Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide
Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide
Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
Snow blanketed Jerusalem on Thursday, an example of weather extremes that
are growing more frequent and intense. More
ow.html> Photos >
dex.html> SARAH LYALL
New York Times: January 10, 2013
WORCESTER, England - Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun
off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but
the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable:
Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.
Especially lately. China is enduring
its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful
spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing - minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and
counting - that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of
Bush fires are raging
ires-in-australia.html> across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat
wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding
September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the
Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what
people could have figured out simply by going outside: last
in-us.html> year was the hottest since records began.
"Each year we have extreme weather, but it's unusual to have so many extreme
events around the world at once," said Omar Baddour, chief of the data
management applications division at the World Meteorological Association, in
Geneva. "The heat wave in Australia; the flooding in the U.K., and most
recently the flooding and extensive snowstorm in the Middle East - it's
already a big year in terms of extreme weather calamity."
Such events are increasing in intensity as well as frequency, Mr. Baddour
said, a sign that climate change is not just about rising temperatures, but
also about intense, unpleasant, anomalous weather of all kinds.
Here in Britain, people are used to thinking of rain as the wallpaper on
life's computer screen - an omnipresent, almost comforting background
presence. But even the hardiest citizen was rattled by the near-biblical
fierceness of the rains that bucketed down, and the floods that followed,
three different times in 2012.
Rescuers plucked people by boat from their swamped homes in St. Asaph, North
Wales. Whole areas of the country were cut off when roads and train tracks
were inundated at Christmas. In Megavissey, Cornwall, a pub owner closed his
business for good after it flooded 11 times in two months.
It was no anomaly: the floods of 2012 followed the floods of 2007 and also
the floods of 2009, which all told have resulted in nearly $6.5 billion in
insurance payouts. The Met Office, Britain's weather service, declared 2012
the wettest year in England, and the second-wettest in Britain as a whole,
since records began more than 100 years ago. Four of the five wettest years
in the last century have come in the past decade (the fifth was in 1954).
The biggest change, said Charles Powell, a spokesman for the Met Office, is
the frequency in Britain of "extreme weather events" - defined as rainfall
reaching the top 1 percent of the average amount for that time of year.
Fifty years ago, such episodes used to happen every 100 days; now they
happen every 70 days, he said.
The same thing is true in Australia, where bush fires are raging across
Tasmania and the current heat wave has come after two of the country's
wettest years ever. On Tuesday, Sydney experienced its fifth-hottest day
since records began in 1910, with the temperature climbing to 108.1 degrees.
The first eight days of 2013 were among the 20 hottest on record.
Every decade since the 1950s has been hotter in Australia than the one
before, said Mark Stafford Smith, science director of the Climate Adaptation
Flagship at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
To the north, the extremes have swung the other way, with a band of cold
settling across Russia and Northern Europe, bringing thick snow and howling
winds to Stockholm, Helsinki and Moscow. (Incongruously, there were also
severe snowstorms in Sicily and southern Italy for the first time since
_/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier> War II; in December, tornadoes and
waterspouts struck the Italian coast.)
In Siberia, thousands of people were left without heat when natural gas
liquefied in its pipes and water mains burst. Officials canceled bus
transportation between cities for fear that roadside breakdowns could lead
to deaths from exposure, and motorists were advised not to venture far
afield except in columns of two or three cars. In Altai, to the east,
traffic officials warned drivers not to use poor-quality diesel, saying that
it could become viscous in the cold and clog fuel lines.
Meanwhile, China is enduring its worst winter in recent memory, with frigid
temperatures recorded in Harbin, in the northeast. In the western region of
Xinjiang, more than 1,000 houses collapsed under a relentless onslaught of
snow, while in Inner Mongolia, 180,000 livestock froze to death. The cold
has wreaked havoc with crops, sending the price of vegetables soaring.
Way down in South America, energy analysts say that Brazil may face
electricity rationing for the first time since 2002, as a heat wave and a
lack of rain deplete the reservoirs for hydroelectric
c_power/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier> plants. The summer has been
punishingly hot. The temperature in Rio de Janeiro climbed to 109.8 degrees
on Dec. 26, the city's highest temperature since official records began in
At the same time, in the Middle East, Jordan is battling a storm packing
torrential rain, snow, hail and floods that are cascading through tunnels,
sweeping away cars and spreading misery in Syrian refugee camps. Amman has
been virtually paralyzed, with cars abandoned, roads impassable and
government offices closed.
no,resizable=yes')> This Image
Lukas Coch/European Pressphoto Agency
AUSTRALIA A bush fire, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave, killed
dozens of sheep at a farm near Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory.
ow.html> Photos >
ow.html?ref=earth> Slide Show
ow.html?ref=earth> Freezing to Burning: Extreme Weather Across the World
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Israel and the Palestinian
/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier> territories are grappling with similar
conditions, after a week of intense rain and cold winds ushered in a
snowstorm that dumped eight inches in Jerusalem alone.
Amir Givati, head of the surface water department at the Israel Hydrological
Service, said the storm was truly unusual because of its duration, its
intensity and its breadth. Snow and hail fell not just in the north, but as
far south as the desert city of Dimona, best known for its nuclear reactor.
In Beirut on Wednesday night, towering waves crashed against the Corniche,
the seaside promenade downtown, flinging water and foam dozens of feet in
the air as lightning flickered across the dark sea at multiple points along
the horizon. Many roads were flooded as hail pounded the city.
Several people died, including a baby boy in a family of shepherds who was
swept out of his mother's arms by floodwaters. The greatest concern was for
the 160,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon, taking shelter in
schools, sheds and, where possible, with local families. Some refugees are
living in farm outbuildings, which are particularly vulnerable to cold and
Barry Lynn, who runs a forecasting business and is a lecturer at the Hebrew
University's department of earth science, said a striking aspect of the
whole thing was the severe and prolonged cold in the upper atmosphere, a
big-picture shift that indicated the Atlantic Ocean was no longer having the
moderating effect on weather in the Middle East and Europe that it has
"The intensity of the cold is unusual," Mr. Lynn said. "It seems the weather
is going to become more intense; there's going to be more extremes."
In Britain, where changes to the positioning of the jet stream - a ribbon of
air high up in the atmosphere that helps steer weather systems - may be
contributing to the topsy-turvy weather, people are still recovering from
the December floods. In Worcester last week, the river Severn remained
flooded after three weeks, with playing fields buried under water.
In the shop at the Worcester Cathedral, Julie Smith, 54, was struggling, she
said, to adjust to the new uncertainty.
"For the past seven or eight years, there's been a serious incident in a
different part of the country," Mrs. Smith said. "We don't expect extremes.
We don't expect it to be like this."
Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem; Irit Pazner
Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah, Israel; Fares Akram from Gaza City, Gaza;
Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth from Moscow; Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan; Dan
Levin from Harbin, China; Jim Yardley from New Delhi; Anne Barnard from
Beirut, Lebanon; Matt Siegel from Sydney, Australia; Scott Sayare from
Paris; and Simon Romero from Rio de Janeiro.
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