2013 proved to be yet another wild, destructive and costly year in terms of weather, as well as another of the warmest on record. Not only did 2013 confirm the global warming trend and the linkage with anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – tying with 2007 as the sixth warmest year on record – according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there were 43 separate billion-dollar economic loss events. That's a lot more than the 10-year average of 28, according to Aon Benfield's, Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report, 2013.
Economically speaking, flood and drought proved especially costly last year. In fact, each of the past four years saw economic losses exceeding the 10-year average; 2013's total is the second-highest behind 2010's record 47.
Scientifically, WMO's, “Annual Statement on the Status of the Climate,” provides a series of consistent, inter-related indicators, including ice cover, ocean warming, sea level rise and greenhouse gas concentrations, that confirmed the global warming trend continues and provides a picture of extreme temperature and weather events in countries and regions around the world.
2013 in weather: A year of extremes
Thirteen of the fourteen warmest years on record have occurred this century to date, with each of the last three decades warmer than the previous one. The decade 2001-2010 is the warmest on record, the WMO notes in a press release.
2013's average global land and ocean surface temperature came in at 14.5°C (58.1°F), 0.50°C (0.9°F) warmer than the 1961-1990 average and 0.03°C (0.05°F) warmer than the record 2001-2010 decadal average. Heat records were set in Australia, while Argentina recorded its second hottest year.
Commenting on the results of this year's WMO report Secretary-General Michel Jarraud stated,
“There is no standstill in global warming. The warming of our oceans has accelerated, and at lower depths. More than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans. Levels of these greenhouse gases are at record levels, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.”
Jarraud added that the weather extremes experienced in 2013, though influenced, as always, by natural factors such as El Nino and La Nina events and volcanic eruptions, were “consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change.
“We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise – as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines.”
Enhancing climate change preparedness and resilience
Highlighting advances in weather forecasting and applauding efforts to enhance disaster preparedness and improve resilience to climate change longer term, Jerraud urged governments and society in general to do more and go further.
“Weather forecasting, including of storms and other hazards, has become much more skillful in recent years. As demonstrated in October by Cyclone Phailin, the second strongest tropical cyclone to strike India since modern records began, improved forecasting, combined with government action to build national resilience and provide shelters, greatly reduces the loss of life. We must continue strengthening preparedness and early warning systems and implementing a multi-hazard approach to disaster risk reduction.”
Included in this year's WMO “Status of the Climate Report” is a peer-reviewed case study of Australia's hottest year on record. Using nine state-of-the art climate models, researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of Melbourne investigated the likelihood that this year's extreme weather down under was the result of human influences. They concluded,
“Comparing climate model simulations with and without human factors shows that the record hot Australian summer of 2012/13 was about five times as likely as a result of human-induced influence on climate and that the record hot calendar year of 2013 would have been virtually impossible without human contributions of heat-trapping gases, illustrating that some extreme events are becoming much more likely due to climate change.”
Also included in this year's WMO status report is a list of the key climate events of 2013:
- Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, devastated parts of the central Philippines.
- Surface air temperatures over land in the Southern Hemisphere were very warm, with widespread heat waves; Australia saw record warmth for the year, and Argentina its second warmest year and New Zealand its third warmest.
- Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeast United States.
- Angola, Botswana and Namibia were gripped by severe drought.
- Heavy monsoon rains led to severe floods on the India-Nepal border.
- Heavy rains and floods impacted northeast China and the eastern Russian Federation.
- Heavy rains and floods affected Sudan and Somalia.
- Major drought affected southern China.
- Northeastern Brazil experienced its worst drought in the past 50 years.
- The widest tornado ever observed struck El Reno, Oklahoma in the United States.
- Extreme precipitation led to severe floods in Europe’s Alpine region and in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.
- Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall.
- Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record highs.
- The global oceans reached new record high sea levels.
- The Antarctic sea ice extent reached a record daily maximum.
Photo courtesy UNICEF Philippines/Flickr
Graph courtesy Aon Benfield, "Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report 2013"