What’s up with our weather? by Alan Rogers. Posted on July 20, 2014, Sunday
Empty boat slips protrude from the dock at the abandoned Echo Bay Marina on July 13 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada in the United States. The marina closed last year in part due to falling water levels. — AFP photo
WE all have a love-hate relationship with our weather. The British talk more about daily weather than any other nation simply because, as an island facing the ravages of Atlantic storms to the west and the huge Eurasian continent to the east, the weather changes almost daily.
George Mikes, a Hungarian refugee in the late 1950s and once a prominent newspaper reporter in the UK, wrote an interesting dialogue on how to demonstrate your ability in the English language … always have a good conversation about the weather!
I frequently ask myself whether I am a prophet of doom and gloom or simply a realist. In 2013 through to early this year, people worldwide have had their lives turned upside down by the sheer intensity of storms, flooding and drought.
At the end of March, strong northeasterly winds battered the coastal areas of Sabah with flash flooding in Beaufort, Keningau, and Tenom and these storms equalled the intensity of rainfall and water depth that was experienced in South West England in January, when three major cyclones hit the area in one week. Wind speeds reached 129 km per hour with gusts up to 145 km per hour. In one day 400 millimetres of rain fell equalling one third of the average monthly rainfall.
In late February, the UK Meteorological Office together with the National Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology published a detailed report on ‘The Recent Storms and Floods in the UK’. The authors concluded that the disastrous events there were partly linked to the very high temperatures and rainfall inputs in Indonesia and Borneo and to the exceptionally cold weather in the USA.
A warming world has led to the intense daily and hourly rainfall inputs. With progressive and irreversible climatic change, sea levels are rising with greater coastal inundation by stormy seas and rivers are more frequently in flood. This report did imply that there was a possible link between climate change and the December to January storms in the UK, but stressed that further complex computer modelling was needed to prove a definite link.
Residents carry their belongings as Typhoon Rammasun (locally named Glenda) hits the town of Imus, Cavite southwest of Manila in the Philippines on July 16. Philippine authorities evacuated almost 150,000 people from their homes and shuttered financial markets, government offices, businesses and schools as the typhoon gathered strength. — Reuters photo
The world’s extreme weather patterns are linked to the meandering paths and positions of the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean and over North America before in a westerly direction it reaches Europe. A major change in the path of the Pacific jet stream was driven by increased rainfall over Indonesia and Borneo, associated with higher than normal temperatures. The intensity of the Atlantic cyclones affecting South and South West England was caused by the Polar jet stream taking a more southerly track than the norm for this time of year.
Japanese meteorologists have forecasted a further warming of the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean in an El Nino effect. In due course this could prompt further drought in Southeast Asia and Australia and flooding in South America where sea temperatures in the Eastern Pacific are warmer than usual.
The debate about the anthropogenic causes of global warming is again erupting and will continue to rumble for future decades. No one can dispute the fact that our oceans are absorbing 90 per cent of the heat added to our planet through climate change and that these oceans absorb almost 33 per cent of our carbon dioxide emissions from oil, gas, or coal fired power stations, industry and vehicle exhausts and diminishing forest cover worldwide. Vegetation is a natural absorber of CO2.
The global mean sea level rose at the rate of 3.2 millimetres per annum from 1993 to 2010. This is explained by the fact that as the sea warms, it expands together with the continued melting of the Arctic Ocean ice and the continental ice sheets of Antarctica shrinking in ice depth and shedding glaciers and melt-water into the sea. We will see more people who are currently living in coastal areas a metre or so above sea level and on island atolls in the Pacific Ocean seeking climate change refugee status over the next decade. The precedent was set last April. With increasing sea levels so will storm surges be more intense and damaging.
Global warming has a detrimental effect on health. Recently China recorded an average of 500,000 deaths per annum attributed to urban pollution. World economies are at risk. Florida, USA — a major supplier of oranges worldwide — is just recovering from a very severe winter of frosts and snow. Brazil produces 40 per cent of the world’s coffee but the coffee growing areas have been hit by a severe drought. Indonesia and Malaysia, accounting together for 80 per cent of the world’s palm oil production, were severely hit by the drought in January and February. Canada’s wheat farmers have suffered long lasting snow cover beyond the normal planting time and drought has hit the wheat farmers in Australia.
The world market prices for oranges, coffee, palm oil, wheat and cattle feed are forecast to hit record highs this year with inevitably increasing consumer costs in shops. Rising sea levels and the inevitable penetration of salt water inland have affected the yields of rice farmers in the delta lands of Bangladesh and the market gardeners in coastal California.
Whilst we may proudly see ourselves with national identities, we are part of the global economy and a world whose ecosystems are on the verge of reaching atrophy. Climate change is indeed severe, invasive and irreversible but all nations and every one of us need to seek ways of slowing it down and putting it into a state of remission.
As I write, I have ascertained that UK Met Office researchers have broken new ground in developing a computer model simulating longer term predictions of winter weather conditions there. This breakthrough will have a major impact on the economy.
Power suppliers will be able to anticipate energy needs; hospitals better prepared to treat winter illnesses and accidents; retailers will be able to better stock their shelves with appropriate food; and insurance companies will be able to reliably anticipate potential storm damage and flooding areas. Perhaps the methodology in constructing this model may be released to all nations on our planet so that local seasonal adaptations may be programmed into a not dissimilar computer model. We all live in hope.
For further reading see thesundaypost (March 30, 2014): ‘El Nino havoc possible this year’ by Rintos Mail; ‘Palm oil threatened by worst drought for Asian crop’ [Bloomberg Report]; and ‘How to be an Alien’ by George Mikes (1946 Penguin Readers).
Related articles can also be found at www.metoffice.gov.uk.
A man makes his way through a flooded area in Changsha, central China’s Hunan province on July 15. — AFP photo