As temperatures plummet across the country this week, it’s important to remember that extreme weather and climate events—such as drought, heavy rain and heat waves—are a natural part of the Earth’s climate system. Nonetheless, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes, extreme weather and climate events can have significant impacts on our lives and on the environment.
“In a non-changing climate, society and the environment are more likely to be resilient to weather and climate extremes as they acclimate to the historical range of extremes,” the NOAA states on its website. “However, as the climate changes these extremes may occur outside the historical range, resulting in societal and environmental vulnerabilities.”
The NOAA’s Global Analysis report for 2013 includes a Global Significant Weather and Climate Events world map illustrating some of Earth’s most radical weather events last year.
Click on the image to go directly to the map.
Among the NOAA’s findings:
- 2013 ties with 2003 as the fourth warmest year globally since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F), marking the 37th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average.
- Extreme precipitation in Europe’s Alpine region and in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland caused the most intense and extended flooding in Danube and Elbe river catchments since at least 1950 as more than 15.7 inches of rain fell in some localized areas on May 29-June 3, an event with a return period of more than 100 years. Austria observed its wettest May-June since national records began in 1858. Some rivers reached historical record heights. Passau/SE-Germany saw its highest water level since 1501. Twenty-five people were killed in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic as a result of the floods.
- The Southwest Asian monsoon season had an early onset of June 16 and brought the worst flooding and devastation in the past half century to regions near the India-Nepal border. Twenty districts in Nepal and several districts in the Indian states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh were affected. The monsoon arrived 15 days early in Uttarakhand, with constant rain over a four-day period. Northwest India received nearly double its average June rainfall. Thousands of people were killed.
- In northeast Asia, from the end of July to mid-August 2013, unusually heavy rain fell near the Amur River, which marks the border between China and Russia. The river reached a record 329.9 feet, surpassing the previous record set in 1984, as heavy flooding hit parts of the region. The Songhuajiang and Liaohe River Basins in northeast China saw their heaviest floods since 1998. Heavy flooding was also reported in eastern Russia, where more than 140 towns were affected by their worst flooding in 120 years. In China there were direct economic losses of about $1.8 billion US dollars and more than 100 fatalities. In the Amur region of Russia, economic losses were estimated at $500 million U.S. dollars.
- Following its biggest snowfall event in the past 50 years in November 2012, by early February, Moscow had already recorded its heaviest winter snowfall accumulation in more than a century, with 216 cm (85 inches) of snow compared to the average of 152 cm (60 inches). March brought an additional 71 cm (28 inches), the highest total for the month in more than 20 years.
Certain weather and climate extremes are expected to become more frequent during the 21st century, the NOAA says, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report from 2007. Monitoring and analyzing climate extremes is a critical component of assessing the climate system and has received a great deal of attention from insurers in recent years, particularly because the impacts of climate-related changes can vary among regions.