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Autumn and Winter of Discontent: A Picture of Extreme Weather Over the Past Few Months

2012_Atlantic_hurricane_season_summary_mapFollowing a summer of unusually extreme weather, October, November and December of 2012 has also given the world an unnerving snapshot of what might be the new normal in a climate-changing world. Though it is still too early to draw explicit connections between these past months’ devastating extreme weather events, and climate change, recent observations and projections suggest that increases in the frequency and intensity of such events – droughts, floods, storms – are all but assured. A chronological snapshot of some of the extreme weather events in the past few months gives a sobering sense of what sort of risks we may expect in the future. Hopefully, this difficult season will spur new and robust policies for prevention, preparation and adaptation.

October 1: As highlighted in WRI’s extreme weather timeline: “Super-Typhoon Jelawat becomes the third consecutive Western Pacific cyclone to reach super-typhoon status this year, after Bolaven in August and Sanba in September. “Super typhoon” is a term for a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of at least 150 miles per hour, the equivalent of a strong Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. All three storms made landfall over Japan and affected the Korean Peninsula with heavy rain and floods. The Western Pacific hasn’t seen three consecutive super typhoons since 1997; it also occurred in 1954, 1957, 1958, and 1963.”

October 17-18: Persistent drought conditions in the western United States, coupled with high winds, created a “large dust storm across Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming, closing major highways.” Experts believe that two-three more years of drought could lead to “Dust Bowl conditions” in the farming belt.

October 22 – November 3: Hurricane Sandy started off the coast of Nicaragua and dissipated over western Pennsylvania. The storm claimed at least 71 lives in Haiti, around 129 lives in the United States alone, and has thus far been blamed for around $62 billion in damage to housing, business and infrastructure. These estimates may indeed be conservative, and the true cost of the storm may not be fully realized until all repairs, relocations and infrastructure improvements are completed.

October 23 – October 30:
Tropical storm Son-Tinh began off the coast of the southeastern Philippines, raged over Vietnam, and ended in southern China. The storm ravaged all three countries, killing at least 35 people, and causing major flooding throughout the region. According to Xinhua New Agency (as quoted by Bloomberg), the storm also did serious damage to agricultural production, and displaced a large number of people living in low-lying areas: “About 19,361 hectares of rice and 70,932 hectares of other crops were submerged by floodwaters as yesterday morning, according to the Vietnamese statement. The storm blew off the roofs of 47,400 homes. In Hainan [China], 10,900 hectares of crops were damaged, 716 houses destroyed and 126,000 people were relocated from low-lying areas, Xinhua said.”

October 26: According to IRIN, unexpected heavy rains in Somalia led to significant devastation and displacement: “More than 3,000 to 4,000 families in nine villages of Togdheer Region displaced by heavy rains last Friday [26 October ] need immediate assistance,” Abdo Aayir Osman, the governor of Togdheer Region, told IRIN by telephone from the regional capital Burao. He added that at least three people had died after their homes flooded…The floodwaters have also damaged foodstuffs in stores in Qori-Lugud District and areas such as Daba-Qabad, Tallo Buuro, Bali-Alanle and Gubato. Some 7,000 to 9,000 heads of livestock drowned, Osman said.”

October 31: Flooding in Nigeria comes to an end, after three terrible months. As Bloomberg reported, and the WRI timeline highlights: “The flooding, which lasted from July to October 31, kills 363 people, displaces 2.2 million, and affects almost 8 million people, according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. The floods also cause a 0.9 percent increase in prices nationwide and noticeably increased inflation in Africa’s second-largest economy.”

November 6: Scientific American reports: “As of November 6, 59.5 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing persistent drought conditions that are most severe in the Great Plains—North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado—where drought is expected to persist or intensify in the foreseeable future.”

November 17-18: From reliefweb: “On the night of 17-18 Nov 2012, heavy rains hit Pointe Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of Congo, causing severe flooding of unprecedented magnitude during the last ten years. Five people were killed and over 2,000 displaced.”

November 20 – 27: The devastating droughts in the U.S. this year, which have affected 80% of the contiguous United States, worsened during this one-week period. According to Climate Central, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest numbers reveal that “all categories of drought increased across the country between Nov. 20-27, with the largest increase occurring in an area from Alabama northeastward to Virginia.” Deutsche Bank Securities’ chief U.S. economist, Joseph LaVorgna, predicted that “the drought will be responsible for a 0.5 to 1 percent drop in U.S. gross domestic product this year, a significant drop considering the relatively slow pace of growth throughout the year.”

November 26: Panama experienced serious and floods and landslides in late November. From reliefweb: “On 26 Nov 2012, the Government declared a national state of emergency as a consequence of the severe damage caused by heavy rains in recent days in the provinces of Colon and Panama. At least five people were killed and more than 4,250 affected.”

November 27: IRIN reports on mass rural-urban migrations fueled by rising food insecurity in Djibouti. This is largely due to two years of poor rains, which have “eroded the coping mechanisms of pastoralists in Djibouti’s rural regions, even as high food prices and unemployment rates afflict the country’s urban areas.”

December 4: The Philippines, still recovering from tropical storm Son-Tinh, was slammed by Typhoon Bopha on December 4 (locally known as Pablo), which as of December 8 had claimed 540 lives, with 827 people missing, and 1,000 injured, according to the country’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The storm has reportedly left 310,000 people homeless.

December 6: Meteorological experts at Hurricane Central assess the reasons behind the unusual hurricane season in the Atlantic, which saw far more hurricanes than usual, and hurricanes developing where they usually do not. One very surprising fact was that none of the season’s hurricanes initially developed where they normally do – with all of them beginning their lives much further north. There are a few reasons stated for why this may have happened, including significantly drier conditions across the Caribbean and Central America.

December 9: According to Aljazeera, the northeast of Brazil has experienced 19 straight months of punishing drought. This constitutes the region’s “worst drought in 50 years.” The last few months has apparently seen the worst of it, and as of December 9, the federal government in Brazil had “released almost $800 million in lines of credit to affected areas.”

The worrying thing about this list is that it is probably missing a number of smaller, or slower-onset, weather events and disasters. If you have additional stories to report, let us know.

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