Pena: Recent extreme weather events

RECORD heatwaves happened recently in Canada and the United States. The heat in the US tied or broke several all-time records in California, Nevada, northern Arizona, and southern Utah. Death Valley in California may have just broken the official record for the hottest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth (yes you read it right, a record for the whole planet), reaching 130°F (54.44°C). I got a glimpse of that area on my way to Los Angeles from Las Vegas in 2016.

In Canada, an all-time high record of 49.5 degrees Celsius in Lytton, British Colombia was set. For comparison, the hottest temperature in the Philippines was only 42.2 degrees Celsius, recorded in Tuguegarao, Cagayan on April 22, 1912 and May 11, 1969.

While North America was suffering from scorching heat, parts of Europe have record rainfall and floods. According to the NASA Earth Observatory, communities in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands were swamped by extreme July rainfall. Some of the worst-hit areas saw as much as two months of rain within 24 hours, enough to break precipitation records, push rivers to new heights, and trigger devastating flash floods.

The nighttime downpours from July 14 to 15, 2021 caught people off guard as rivers raged, dams failed, and floodwaters inundated homes. News media estimated that 196 people were killed by flooding and thousands more were injured. Hundreds of people are still listed as missing.

Slow-moving storms are likely the cause of extreme rainfall. The bad news is that they are likely to occur more often in the future across Europe according to experts. In a Newcastle University press release dated July 16, 2021, scientists estimate that these slow-moving storms may be 14 times more frequent across land by the end of the century. It is these slow-moving storms that have the potential for very high precipitation accumulations, with devastating impacts, like what happened in Germany and Belgium.

A study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that storms producing intense rain may move slower with climate change, increasing the duration of exposure to these extremes.

As for the heatwave in the US, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an international team of weather and climate experts known as the “World Weather Attribution” project has analyzed the late June heatwave in the US Pacific Northwest and come to a preliminary conclusion that the event was a roughly 1-in-1,000-year event in today’s climate. If they are correct, it would have been at least 150 times rarer before global warming. Theoretically, a 1-in-150,000-year event—so rare, they concluded, that it’s fair to say it would have been “virtually impossible” in pre-industrial times.

Record heat and rainfall. Extreme weather events happening almost at the same time. Climate Change is most likely the cause.

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