February or March, the extra warmth in theatmosphere is likely to manifest itself in the form of extreme weather.

This was undoubtedly the case with Hurricane Patricia in October, which was the strongest western hemisphere hurricane ever recorded.

It hit Mexico’s Pacific coastline as a Category 5 storm, with sustained winds of 320 kilometres per hour.

Fortunately Patricia made landfall in a sparsely populated region, near Cuixmala in Southwest Mexico.
Similarly, the Northeastern Pacific (east of the Date Line) also had its most active hurricane season on record.

An El Nino-induced drought added to the severity and persistence of the fires that raged across Indonesia through much of 2015. Death tolls are difficult to estimate, but it is likely that more than 10,000 people have died as a result of the ongoing fires across much of the country.

The heat waves that struck India in May, and, separately, Pakistan in June, killed 2,500 and 1,200 people respectively. India’s death toll made it the fifth worst heat wave in recorded history.

Add in Hurricane Joaquin, the Atlantic Basin’s strongest hurricane since 2007, Tropical Cyclone Pam which hit Vanuatu as the second most intense cyclone on record, and the record Central Pacific hurricane activity, and you have a remarkable year of extreme weather.

Weather and climate enthusiasts may look forward to 2016, but for those affected by severe events, it is going to be a miserable New Year.

  (Richard Angwin)

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