Record-shattering fires, freezes and rainfall around the world made it all too clear that extreme weather is fast becoming the new normal
15 December 2021
DEADLY fires, floods and freezes struck around the world this year, as a report by the world’s top climate scientists said it is now an “established fact” that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are linked to more-frequent, more-intense extreme weather.
“The sad fact is climate change and extreme weather have become the norm,” says Christiana Figueres, former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Temperature records are usually exceeded by a fraction of a degree. Yet in late June, the village of Lytton in Canada broke the country’s record high by almost 5°C, reaching 49.6°C. A day later, wildfires destroyed much of the community.
Other parts of the northern hemisphere were alight too. The largest blazes scorched the boreal forests in Siberia. And California, which has had several severe fire years in a row, saw the Dixie fire burn around 390,000 hectares, making it the state’s biggest on record. Turkey and Greece were also badly affected. When looked at globally, wildfires released a record amount of carbon dioxide, the gas helping create the warmer, drier conditions for these events in the first place.
In July, Turkey endured a new temperature high, while Sicily in Italy saw Europe’s warmest day on record a month later. South America was afflicted by drought, exemplified by the continent’s second longest river, the Paraná, dropping to its lowest level in 77 years.
Too much heat wasn’t the only problem. Texas shivered in a historic cold snap with temperatures as much as 28°C below average in February. The freeze hit power and water supplies and hundreds of people died. One study found the event was made more likely by melting Arctic sea ice disrupting weather patterns.
“Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, and the threat is here”
Floods took a heavy toll too. The Chinese city of Zhengzhou in Henan province was deluged with more than 200 millimetres of rainfall in 1 hour on 20 July, an all-time national record. The resulting flooding of the city’s subway system killed 14 people. The same month saw extreme rainfall devastate parts of Germany and Belgium, causing landslides and more than 200 deaths. South Sudan was wracked by its third year in a row of extreme floods.
In September, people drowned when basements in New York flooded as the remains of Hurricane Ida hit. “Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, our economy, and the threat is here,” said US president Joe Biden.
2021 in review
This was a year of tackling great challenges, from the covid-19 pandemic to climate change. But 2021 was also rich in scientific discoveries and major advances.
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