Extreme Weather is the New Normal with Climate Change

Aftermath of an early tornado in Lancaster, Texas. To join thousands of others connecting the dots between climate change and extreme weather, visit ClimateDots.org.

By Stephen Leahy

CAIRNS, Australia, Apr 3, 2012 (Tierramérica)

Extreme weather is fast becoming the new normal. Canada and much of the United States experienced summer temperatures during winter this year, confirming the findings of a new report on extreme weather.

For two weeks this March most of North America baked under extraordinarily warm temperatures that melted all the snow and ice and broke 150-year-old temperature records by large margins.

Last year the U.S. endured 14 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters including flooding, hurricanes and tornados.

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released Mar. 28, provides solid evidence that record-breaking weather events are increasing in number and becoming more extreme. And if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, these events will reach dangerous new levels over the coming century.

Since 1950 there have been many more heat waves and record warm temperatures than in previous decades.

This will only increase in future decades, as will heavier rainfall events in tropical regions and the high latitudes, according to the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). 

The hottest day that occurs once in 20 years is likely to become a one-in-two year event by the end of the century, except in the high latitudes of the Northern hemisphere, where it is likely to happen once every five years.

The average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase, but the global frequency of tropical cyclones is likely to decrease or remain unchanged.

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Will Super Cyclone Yasi be Australia’s Katrina? Landfall Wed as Cat 5 Storm

This is what climate change looks like

[Stunning satellite photo of Yasi on landfall here.]

[Update 24:00 EST Feb 2. Can it be true? No one has been killed or seriously injured? If that holds up over the next few days it will be absolutely stunning. Kudos to Australian govt and Australians.

[Update 17:30 EST Feb 2. Yasi has moved well inland leaving devastated coastal towns and landscape behind – houses flattened, 90% of trees broken, not a leaf left on bushes. Pix here

[Update 10:30 EST Feb 2 LANDFALL: South of Cairns at the beautiful town of Mission Beach as Cat 5. This is where Cyclone Larry came ashore in 2006, the worst cyclone in 100 yrs, and destroyed much of the area. The last 1500 endangered cassowaries — large flightless bird — live in the jungles there.

[Update: 18:00 EST Feb 1- Yasi landfall expected at high tide bringing storm surge of 3-4 9! metres propelled by 280-300 kph winds. City of Cairns in direct path. “Catastrophic” storm says Premier]

Following the recent record-breaking flooding, Queensland, Australia’s is facing yet another extreme weather event as super cyclone Yasi bears down on them. Yasi is expected to reach has reached dangerous Category 4 5 strength, generating winds of up to 280 300 kph when it hits the Queensland state coast early on Thursday (2pm Wednesday, GMT). Yasi is a huge storm as the satellite image above shows – it is about 600-700 km diameter making it an extremely large cyclone (cover half the USA). (Latest Met service satellite imagery)

For comparison Hurricane Katrina was also very large but only about a Cat 1 or 2 on landfall based on final data from NOAA that went largely unreported. Katrina’s storm surge caused most of the damage which could be the case with Yasi. One major difference is that Queensland does not have a major city on the coast (or even a small one protected by poorly designed levees). Shockingly even a year after Katrina more than 500,000 people remained displaced.

Large areas of Queensland are still underwater or mud-covered from flooding just 2 weeks ago that caused billions of dollars in damage. It was so bad that Australians now have to pay a temporary flood damage tax to help cover the costs… And now Yasi.

Australia may need a permanent climate change disaster tax.

This is what climate change looks like – record-breaking extreme weather events. The Queensland floods nor Yasi are the direct result of climate change. However because burning fossil fuels traps more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere the odds and strength of extreme events increase as climate science has stated for two decades now. Here is my latest article on this The Yin and Yang of Climate Extremes We Will See More of.

Climate change loads the dice in favour of extreme events. Queensland has been very unlucky lately. Help them out if you can. — Stephen

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