Headlines from a warming world: Extreme weather and climate breakdown
It is now hard to ignore that climate breakdown is not something which will come in the future, it's here now. Already we are seeing more extreme weather events which can have a deadly impact, particularly in the poorest countries which have done least to cause the crisis. At COP26 a key demand from these countries (rejected by richer nations) was a mechanism for 'loss and damage' funding.
The number of climate disasters has increased five-fold over recent decades. In the 1970s, 711 were recorded, but this number increased to 3536 in the 2000s and 3165 in the 2010s, a clear sign of climate breakdown. Better early warning systems have meant deaths have actually fallen over this period. But in the 2000s 329,000 people died from storms, floods, landslides, extreme heat, drought and wildfire, and 185,000 in the 2010s.
While people may be evacuated, their homes, farms and the infrastructure of towns and cities are fixed. Physical destruction and its economic cost has risen dramatically as climate disasters have increased. There is also an impact on ecosystems. The devastating Australian bushfires of 2019-20 are also estimated to have affected almost 3 billion animals, either killed or displaced with 'not great' prospects of survival.
Not all of these events make the headlines, and some which do are quickly forgotten, despite the fact that there is no full 'recovery' from some disasters. This page will be regularly updated with news of the most recent events and reports from ongoing crises. Some of these have a very clear link to human-caused global warming. Other extreme weather events fall within the range of 'normal' variability. However it is important to raise awareness of these too. As time goes on, patterns of increased frequency and severity can often be detected. They also help us remember how vulnerable particular regions (especially in the Global South) are to an increasingly destabilised climate.
For more information on the causal links between global heating and deadly events like drought, flooding, hurricanes and landslides, read A more dangerous climate: why extreme weather events are becoming more common
New: Life at 50C. This one hour BBC documentary and series of short (15 minute) films tell the story of people in some of the regions most affected by severe heat: India, Mauritania, Canada, Nigeria, Kuwait, Australia, Iraq and Pakistan (overview and 3 min interviews)
2021 ends with abnormal warmth in Europe
Meanwhile in Alaska, unusually warm weather brought daytime temperatures above 15C (usually -10C to -4C at this time of year) with a record-breaking high of 19.4C recorded on Kodiak island. The warm temperatures came with heavy rain and snow which caused severe problems on roads as they froze to thick ice.
Hot dry weather caused wildfires which ripped through suburban areas of Boulder County, Colorado, destroying at least 1000 homes and businesses.
Super Typhoon Rai / Odette causes devastation in the Philippines
Super Typhoon Rai was only the third Category 5 super typhoon so far ever recorded in the South China Sea. It caused at least 375 deaths, with rescue workers struggling to reach survivors and over 16,000 families sheltering in cramped evacuation centers, causing concerns about water-borne diseases and Covid.
Floods in Malaysia
Unusually heavy rainfall, even for the monsoon season affected over 125,000 in Malaysia during the second half of December. By the beginning of January, almost all had returned home but almost 9,000 were still in refugee centres.
Tornadoes cause destruction across US
Five US states have been hit by a devastating series of tornadoes, levelling houses and factories, with an expected death toll of more than 100. One tornado alone followed an extraordinarily long and destructive path of more than 200 miles. Severe tornadoes are very rare outside spring and summer. They form when denser, drier cold air is pushed over warmer, humid air and winds vary in speed or direction at different altitudes, so the updraft starts to spin, extending down to the ground.
Because tornadoes are rare, scientists say it is difficult to gather evidence as to whether climate change is making them more dangerous. There is some evidence that they are now more likely to occur in clusters, and that the area where they occur may be shifting eastwards.
Coastal flooding in south Pacific islands and Papua New Guinea
The Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Federated States of Micronesia all reported coastal flooding, caused by a combination of bad weather, high tides and a La Nina weather pattern on top of a long-term rise in sea levels caused by global warming, which ultimately threatens the future of these islands.
The floods caused thousands to be displaced in Papua New Guinea.
