Unpredictable and chaotic weather around the world

Witnessing an increase in extremes

Hurricanes in the Caribbean and the United States. Extensive droughts in eastern Africa, Australia, southern Europe and parts of China and India. Uncontrollable floods in many parts of the world, sometimes preceded by a long drought.

The impacts of a warming world are scary enough when considered one by one. The view becomes much worse when one looks at them together.

Unpredictable weather makes it very hard for farmers to plan from month to month and year to year.

We still have time – but to avoid an escalation of these impacts we must act now to keep the rise in Earth's average temperature below 2°C.

Tropical Storm Guillaume in the southwestern Indian Ocean close to Mauritius and Madagascar. Waves ... / ©: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
Tropical Storm Guillaume in the southwestern Indian Ocean close to Mauritius and Madagascar. Waves in the region were as high 24 feet.
© MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

It is happening now...

Heatwaves

Cities like Athens, Chicago, Adelaide, Milan, New Delhi and Paris have sweltered under heatwaves. The 2003 summer heatwave in Europe killed 14,800 people in France alone, according to official figures released in September 2003.

View heat map of Europe during 2003 heat wave

Newspaper headline during the heatwave of summer 2003, London, United Kingdom. / ©: WWF-Canon / Emma DUNCAN
Newspaper headline during the heatwave of summer 2003, London, United Kingdom.
© WWF-Canon / Emma DUNCAN
Droughts

Extreme droughts have become regular features. Prolonged drought in Australia has continued for years with very few interruptions, and recent droughts in the Amazon, the United States and southern and western Africa have made life extremely hard for people and wildlife.

View map that shows vulnerability to drought

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Roger LeGUEN
Severe droughts might double in South-Asia over the coming years.
© WWF-Canon / Roger LeGUEN
Floods
Major floods that used to happen only once in 100 years now take place every 10 or 20 years. Flooding can be disastrous. Houses can be destroyed, lives can be ruined, and wildlife threatened. Major flooding in the Philippines, and Turkey demonstrate the toll that such events can have on people's lives.

View graphic of global flood events since 1950
Massive flooding in China in 2007 affected nearly 20 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion ... / ©: Dennis Kruyt / Flickr.com
According to the Times Online, the 2007 floods in China "have affected nearly 20 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion population. The economic losses are estimated officially to be 52.5 billion yuan." Dong Wenjie, director-general of the Beijing Climate Centre, said in an interview on the centre’s website: “The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing – records for worst-in-a-century rainstorms, droughts and heatwaves are being broken more often. This in fact is closely associated with global warming.”
© Dennis Kruyt / Flickr.com
Tropical Cyclones / Hurricanes

Rising sea levels means that tropical cyclones and other extreme storms could result in much greater storm surges that will destroy coastal communities and ecosystems.

View graphic showing increase in hurricanes over past 35 years

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Nigel DICKINSON
Climate change is increasing the intensity of hurricanes. The picture shows a child in Honduras, after Hurricane Mitch has wrecked havoc on the country in 1998.
© WWF-Canon / Nigel DICKINSON

Gulf stream

An increase in global temperatures and precipitation could add a lot more freshwater to the North Atlantic as glacial meltwater flows into the ocean. Similar to events after the last ice age (10,000 years) this could again stop the Gulf Stream and drop temperatures in Europe by around 5 degrees C.

El Niño and climate change

El Niño events have in recent years increased in frequency and are often not interrupted by La Niña events (the opposite of this particular climatic seesaw).

A number of scientists say that these changes cannot be explained by natural causes. While scientific consensus is still out, Climate Witnesses in Fiji or in the Sunderbans are already reporting changes in their daily lives.

  • What does the IPCC say about extreme weather events?

    "Since 1950, the number of heat waves has increased and widespread increases have occurred in the numbers of warm nights. The extent of regions affected by droughts has also increased as precipitation over land has marginally decreased while evaporation has increased due to warmer conditions. Generally, numbers of heavy daily precipitation events that lead to flooding have increased, but not everywhere. Tropical storm and hurricane frequencies vary considerably from year to year, but evidence suggests substantial increases in intensity and duration since the 1970s."

    Read more on IPCC website.

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