December 6, 2019

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Worst fears coming true

Disasters fit climatologists' predictions

Tourists in Moscow walk along Red Square earlier this week wearing face masks amid a thick blanket of smog, caused by hundreds of wildfires.

ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Tourists in Moscow walk along Red Square earlier this week wearing face masks amid a thick blanket of smog, caused by hundreds of wildfires.

NEW YORK — Floods, fires, melting ice and feverish heat: From smoke-choked Moscow to water-soaked Iowa and the High Arctic, the planet seems to be having a midsummer breakdown. It's not just a portent of things to come, scientists say, but a sign of troubling climate change already under way.

The weather-related cataclysms of July and August fit patterns predicted by climate scientists, the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization says — although those scientists always shy from tying individual disasters directly to global warming.

A flooded highway is seen near Hurstville, Iowa in July.

KEVIN E. SCHMIDT / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

A flooded highway is seen near Hurstville, Iowa in July.

The experts now see an urgent need for better ways to forecast extreme events like Russia's heat wave and wildfires and the record deluge devastating Pakistan. They'll discuss such tools in meetings this month and next in Europe and America, under United Nations, U.S. and British government sponsorship.

"There is no time to waste," because societies must be equipped to deal with global warming, says British government climatologist Peter Stott.

Climatologists generally refrain from blaming warming for this drought or that flood, since so many other factors also affect the day's weather.

But worldwide temperature readings show this January-June was the hottest first half of a year since record-keeping begain in the mid-19th century. Meteorologists say 17 nations have recorded all-time-high temperatures in 2010, more than in any other year.

The WMO pointed out that this summer's events fit the international scientists' projections of "more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming."

— — —

RUSSIA: It's been the hottest summer ever recorded in Russia, with Moscow temperatures topping 37.8 degrees C for the first time. Russia's drought has sparked hundreds of wildfires, blanketing Moscow with a toxic smog that finally lifted Thursday after six days. The Russian capital's death rate doubled to 700 people a day at one point. The drought reduced the wheat harvest by more than one-third.

A 2007 report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted a doubling of disastrous droughts in Russia this century and cited studies foreseeing catastrophic fires during dry years. It also said Russia would suffer large crop losses.

— — —

PAKISTAN: The heaviest monsoon rains on record — 300 millimetres in one 36-hour period — have sent rivers rampaging over huge swaths of countryside, flooding thousands of villages. It has left 14 million Pakistanis homeless or otherwise affected, and killed 1,500. The government calls it the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.

The 2007 IPCC report predicted greater flooding this century in south Asia's monsoon region.

— — —

CHINA: China is witnessing its worst floods in decades, the WMO says, particularly in the northwest province of Gansu. There, floods and landslides last weekend killed at least 1,100 people and left more than 600 missing. The IPCC report predicted still more frequent flooding this century.

— — —

UNITED STATES: In Iowa, soaked by its wettest 36-month period in 127 years of record-keeping, floodwaters from three nights of rain this week forced hundreds from their homes and killed a 16-year-old girl.

The international climate panel projected increased U.S. precipitation this century.

— — —

THE ARCTIC: Researchers last week spotted a 160-square-kilometre chunk of ice calved off from the great Petermann Glacier in Greenland's far northwest. It was the most massive ice island to break away in the Arctic in a half-century of observation.

In the Arctic Ocean itself, the summer melt of the vast ice cap has reached unprecedented proportions in recent years. Satellite data show the ocean area covered by ice last month was the second-lowest ever recorded for July.

The melting of land ice into the oceans is causing about 60 per cent of the accelerating rise in sea levels worldwide, with thermal expansion from warming waters causing the rest. The WMO'S World Climate Research Program says seas are rising by 34 millimetres per decade, about twice the 20th century's average.

Worldwide temperature readings, meanwhile, show that this January-June was the hottest first half of a year since record-keeping began in the mid-19th century.

— The Associated Press

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