Food crisis warning in Mali
Humanitarian organisations have warned that 1.2 million face a food crisis in Mali, caused by drought, conflict and Covid-19. As elsewhere in the Sahel region, climate change in Mali is exacerbating conflict over resources and radicalisation, with foreign land-grabbing and corruption adding to a deadly mix.
Cyclone causes severe floods in Southern Brazil
An extratropical cyclone forming off the coast of southern Brazil brought heavy rain to Bahia, with 45cm recorded in total at one location, and three deaths in the resulting floods.
Bushfires in Australia
Serious bushfires took hold in Margaret River, Western Australia in hot and windy conditions. While central Australia has experienced rare flooding, Western Australia and the Northern Territory experienced serious heatwaves late in the year and a late start to the wet season. Experts warn that widespread fires in remote regions are going unnoticed, and explain how traditional indigenous burning strategies could reduce vegetation 'fuel load' which increases the future risk of devastating fires.
Floods in Congo-Brazzaville
As of early December, weeks of heavy rain and flooding in Congo-Brazzaville have affected over 46,000. with over 6,500 displaced, 15 dead and 9 missing. IFRC said, “The affected population is exposed to bad weather, poor hygiene and waterborne diseases due to the lack of clean water. Heavy flooding has destroyed fields and livestock, affecting livelihoods."
South Sudan devastated by floods
South Sudan is ranked among the five countries in the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. For years, the country has been experiencing wetter-than-normal wet seasons, while its dry seasons are becoming even drier. The 2021 White Nile floods have been the worst in 60 years. The rainy season has ended but in December the flood water has not receded, and the next rainy season is only five months away. Livelihoods have been devastated, more than 850,000 people affected and around 35,000 of them displaced - adding to many more internally displaced people alreadyliving in camps having fled the earlier civil war. Report from Fangak county
Afghanistan facing 'near famine conditions'
Severe drought in Afghanistan have reduced harvests 80 to 90 per cent, and the drought is set to worsen in 2022. The World Food Programme reported that the number of Afghans living in near-famine conditions has risen to 8.7 million. Overall, almost 24 million people in Afghanistan, or 60% of the population, suffer from acute hunger. An estimated 3.2 million children under age 5 are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. UNICEF also warned in September that t least 1 million children would suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year (at risk of dying without treatment), and the arrival of winter will increase suffering.
The country's agriculture depends on meltwater from mountain glaciers, snow and ice. In 2021, Afghanistan was hit with both reduced winter snowfall and below average spring rainfall. This is not just a one-off: climate change is causing more regular and more severe droughts. Droughts are predicted to become annual by 2030. There is an in-depth review here, which also points to 'at least two decades of neglect and mismanagement' leaving the country without water management resources.
The drought alone has not caused starvation, however. By the time of the Taliban’s takeover, foreign aid accounted for three-quarters of government spending. The US has cut off aid, halting the regular shipments of dollars to Afghanistan, and frozen $9.5bn of Afghanistan’s central bank assets, with European banks quickly following suit. These sanctions have led to soaring unemployment, with public employees not being paid, Unlike previous droughts, there is no safety net for rural families in seeking urban employment. Taliban bans that are keeping women from most paid jobs have also hit households in which women were the main earners. Human Rights Watch have called on the US and UN to ensure that financial transactions relating to humanitarian work are not blocked.
Drought in East Africa
The UN has reported at least 26 million people are struggling for food in the Horn of Africa following consecutive poor rainfall seasons. Of these almost 7.1 million face emergency conditions of malnutrition and over 500,000 are in catastrophic conditions critical acute malnutrition, hunger, destitution and death.
Drought conditions in northern Kenya, much of Somalia and southern Ethiopia are predicted to persist until at least mid-2022, putting lives at risk. The situation is already so bad that wild animals are dying in their hundreds and herders are reporting losses of up to 70% of their livestock.
