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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.”
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