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Scientists marvel at 2005's wild weather

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  • Teresa Binstock
    Scientists marvel at 2005 s wild weather Mike Toner - Staff Wednesday, February 1, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2006
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      Scientists marvel at 2005's wild weather

      Mike Toner - Staff
      Wednesday, February 1, 2006
      http://www.ajc.com/today/content/epaper/editions/today/news_340ea5b5b11f125d0099.html


      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
      days."

      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
      soybeans.

      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
      relatively rare.

      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
      aid.

      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
      for years.

      "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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