The United Nations has warned that more than 80 percent of Somalia is estimated to be experiencing severe drought conditions. About 2.3 million people face serious water, food and pasture shortages as water pans and boreholes have dried up
Climate change is amplifying the drought-inducing capabilities of El Niños and La Niñas in East Africa, and the 2022 March-to-May rainy season, which ends eight months in the future, is also likely to be poor.
Severe flooding in British Columbia
Heavy rainfall caused disastrous flooding in Vancouver and surrounding areas of British Columbia. Thousands of people were evacuated, others became trapped on cut-off roads, and several towns were completely cut off (more coverage here and here). Mud and landslides destroyed parts of major highways. At least four people were killed. The rain was brought by an 'atmospheric river', a narrow corridor of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere. These are predicted to intensify with global warming.
The flooding was made worse both by clear-cut logging but also by wildfires in the summer having destroyed vegetation, exacerbated by the unprecedented heatwave in British Columbia and the Pacific North West. The region has been hit by successive climate disasters, first heatwaves and wildfires then floods.
Monsoon rains bring floods and landslides to southeastern India and Sri Lanka
In Tamil Nadu, 11,000 had to leave their homes to escape floods and 14 have been reported killed. In Andhra Pradesh, at least 24 people lost their lives and over 31,000 were displaced. At least 20 people died in floods, landslides and lightning strikes in Sri Lanka following almost 2 weeks of heavy rain
Floods and landslides in Vietnam
At least 2 people have died and over 2,500 homes damaged after flooding and landslides struck in central provinces of Vietnam following days of heavy rain. [Update: over 60,000 houses flooded and at least 18 dead or missing]
Heavy rain and floods across Australia
Floods in Spain
Floods in Malta
Malta experienced a whole month's rain in 24 hours, causing dramatic floods.
Drought worsens in Madagascar
Humanitarian organisations report that the drought in the Grand Sud region of Madagascar has worsened. Over 1.3 million people were severely food insecure at the beginning of the annual lean season (October to April), including at least 28,000 people facing famine-like conditions, and while the humanitarian response has stepped up, more support is urgently needed.
Floods in China
More than 1.76 million people were affected by severe flooding in China's northern Shanxi province. Across the province, over 120,000 people were resettled, and 17,000 homes collapsed.
Storms in the US
A 'bomb cyclone' in the Pacific, when air pressure rapidly drops as the storm explosively strengthens, hit the west coast of the US, bringing in heavy rainfall. In California, suffering from long-term drought, there were mudslides and rock slides, especially in areas where burn scars had been created by wildfires. The storm brought record rainfall to some areas, killing two in Seattle and leaving hundreds of thousands without power and then moved eastwards.
Floods in India and Nepal
More than 180 people died after heavy rainfall triggered flash floods in Nepal and the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala. Situated between the mountains of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea,whose rissing temperatures makes heavy rainfall events more likely, Kerala is witnessing more deadly floods and landslides in recent years. Almost half (43%) of Kerala is vulnerable to landslips and landslides. Uttarakhand received ten times as much rain as it usually does in the whole of November.
Floods in Indonesia
Floods and landslides in South Sulawesi and Kalimantan left four people dead.
Floods in Cote d'Ivoire
At least 4 people have died and several were injured after heavy rain caused flooding in the city of Abidjan.
Hurricane Ida was one of three hurricanes in recorded history to make landfall in Louisiana with 150 mph winds on landfall. Early in its development it caused heavy rains and landslides in Venezuela, killing 20, and destroyed homes in Cuba. Heavy infrastructure damage occurred in southeastern Louisiana, as well as extremely heavy flooding in coastal areas. More than a million people in total had no electrical power. When the remnants of the storm reached the Northeastern United States in the beginning of September, it brought several intense tornadoes and catastrophic flash flooding, killing at least 46 people.
Heavy rains and flash floods hit 13 of Sudan’s 18 states, affecting more than 288,000 residents and refugees from earlier floods in South Sudan. In neighbouring South Sudan, the deluge affected and displaced about 426,000 people, exacerbating the swelling humanitarian needs in Sudan.
