As the world goes through another summer of extreme weather, experts are noticing something different: The 2021 assault is hitting harder and in places that have been spared the wrath of global warming in the past.
Rich countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany and Belgium join the poorest and most vulnerable nations on a growing list of extreme weather events that scientists say are linked to change climate of human origin.
“It’s not just a poor country problem, it is now very clearly a rich county problem,” said Debby Guha-Sapir, founder of the International Disaster Database at the Center for Research on Disaster. epidemiology of disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. “They (the rich) get beaten up.”
Deadly floods hit China, but hundreds of people also drowned in areas of Germany and Belgium that were not used to being flooded. Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States experienced what climatologist Zeke Hausfather called a “frightening” heat that topped triple Fahrenheit digits and reached 40 degrees Celsius, shattering records and accompanied by unusual forest fires. Today, southern Europe is experiencing unprecedented heat and fire.
And the peak seasons of hurricanes in the Atlantic and wildfires in the United States are just beginning.
When what would become Hurricane Elsa formed on July 1, it broke last year’s record for the fifth oldest storm in the Atlantic. Colorado State University has already increased its forecast for the number of named Atlantic storms – and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will update its seasonal forecast on Wednesday.
For fire season, the western United States has been the driest since 1580, based on soil moisture readings and tree ring records, paving the way for fires to worsen if anything. ignites, said Park Williams, UCLA’s climate and fire specialist.
What happens with the hurricane and fire seasons in the United States determines the year-end statistics for the total cost of damage from weather disasters, said Ernst Rauch, climate scientist and chief geoscientist at the giant l Munich Re insurance. But so far this year, he said, the wealthier regions have suffered the greatest economic losses.
But when the poorest countries are affected, they are less prepared and their people cannot use air conditioning or leave, so it is more difficult, said Hausfather, director of climate at the Breakthrough Institute. As hundreds of people died in the Pacific Northwest heat wave, he said the number would have been much higher in poor areas.
Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of East Africa, is in the midst of consecutive droughts which the United Nations says are pushing 400,000 people to starvation.
Although it is too early to say that the summer of 2021 will once again break records for climate disasters, “We are certainly starting to see climate change pushing extreme events into new territories where they have never been seen before.” , said Hausfather.
The number of weather, hydrological and climatic disasters so far this year is only slightly above the average for recent years, said disaster researcher Guha-Sapir. Her group’s database, which she says is still missing many events, shows 208 such disasters around the world through July – about 11% more than the decade average, but slightly fewer than last year.
Last year, the record heat that came out of nowhere occurred in Siberia, where few people live, but this year it has hit Portland, Oregon and British Columbia, which attract more Western media attention, Hausfather said.
What is happening is “partly an increase in the statistics of these extreme events, but also simply that the constant drumbeat, the heap from year to year … is taking cumulative havoc on all of us who read these headlines. Georgia said. Kim Cobb, climate scientist.
“This pattern of recent summers in the northern hemisphere has been really quite striking,” said Peter Stott, climatologist at the University of Exeter.
As the global rise in temperature “is unfolding exactly as we said 20 years ago, … what we are seeing in terms of heat waves and flooding is more extreme than we expected at the time, ”Stott said.
Climatologists say there is no doubt that climate change due to the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is the cause of extreme events.
Besides dramatic floods and fires, heat waves are a major risk to prepare for in the future, Guha-Sapir said.
“It will be a very big problem in Western countries, because the people most susceptible to sudden heat spikes are the elderly. And the demographic profile of the European population is very old, ”she said. “Heat waves are going to be a real problem in the next few years. “
Borenstein reported from Kensington, Maryland, and Jordans reported from Berlin.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears and Frank Jordans at @wirereporter.
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