Category: extreme weather

UN warns of heatwave health risks

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Northern Africa and the Mideast have been baking under extreme temperatures much of the summer.

Refugee areas hit hard by extreme heat this summer

Staff Report

As global warming drives record heatwaves around the world, the UN is warning that more must be done to warn and protect vulnerable populations from extreme heat.

Some studies show that, even in developed countries, deaths spike during hot weather. The risk may be even higher in developing countries, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said last week in a news release.

“Millions of people around the world should be receiving heat-related warnings and advisories if we are to avoid a repeat of the thousands of deaths which occurred last year from heatwaves notably in Asia and Europe,” said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for disaster risk reduction.

“More effort is required to ensure that the poor and vulnerable including refugees, children, older persons and persons living with disabilities are reached with early warnings and that practical measures are taken to ensure they have access to water and adequate shelter and protection from the heat and the sun,” Glaser said, adding that emergency service managers need to “step up the focus on extreme heat” to reduce mortality. Continue reading “UN warns of heatwave health risks”

Will global warming super-charge hurricanes?

Hurricane Isaac satellite image
Tropical storm Isaac churning in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012. Photo courtesy NOAA.

New study suggests tropical storms will become more intense

Staff Report

Tropical storms may become less frequent as the planet warms up, but those that do form could be increasingly powerful, according to a new study published in the journal Science last week.

How global warming will affect tropical storm formation in the decades ahead has been the subject of intensive research. The new study says that, so far, the warming effects of greenhouse gases on tropical cyclones have been hard to discern because of natural variability and also because air pollution has been masking the impacts. Continue reading “Will global warming super-charge hurricanes?”

Climate: U.S. was record warm in June 2016

Deadly heatwaves and flooding part of emerging pattern of extremes

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Utah and Arizona reported a record-warm June average temperature, with most other states also coming in above average.

Staff Report

Blistering, record heat in the Southwest helped propel the lower 48 states to a new high-temperature record in June, with an average reading of 71.8 degrees Fahrenheit for the month. That included a new monthly temperature record set in Death Valley National Park, where the average temperature in June was 101.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

The warmest-ever June reading broke the record set during the Dust Bowl era, in 1933, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The year-to-date is the third-warmest on record, the monthly state of the climate summary report said.

Continue reading “Climate: U.S. was record warm in June 2016”

Climate: Death Valley sets heat record in June

Death Valley heat record
Ripples on Mesquite Flat sand dunes, Photo courtesy Death Valley National Park.

Average temperature for the month more than 6 degrees above the historic norm

Staff Report

The deadly heatwave that spread across the southwestern U.S. in June also brought a new record high average temperature to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth. According to the National Park Service, last month was the warmest June on record in the national park, with the average temperature for the whole month registering at 101.9 degrees Fahrenheit — about 6 degrees above the long-term average.

Death Valley’s average daily high temperature this June was 115.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the average overnight low was 88.2 degrees. In spite of a record-setting average temperature, Death Valley only set a new daily record one day last month, with 126 degrees recorded on June 21, 2016. The highest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley in June was just a few years ago: 129 degrees on June 30, 2013. Continue reading “Climate: Death Valley sets heat record in June”

Abrupt climate change linked with ocean current shutdown

‘Rollercoaster’ temps prevailed as iceberg flotillas invaded North Atlantic

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Can Arctic icemelt shut down crucial ocean currents? @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

By studying chemical tracers in seafloor sediments, scientists have been able to show that periods of abrupt climate change during the last ice age are somehow linked with dramatic changes in key ocean currents, especially the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which carries heat from the tropics to the northern latitudes.

Specifically, the study looked at series of abrupt climate changes that occurred between 60,000 and 25,000 years ago, ending as the last ice age peaked. A press release on the study describes it as an era when “temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere went on a rollercoaster ride, plummeting and then rising again every 1,500 years or so.”

