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U.S. Drought and Balkan Floods Linked to Hottest Year on Record

16:18PM Dec 03, 2014

Drought in California and Brazil, the U.K.’s wettest winter and floods in the Balkans are among the extreme weather patterns that marked what’s on track to be the hottest year ever recorded.

Temperatures this year are on course for their highest globally since records began, with oceans bearing the brunt of the heat and the U.S. and Canada spared the worst, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

“More and more people around the world are confronted with catastrophic climate change,” Martin Kaiser, head of climate politics at the environmental group Greenpeace, said at a United Nations conference in Lima working to limit greenhouse gases. “The trend is worsening. We need to get policies in place at all levels and act as fast as possible.”

The warmth is linked to unusual weather, with high ocean temperatures contributing to “exceptionally heavy rainfall and floods in many countries and extreme drought in others,” the WMO said in a report today.

Flooding this year devastated swathes of Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Morocco, according to the report. In the U.K., already known for its drizzly weather, the winter was the wettest on record, while France and Japan also had rainfall records during the year.

American Droughts


On the flipside, drought hit parts of China and Central America, and depleted water supplies for Sao Paulo in Brazil. Large parts the western U.S. are in drought, with parts of California, Texas and Nevada receiving less than 40 percent of their typical rainfall, the WMO said.


“There is no standstill in global warming,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement, taking a swipe at climate skeptics who say temperatures aren’t heating up. “Record-high greenhouse-gas emissions and associated atmospheric concentrations are committing the planet to a much more uncertain and inhospitable future.”

There are signs that doubts about climate change are dissipating in the U.S., a survey sponsored by the reinsurance company Munich Re showed. The poll of 1,000 people published yesterday showed 83 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening and 66 percent back taxes as a way to change the behavior of consumers and businesses.

``National sentiment over whether or not climatic changes are occurring has finally reached a tipping point,” Tony Kuczinski, president of Munich Re America, said in a statement on Businesswire.

The global mean temperature for the first 10 months of the year were above average by 0.57 degrees Celsius (1.03 degrees Fahrenheit), the WMO said. If the warmth persists in November and December, it will trump heat recorded in 2010, 2005 and 1998.

Climate Talks


The findings are the broadest study of the climate for the year to date and mesh with scientific evidence suggesting the Earth is experiencing a quicker shift in temperatures than when the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago. Released at a United Nations global warming conference in Peru, the report undercuts doubts that humans are behind the shift and puts pressure on envoys from some 190 nations to act.


Temperatures already have gained 0.8 of a degree Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution and are on track to rise 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the International Energy Agency estimates. That sort of shift applied worldwide would cause more violent storms, shrink crop yields and alter the geographical range of diseases, with the poorest countries suffering the most, the World Bank said last month.

The diplomats gathered in Lima this week and next are searching for a way to limit fossil fuel pollution blamed for damaging the atmosphere. The ambition is to keep the warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and environmental groups say the WMO’s report shows how much more needs to be done.

‘Wrong Direction’


“The world is going in the wrong direction,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, who has been tracking the talks for two decades. “The temperature report tells us that countries need to pick up the pace and the scale of action they’re taking to transition to solve the climate crisis.”


The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a record in 2013, the WMO said. Data for this year aren’t yet available.

On land, temperatures are about 0.86 degrees Celsius above the average from 1961 to 1990, the WMO said, making it the fifth-warmest in a data series that goes back to 1880. Sea- surfaces were the hottest ever at 0.45 degrees Celsius above the mean, it said. The global average mean temperature for the reference period is about 14 degrees Celsius, according to the WMO, an agency of the United Nations.

Large areas of the U.S., Canada and central Russia are having cooler-than-average years, it said, citing a “notable cold wave.” Starting in January, waves of Arctic chilled air, dubbed the “Polar Vortex” dropped down from Canada, sending temperatures plunging throughout the central and eastern U.S. from Chicago to Houston and New York.

U.K. Record


The WMO synthesizes three data series to produce its data. They come from the U.K. Met Office, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


The U.K. is also on track for its warmest year, the Met Office said in a separate report today.

The difference in temperature between the warmest years amounts to just hundredths of a degree. In 2010 and 2005, the WMO record shows the temperature anomaly -- or difference from the long-term average -- was 0.55 degrees Celsius. In 1998, it was 0.52 degrees Celsius. Every year since 2000 ranks among the 15 hottest on record.

This year’s warmth occurred in the absence of a phenomenon known as El Nino, an upwelling of warmer waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean that tends to coincide with the warmest years. That contributed to the heat in 1998, another particularly warm year.

Fewer Storms


One positive of the year’s climate was the 72 tropical storms registered so far worldwide. That’s fewer than the 1981 through 2010 average of 89.


The climate talks in Lima started two days ago and are due to run through Dec. 12. Envoys are trying to produce the first draft of an agreement that they aim to complete in Paris in 2015, drawing in commitments to cut or limit greenhouse gases by all nations for the first time.

“This reinforces the urgency message that’s already out there,” Alden Meyer, of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview in Peru. “We’re running out of time, and we’re starting to see the impacts. This is not a problem far off in the future.”