Scientists marvel at 2005's wild weather
Mike Toner - Staff
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Record numbers of hurricanes and staggering tolls in lives and property
damage along the U.S. Gulf Coast weren't the half of it. Even seasoned
meteorologists were awed by nature's furies in 2005.
"Last year was something to behold," outgoing American Meteorological
Society President Walter Lyons said Tuesday as weather and climate
experts met in Atlanta to review the year that was.
"It wasn't so much that there was more weather, it was just that there
seemed to be more extremes of everything," he said. "Or maybe it just
seems that way because we're paying more attention to the weather these
Katrina alone was responsible for 1,300 deaths and an estimated $100
billion in damages. The other major hurricanes to strike the United
States, Dennis, Rita and Wilma, killed 166 and did $20 billion in damage.
But they weren't the only billion-dollar disasters in the United States.
Almost unnoticed, six Midwestern states suffered through spring and
summer droughts that destroyed more than $1 billion worth of corn and
Oddly, considering that Katrina alone spun off more than 60 tornadoes,
the number of twisters documented in the United States was actually
below average. Equally bizarre was that tornadoes occurred in places,
like California, where they are almost unknown, or at times, as with
outbreaks in the upper Midwest in late November, when they are
Elsewhere, Alaska simmered though the third-warmest summer in history
--- and paid for it dearly as wildfires burned nearly 9 million acres of
forest. But if Alaska baked, there was plenty of snow farther south.
Boston had more than 40 inches of snow in January alone. Springtime in
the Rocky Mountains dumped more than 30 inches on Denver in April.
Mudslides triggered by record rains in California killed 10 people near
La Conchita in January. Ten more died in New England floods when
torrential rains made October the wettest recorded in 15 cities there.
The United States wasn't the only place clobbered by Mother Nature.
On average, the Indian monsoon --- the rainy season --- was about
average. But in July, a storm of near-biblical proportions settled over
Bombay, which got 37 inches of rain in 24 hours. On the other side of
India, Orissa state might have welcomed rain to break a heat wave with
temperatures hitting as high as 122 degrees. Torrid heat there and in
neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal killed more than 500.
Wildfires blackened huge areas of Western Europe, which was gripped by
hot, dry weather. Spain and Portugal suffered through the worst drought
since the late 1940s. France had to ration water throughout half the
country. But in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania had the worst
flooding in 50 years --- and more than $1 billion in damages.
In Siberia, the summer snow cover was the least ever recorded,
reflecting a continuing trend toward Arctic warming. But Algeria and
Iran reported the heaviest snowfall in a half-century.
In East Africa, rains in the Horn of Africa were 80 percent below
normal, threatening areas from Ethiopia to Tanzania with famine. In
Malawi, 4 million people --- one-third of the population --- needed food
China, however, had plenty of rain. In June, the worst flooding in 200
years in Heilongjiang and neighboring provinces displaced 9 million people.
Not all of the climatic extremes were violent ones. Averaged across the
globe, 2005 was the warmest --- or at least a tie for the warmest ---
year in recorded history. The last decade is also the warmest in history.
Meteorologists, however, aren't ready to blame global warming for all of
the world's wacky weather.
"The one thing that's sure is that weather affects us all," said Lyons,
who notes that even a difference of 1 degree can have a huge effect on
the nation's energy consumption for winter heating or summer cooling.
A few inches of rain more or less can determine whether crops thrive or
fail. And a storm like Katrina can set off economic ripples that go on
"In the case of hurricanes, it may be that we're feeling the effects
more because we keep putting people on the coasts where the impact is
greatest," Lyons said. "But some of what looks like 'more weather' may
simply be that we're paying more attention to it."
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