Nature struck relentlessly in 2020 with record-breaking and deadly weather- and climate-related disasters.
With the most named storms in the Atlantic, the largest-ever area of California burned by wildfires, killer floods in Asia and Africa and a hot, melting Arctic, 2020 was more than a disastrous year with the pandemic. It was megadrought and near-record heat, California had at least derecho that savaged the Midwest somehow flew under the radar, despite damage nearing $10 billion, and is barely remembered. Other billion-dollar severe storms, often with tornadoes and hail, struck the U.S. in January, February, twice in March, three times in April and another three times in May.
All these U.S. disasters have “really added up to create a catastrophic year,” said Adam Smith, a NOAA applied climatologist. “Climate change has its fingerprints on many of these different extremes and disasters.”
“Nature is sending us a message. We better hear it,” United Nations Environment Programme Director Inger Andersen told The Associated Press in an interview. “Wherever you go, whatever continent, we see Nature socking it at us. The warmest three-year period we’ve ever seen. The Arctic temperatures, the wildfires, etc. etc.”
Worldwide, more than 220 climate- and weather-related disasters hurt more than 70 million people and caused more than $69 billion in damage. Over 7,500 people were killed, according to preliminary figures from the international angtze River and the Three Gorges Dam in China killed at least 279 people in the summer and caused economic losses of more than $15 billion, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Hue, Vietnam had a record 103 inches (261 centimeters) of rain in October, according to the WMO.
Extremes, including heat waves and droughts, hit all over the world. Siberia reached a record 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) as much of the Arctic was 9 degrees (5 degrees Celsius) warmer than average and had an exceptionally bad wildfire season. Arctic sea ice shrank to the second lowest level on record and set a few monthly records for melt.
Death Valley saw the warmest temperature recorded, 129.9 degrees (54.4 degrees Celsius), on Earth in at least 80 years.
The pace of disasters is noticeably increasing, said disaster experts and climate scientists. The international database in Belgium calculated that from 1980 to 1999, the world had 4,212 disasters affecting 3.25 billion people and costing $1.63 trillion, adjusted for inflation. From 2000 to 2019 those figures jumped to 7,348 disasters, 4.03 billion people affected and $2.97 trillion in damage.
“Disasters are very much becoming a chronic condition in this country,” said Riggen, who has noticed the change since 2006 when he joined the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina.
Climate change figures in the growth of disasters, especially wildfires worsened by drought and heat, said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.
“I didn’t expect to see a season with 30 named storms in my lifetime,” Mann said, noting that hurricanes were fueled by a natural La Nina cooling of parts of the central Pacific combined with human-caused warming of water temperatures.
National Hurricane Center Deputy Director Ed Rappaport said: “It was an exhausting year.”
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The stormy, fiery year when climate disasters wouldn’t stop (2020, December 10)
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