Stephen Hume on Extreme Weather


Read this superb summary by Stephen Hume in The Vancouver Sun of the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and what they portend for the future. (July 30, 2012)

The story that should dominate headlines is the series of extreme weather events which may be portents of a grim future in which much worse is to come.

Increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather is a key predictor of global warming.

Perhaps our bizarre weather is just a coincidence — certainly that’s the claim of global warming skeptics — but mainstream scientists are for the first time directly attributing extreme weather to the influence of human activities on climate.

For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the probability of increased extreme rainfall events in the 21st century is 66-100 per cent.

Skeptical or not, it’s been a wild July.

The month began with 18 reported dead in Uganda when torrential rains triggered landslides and flash floods; the mass evacuations of 32,000 people in Colorado in the face of advancing wildfires which have destroyed more than 600 homes; 80 dead and two million homeless in India as a result of flooding following torrential rains; chaos in the United Kingdom as a result of flooding and torrential rains; and 13 dead and two million without power following a storm of unprecedented violence — and torrential rains — in the eastern United States.

A week later, the U.K. was once again paralyzed by torrential rains and flooding; in Russia, similar downpours killed 144 in the Krasnodar region. In the U.S., the human death toll from a scorching drought ticked steadily upward – the total is now thought to be around 100 – while crops withered in the fields, ranchers began selling off livestock they could no longer feed or water, and more than a thousand counties in 26 states were declared crop disaster areas by the U.S. department of agriculture.

The week after that, four died in a mudslide caused by heavy rains in British Columbia’s Kootenays while another narrowly missed a major tourist resort; torrential rains caused flash floods and mudslides in Japan that killed 28; New York was pounded by marble-sized hail in a “freak” summer storm; and flash floods thundered through a Santa Clara pueblo after torrential rains fell on fire-denuded hillsides in New Mexico.

Next came drought and wildfires in Portugal which killed 16, two of them firefighters; torrential rains in China killed 95 people – 37 in metropolitan Beijing where a record 460 millimetres fell – and many remain missing; wildfires swept through Spain’s Costa Brava region, burning so fiercely that tourists leaped to their deaths from cliff tops to escape the flames.

And as July moves through its final week, torrential rains in Nigeria are reported to have caused flash floods which killed 35.

So, extreme weather in the form of drought or torrential rain has killed at least 535 people in the last three weeks, more than 44 times the number slain by the movie theatre killer in Colorado who so dominates the headlines.

This is likely just the start.