“People have long supposed this link between overturning circulation and these abrupt climate events. This evidence implicates the ocean,” said L. Gene Henry, the lead author of the study and a graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The findings, published in the journal Science, show for the first time that the ocean’s overturning circulation slowed during every one of those temperature plunges — at times almost stopping. Continue reading “Abrupt climate change linked with ocean current shutdown”

Emerging La Niña likely to end streak of record-warm years

Pacific Ocean ENSO cycle a key player in global climate

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Cooler water welling up along the coast of South America and moving west suggests the start of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean.

By Bob Berwyn

The shift from a powerful El Niño to the cooler La Niña phase of Pacific Ocean temperatures will temporarily end the planet’s recent record streak of record-warm years, according to climate scientists who see the cyclical ocean changes as a key factor in the long-term global climate change equation.

Nearly all record-warm global years since 1950 (when accurate records start) have come during during El Niños, when the Pacific Ocean releases heat to the atmosphere and  intensifies global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution. The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the strongest on record, but it has now ended, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says sea surface temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific have cooled to average in the past few weeks. Continue reading “Emerging La Niña likely to end streak of record-warm years”

Can the Hochbärneckalm survive global warming?

Climate change threatens traditional mountain agriculture in the Alps

Hochbärneck Alm Austria
The Hochbärneck Alm (900 meters) in Lower Austria’s Alpine region. @bberwyn photo.

Supported by the Earth Journalism Network and Internews

By Bob Berwyn

LOWER AUSTRIA — Austria’s high alpine pastures, called Alms, are an important part of the country’s cultural tradition. For centuries, herders have driven cattle and sheep up and down the sides of the mountains following seasonal cycles of plant growth and snow melt.

The livestock grazing is managed mindfully to promote vegetation growth and biodiversity. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but the rhythm of alpine grazing actually fosters biodiversity. Orchids, medicinal herbs and wildflowers thrive in the clearings and create lush green open patches in the landscape that are aesthetically pleasing.

In recent decades, the simple shelter huts near the pastures have also been developed as a recreational and economic resource, providing meals and lodging for tourists and serving as base camps for trekkers and cyclists.

At the Hochbärneck Alm, 900 meters elevation, there are also two ski lifts, but this past winter, they only operated for two days. Just 20 years ago, the ski season ran from late November through March. In recent years, it has barely snowed and temperatures were have been above the 20th century average nearly every day.

But climate change is taking a toll on Austria. The country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, more than twice the global average of .85 degrees Celsius, according to a 2014 climate assessment. That warming spells big changes for mountain environments, including the bucolic pastures around the Alm. For now, the cowbells still chime, but the future is uncertain.

A sustained heatwave last summer hit Austrian agriculture especially hard, and the odds of more extreme weather are good, according to many recent climate studies. The heatwave also took a big bite out of Austria’s glaciers, where decades of rapid melting is one of the clearest signs of global warming.

Austria’s government has formally recognized the cultural, economic and ecological values of traditional mountain agriculture as part of its climate policies, and an ambitious national adaptation plan seeks to address the challenges by helping communities boost ecosystem health. Keeping forests, meadows and streams healthy is one of the best ways to protect against climate change impacts.

With support from the Earth Journalism Network and Internews, we’ll be exploring this topic for the next several weeks, following herders as they move their livestock up into the Alpine zone, on through to the end of the summer, when the cows-bedecked with flowers and bells, are driven back to the valley towns for the winter in a colorful procession.

We’ll explore some of the best practices for sustaining ecosystems and mountain communities and ask whether the farmers are getting the support that’s needed, as spelled out by the adaptation plan. And we’ll here from them what changes they’ve already experienced.

Follow our Twitter feed for frequent updates and Instagram for photos from the reporting project — and don’t be afraid to ask questions or add comments about global warming in the Austrian Alps. We’ll include those questions in our interviews with environmental experts, resource managers and government officials as we report on climate change in the Austrian Alps.

climate change austrian alps
Austrian farmers increasingly are having to adapt to big shift in seasonal weather patterns as the globe warms. @bberwyn photo.