Extreme weather: more to come

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iol scitech march 17 joburg weather INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Joburg has experienced extreme downpours in recent weeks, resulting in flooding in some areas. Picture: Anna Kamolane

Durban - Last year tied with 2003 as the fourth-hottest year the world has experienced since records began in 1880, according to data released by the National Climatic Data Centre in the US.

This made it the 37th consecutive year that the global temperature was above average – contrary to some reports that global warming has slowed.

The combined land and sea surface temperature last year was 0.62ºC higher than the 20th century average, while the land surface temperature was 0.99ºC warmer.

Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred this century. The warmest year on record was 2010.

According to the data centre, last year was characterised by many extreme climate events and anomalies.

Some of these were:

l Russia had the hottest November and December since its national records began in 1891.

l China had one of its most severe heat waves, in which 40 people died.

l Australia had its hottest year on record, while New Zealand had its warmest winter on record.

l Canada’s torrential summer rain caused floods that left it facing its highest bill yet for damage.

l Namibia, Botswana and Angola had their lowest rainfall in 30 years.

l Ice-capped Greenland recorded its highest temperature yet.

l Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall, and claimed more than 5 700 lives in the Philippines, the archipelago’s highest such death toll.

Most of the heat from global warming – about 93 percent – is absorbed by the oceans, which makes ocean heat content a more reliable indicator of climate than surface or atmospheric temperatures.

Last year’s global average ocean temperature was 0.48ºC more than the 20th century average and the hottest since 2010.

In Africa, Tanzania and Ethiopia experienced record temperatures.

Parts of central Asia and Australia and a section of the Arctic Ocean had record temperatures.

Globally, although the amounts of rain, snow and hail over land were near the average, precipitation varied greatly between regions, with some experiencing severe droughts and others record flooding.

Most of the world had above-average annual temperatures last year.

For the second consecutive year the Amazon experienced severe drought – the worst in 50 years – and the Brazilian Plateau had the lowest rainfall since its records begin in 1979.

James Wright writes on the Skeptical Scientist website that last year the Earth’s oceans accumulated energy at a rate that compared with 12 Hiroshima atomic bombs a second, according to global ocean heat content records.

“Warming oceans fuel hurricanes, raise sea level and melt sea ice,” Wright - The Mercury.

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