Monsoon flooding in South Asia
Severe flooding in the state of Gujarat on the western coast of India affected over 1.6 million people, with over 7000 displaced, and two deaths reported. Some areas recorded more than 50 cm of rain in 24 hours. Heavy rains also caused severe flooding in West Bengal, at least 10 people lost their lives and more than 1.2 million people were affected.
Ongoing drought in East Africa
President Kenyatta officially declared drought in parts of Kenya a national disaster.
Flooding in Thailand and Malaysia
There was heavy rainfall and floods in several provinces covering about a third of Thailand, influenced by tropical storm Dianmu. Severe flooding swept through parts of Sabah State in Malaysia after heavy rain on 15 September.
Severe flash floods hit the Nigerian capital Abuja and Federal Capital Territory, claiming the lives of 4 people.
At least 5 people have died and thousands left homeless after heavy rain and floods caused severe damage in areas of Guinea from late August.
Flooding of rivers in northern Colombia
Over 50,000 people were affected by floods in northern Colombia.
Heatwave and wildfires hit the Mediterranean
Wildfires raged across Greece, with 2,600 evacuated from the island of Evia, and the EU mounting its largest firefighting operations ever. There was also wildfires in Italy, in Turkey and in Algeria where 65 died.
Analysis showed that the record-breaking temperatures would have been impossible without climate change.
Floods in Sudan and South Sudan
Storms hit Japan
Southern and western Japan have been battered by storms - several people are dead and more than 1 million told to evacuate.
During this month, extreme weather was rarely out of the news. The report below is taken from an earlier blog post.
Famine looms in Madagascar
Madagascar is on the brink of a famine it played little part in creating. In Southern Madagascar, a four-year drought and vicious sandstorms have destroyed crops and turned arable land to desert. As many as 500,000 are nearing starvation.
Unprecedented heatwave in North America
‘Nowhere is safe’: heat shatters vision of Pacific north-west as climate refuge. A 'heat dome' brought unprecedented heat to the US Pacific north-west and western Canada. Known for mild summers, cities were unprepared for record temperatures of up to 42.2C (Seattle) and 46.7C (Portland, Oregon). Some inland areas managed to get up to 118F (47.8C). Hospitals suddenly found themselves overwhelmed, with several hundred people believed to have died in the heat. The town of Lytton shattered the previous heat record for Canada (45C), reaching 49.6C before residents fled a devastating wildfire, which destroyed large parts of the town. Temperature records are usually broken by fractions of degrees.
This is only part of a long-term trend - a 22 year megadrought as reduced snowfall mean reservoirs are not being replenished, causing an existential crisis for farmers and populations in the American West. In the western US, currently 85% is in 'severe drought', with two-thirds (65%) in 'extreme' or 'exceptional' drought.
Heat and drought combined led to the West erupting in fierce wildfires. In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire has burned over 410,000 acres (over 1650 km2, more than the area of Greater London), and was powerful enough to generate dangerous columns of lightning-charged smoke and ash, reaching the stratosphere. The smoke from fires causes serious health problems, and has reached as far as the east coast, with New York issuing air quality warnings. In California, 2020 was the worst fire season on record, burning double the previous area. But 2021 is currently ahead of the trend for 2020, with 900 more fires compared to this time last year.
Heatwave in northern Europe and Siberian wildfires
‘Everything is on fire’: Siberia hit by unprecedented burning Extraordinary forest fires, which have already burned through 1.5m hectares (3.7m acres) of land in north-east Siberia have released choking smog across Russia’s Yakutia region, where officials have described this summer’s weather as the driest in the past 150 years. Fires have sparked one of the world's worst ever air pollution events.
Abnormal heat across Russia, combined with low rainfall, is expected to damage this year's harvest if conditions do not change.
Norway, Sweden and Finland have also been experiencing a heatwave. Lapland recorded its hottest temperature for more than a century.
