Over the last number of years, the discussion around climate change has gone from being confined to academics and the slightly more left-wing politicians to hitting the mainstream. The main reason for this of course, is that climate change – once an abstract issue – has become a problem that now directly impacts us. Since records began in 1880, 2013 was the warmest year ever, meaning that those who doubt global warming are being increasingly left out in the cold – so to speak. The result of this climate change, it seems, is that mother nature is no longer working to the same schedule we had all come to know: winters are now longer, rains heavier, storms stronger and heat waves even hotter. Many of us might like the sound of white Christmases where there were none before, or warmer summers in colder countries, but the reality of this climate change is devastation for those worst hit by the consequent catastrophes. And with temperatures continuing to rise on earth, it seems unlikely that the problem is simply going to go away.
In the last decade a number of natural disasters have been record-breaking for all the wrong reasons: casualties from these disasters regularly enter the thousands with communities, cities and even entire cities taking years to recover from a disaster that took place in a number of minutes. From the tsunami that devastated Thailand in 2004, to Hurricane Katrina in the United States, the human cost of our raging weather is rising. And many countries are now coping with extreme, previously foreign weather conditions for which they’re ill-prepared. Our top ten list here looks at the biggest of these climate anomalies of 2013, demonstrating the unpredictable power of Mother Nature and the apparent acceleration of the global warming train: Whatever your opinion on climate change, these 10 examples make a strong case against the global warming cynics.
10. January-February: Drought Hits Brazil
The tropical landscapes of Brazil are known for their lush vegetation and for sprawling out from the earth’s longest river, the Amazon. Traditionally this tropical part of the world sees hot, damp weather, which gives Brazil its fertile landscape. In 2013 however, things went a bit haywire weather-wise: the northern part of the country experienced some of the worst droughts to hit the region in over 50 years. That was in January. By December things had been flipped on their heads, with southern Brazil experiencing record-high levels of rainfall. The drought had a severe impact on the agricultural industry in the north – and industry on which the economy depends. Reuters reported that 30% of all sugar cane crops had been wiped out as a result of the water shortage, with damage also done to herds of livestock. Many farmers were forced to let their animals starve in a bid to save themselves. Brazil also depends on hydroelectricity- electricity generated from water resources- to power the region; and as water stocks in dams and reservoirs fell, so too did electricity supplies. Brazil had previously experienced a drought in the 1980s, but the shortages that affected the nation in 2013 were far greater. With parts of the country going over a year without rainfall, farmers in the region are still recovering.
9. February: Australia Has Hottest Year On Record
At this time of year our readers in the Northern Hemisphere are generally thinking about hats, scarves and gloves to ward off the winter chill, but Down Under, it’s the height of summer. Australia is certainly no stranger to high temperatures; much of the remote central landscape of the nation is the cavernous, sun-scorched outback, a remote desert space around which the country’s main cities are located. But the summer of December 2012 to February 2013 was more than even the hardy Aussies could handle, with temperatures at their highest since records began in 1908. With temperatures regularly exceeding 40 degree Celsius, the heat went far beyond any expectations, endangering residents and threatening the surrounding landscape. Bush fires – which are a regular threat during the summer season in Australia – were prolific in 2013, with the heat returning for the spring and summer seasons in October. New-South Wales was particularly badly hit by the fires in which many homes were destroyed as well as thousands of hectares of land and wildlife damaged. More worryingly, the summer season that is currently underway in Australia is challenging 2013 in terms of temperature highs. On January 2nd Moomba airport, 770 kilometers north of the city of Adelaide, recorded a shocking temperature of 49.3 degrees Celsius.
8. March: Spring Never Sprung in the UK
While temperatures were soaring in the Brazil, Australia and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere in early 2013, in the United Kingdom winter had come, Game of Thrones style. The island nation virtually missed out on spring and went straight from a harsh winter to summer around May, by which time there had finally been a thaw. But that was following the coldest spring the nation had seen since 1962. Cold, biting winds and snow rocked the island, with the north receiving the worst of the weather. In one instance over 20 centimeters of snow fell in one blizzard, the highest level recorded since 1979. The cold weather disrupted travel and transport around the nation – the UK’s not used to dealing with heavy snowfall – with many commuters to the major cities suddenly struggling to make it to their jobs. In the more rural regions, many residents were left cut off and isolated, with worries that the elderly, or those living alone would be left stranded. In true British style, the cold snap was handled with a typical stiff upper lip and everyone simply had “to grin and bear it.” Well, no one exactly smiles when they slip on ice, do they?
7. April: Botswana and Namibia Hit by Severe Droughts
While the UK was suffering through its grim winter, a little-reported crisis was breaking out in the southern African nations of Botswana and Namibia. A combination of high temperatures and a severe lack of precipitation put much of the countries crops and rural population at risk. Although Botswana’s President declared the crisis in April of 2013, by October the nation was still struggling with water shortages and the high temperatures of the next summer season. Even more serious, however, is the long-term impact the drought has had on these countries: Namibia in particular has seen arable farming land turn to desert as a result of the dry season. The semi-nomadic tribes who farm these regions have been forced to travel ever-further in an effort to keep their herds alive, while many lands that were once homes to villages are no longer suitable for farming: Aside from the starvation these people face as a result of climate change, their way of life – which for centuries has gone undisrupted – is now disappearing.