South Asia heat records
Wet-bulb temperatures (WBT) combine heat and humidity into a single measure, representing the human body's ability to regulate to a safe temperature. At 35C WBT, even fit, acclimatised people who sit in the shade die within about 6 hours. With 2C global heating. it is predicted almost all of India would see 33-35C WBT at least every 8 years. The city of Jacobabad in Pakistan reached 52C, which with high humidity represented a WBT of 35C
As temperatures in Baghdad and southern provinces of Iraq rose up to 52C, power cuts left many without electricity for days, a reminder that climate impacts oftern come on top of existing conflict, inequality and infrastructure failure.
Devastating floods in China
Death toll rises and thousands flee homes as floods hit China Days of torrential rain and massive flooding hit China’s southeastern Henan province, bursting the banks of rivers, overwhelming dams and the public transport system and forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes. At least 25 people have been killed and seven are missing in the provincial capital, Zhengzhou as the subway system flooded. The rain was extraordinarily intense: the average annual rainfall in Zhengzhou is around 64cm. In 24 hours over 55cm fell, with over 20cm In just one hour.
Just two weeks previously, heavy rain in Sichuan province affected more than 120,000 people, with the city of Dazhou evacuating more than 4,600 hit by rising water and landslides and damage of an estimated US$27 million. Floods in Jiangxi also caused 60,000 to be evacuated.
Floods in northern Europe
More than 190 people have died in flooding caused by heavy rainfall. The district of Ahrweiler in Rhineland-Palatinate, south of Cologne, was the worst-hit area, with at least 117 people killed, and homes and roads torn up. At least 31 died in Belgium (further floods 10 days later in the town of Dinant caused damage but no deaths). In Austria, severe flooding also occurred but without fatalities. London was also affected by flooding.
Floods in Turkey and Iran
Mountainous north-eastern Turkey, bordering the Black Sea, is already flood-prone, with most flat land available for building in river valleys. Climate change is making rain heavier. Floods and landslides killed six in Rize, with further severe flooding a week later.
Extreme rainfall brings flooding in South Asia
In Maharashtra in India, torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooding. The state has recorded its heaviest spell of July rain for decades.A record 1.5m rainfall over 72 hours was reported in the hill town of Mahabaleshwar, causing a deadly landslide downstream in the coastal region. The total death toll is now at least 192.
Earlier in the month, dozens died in Mumbai in a landslide caused by monsoon rains. There were also fatalities from landslides in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, while a million people were affected by flooding and 7,400 evacuated in Bihar. Heavy rain and landslides also affected Nepal and Pakistan. In recent years, the monsoon has shifted towards long dry spells broken up by burst of extreme rainfall, which are more likely to flood drains and overwhelm infrastructure
In Bangladesh, floods and landslides destroyed shelters and killed eight people in Rohingya refugee camps, highlighting again how the poorest and most vulnerable are located on the frontline of climate impacts.
Floods and landslides in Japan, South Korea, South East Asia
A landslide killed at least two people in the resort city of Atami in Japan. Landslides are common in Japan, but have increased in frequency by 50% in the past decade, attributed to the rise in heavy rainfall due to climate change.
Two people were killed in floods and landslides in South Korea, Over 80,000 people evacuated their homes in the Philippines after flooding caused by a combination of the monsoon and Typhoon Fabian, while over 2000 homes were damaged by floods and landslides in Indonesia.
New Zealand flooding
New Zealand's west coast was hit by severe flooding after heavy rain, as was the Marlborough region. Climate scientists explained that the flooding was due to a phenomenon called an 'atmospheric river', exacerbated by climate change.
Floods across the Americas
Heavy flooding affected tens of thousands in Costa Rica and Panama, also in northern Colombia in Magdalena and Antioquia Departments. In the US, there were floods in Alabama, Arizona, South Texas, and New York, where rain from Storm Elsa flooded the New York subway.