6. June: Monsoons and Flooding in India and Nepal
South west Asia is used to its rainy season during the summer months, but the events of 2013 took everyone by surprise. The monsoon season started earlier than ever before- catching many without their umbrellas! Not only that, but it was also one of the longest rainy seasons on record: while normally the rains would have cleared off by September, in many parts of India they lingered on into October. In the north western parts of India, there was nearly double the average rainfall for the season, and many local authorities were under-prepared for the scale of the rains. The border between India and Nepal saw some of the worst flooding in over 50 years; over 1,000 people died as a result of floods which also triggered several landslides in the region, leaving many homeless as a result. Over a third of Nepal was affected by flooding during the 2013 monsoon season and millions of dollars’ worth of damage was caused as a result. Many are now worried that this trend of heavier, longer rainy season may become the norm for the region.
5. July- August: Severe Flooding in Russia and China
For many of us in the Western Hemisphere, the summer was a postcard-perfect view of the weather: many regions of Europe enjoyed unseasonably warm, balmy weather. Britain in particular was on the receiving end of this sun-kissed summer, which seems only fair given that their winter carried on for so long. While barbecues were being dusted off throughout Europe and the U.S., though, flooding was affecting many parts of eastern Russia and China. The River Amur, which runs between the two mammoth nations, rose to a record high of 329.92 feet, bursting its banks and causing serious damage. The floods in the north-east of China were the worst since 1998, but this was nothing compared to the catastrophe affecting eastern Russia: floods affected 140 Russian towns in the region, the worst in over 120 years, with a number of well-populated cities disrupted by the flooding. At its highest, the flood levels reached a height of 26.1 feet in the Russian city of Khabarovsk, with 3,800 people evacuated from the city. The Discovery Channel even reported that the flooding was so widespread, it could be viewed from space. The Russian and Chinese armies as well as several volunteer organisations aided in the rescue, recovery and lengthy clean up as water levels declined.
4. September: 2 Storms Hit Mexico at Once
The coast of Mexico may have come to accept the seasonal threat of tropical storms as a way of life, but in 2013, even the experienced Mexicans had their limits tested. On September 15th two tropical storms – tropical storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid – both hit land at the same time, leaving twice the devastation in their paths. Two storms hitting a nation is very rare – the last time an event like this occurred in Mexico was back in 1958. Hurricane Ingrid struck the holiday-making beaches of the Gulf Coast, while the tropical storm Manuel battered the Pacific side of the nation. As a result over 1 million Mexican people were affected by the storms with around 40 deaths occurring as a result. Flooding and landslides also shook many regions with 20,000 homes losing power. Not only this, but several off-shore oil rigs had to be evacuated as news of the storms spread and 6,000 people were evacuated on the Gulf Coast. Mexico’s independence day is on the 16th of September, but as a result of the storms and the damage they caused many regions were forced to cancel their celebrations.
3. October: Early Blizzard Blasts South Dakota
In another example of the seasons breaking their traditional rules, South Dakota in the United States was subject to an early onslaught of winter in October last year. In one single blizzard on the 6th of October, four feet of snow hit parts of Wyoming and South Dakota, while in Beulah, SD, an unbelievable 58 inches of snow fell. As with the early monsoons in India, many residents were caught unawares without any safeguards in place. Around 14,000 cattle are estimated to have perished around the region of Beulah as a result of the blizzard. The snow storms also struck during the federal government shutdown, but such was the scale of the event that essential employees were deployed to help clear the snow and make roads safe again.
2. November: Warmest Winter Ever in Russia
One can only assume that Mother Nature was doing her best to make up for the catastrophic damage caused to the country through flooding earlier in the year when she offered Russia a “warm” winter. Records on Russia’s weather go all the way back to 1891 and 2013 broke all expectations as the warmest winter ever. Don’t let that fool you however; it is Russia after all, so less cold is still seriously cold. As a year, 2013 was the 6th warmest the country has ever experienced and so far as it looks as if 2014 is going to continue the pattern for the nation. But with the Winter Olympics in Sochi only a few weeks away, many organisers are worried that the city isn’t cold enough to host the games: Significant rains have hit the region, causing worries that many events are going to be a total washout. Something of a disaster if you’re a downhill skier!
1. November: Typhoon Haiyan Hits the Philippines
A typhoon is a type of storm that develops in a particular part of the Pacific Ocean. These storms are large, powerful cyclones that devastate and destroy anything in their path. Sadly, between the 3rd and 11th of November 2013 the Typhoon Haiyan hit the low-lying island nation of the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people and leaving many thousands homeless. Haiyan is the largest typhoon ever to reach land and although residents were evacuated and precautions were taken, the scale of the disaster was simply too big for the impoverished country. Today, 2,000 people are still unaccounted for as a result of the storm. The devastation caused to the Philippines came only months after the Typhoon Usagi killed 30 people in September of the same year. Recovery from the disaster has been painfully slow: Such was the power of the storm that even government buildings in the worst hit region of Tacloban were levelled and officials were forced to operate out of makeshift buildings. Electricity in many parts is still unreliable and food prices have increased as a result of its scarcity.