‘More volatile and unstable world’: How 2022 kept breaking new extreme weather records

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From summer heat across the whole of the northern hemisphere to a cruel drought inflicting mass hunger in east Africa, 2022 felt almost unrelenting in extreme weather.

While hazards like hurricanes and wildfires happen naturally, climate breakdown is making them worse, scientists say.

And they agree that extreme weather events are going to become “more frequent in most locations across the world”, warned professor Tom Oliver, who specialises in ecology and evolutionary biology at Reading University.

But what is lesser known is “the way in which these events interact with each other and cause knock-on effects,” he said.

“Extreme weather is implicated in food shortages, mass human displacement and geopolitical conflict.

“These complex risk cascades are impossible to predict precisely but, as a general rule, we face a more volatile and unstable world as a result of accelerating climate change,” he added.

Here are just seven new records broken in 2022:

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People watch as a fire burns during a heatwave, in east London, Britain, July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Tony O'Brien
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Fires broke out around England in the July heatwave

1. Record heat in UK left people and infrastructure struggling to cope

For the first time ever, temperatures soared to 40°C in the UK this summer, an event made ten times more likely by climate change, scientists said.

The extreme weather grounded flights, buckled trainlines and fuelled devastating blazes that destroyed homes.

The Met Office’s Mike Kendon said at the time that what stood out was “how much more widespread the heat was” than in previous heatwaves.

“Temperature records tend to get broken by modest amounts and by just a few stations, but the recent heat broke the national record by 1.6°C and across an extensive area of the country,” he said.

In Europe as a whole the average temperature was the highest on record for both August and summer period by “substantial margins” of 0.8°C for August and 0.4°C for summer, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Dead fish lay on the dried-up bed of the river Tille in Lux, France, Tuesday Aug. 9, 2022. Burgundy, home to the source of the Seine River which runs through Paris, normally is a very green region. This year, grass turned yellow, depriving livestock from fresh food, and tractors send giant clouds of dust in the air as farmers work in their dry fields. (AP Photo/Nicholas Garriga)
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Dead fish left on the dried-up bed of the river Tille in Lux, France, in August. Pic: AP

2. Europe’s drought worst in 500 years

All that heat fuelled Europe’s worst drought for some 500 years, according to preliminary analysis. The parched conditions shrivelled plants and rivers, leaving hordes of dead fish and failed crops.

The drought exacerbated the energy crisis by evaporating water from hydropower lakes and hindering cooling of nuclear power plants.

What made it so bad was the fact “most of Europe” was exposed to compounding heatwaves and dry weather, an EU researcher said.

In the second worst drought, 2018, dry and hot weather in central and northern Europe was partially offset by wet conditions in the south.

Pic: AP
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Pic: AP

3. Drought-triggered famine in east Africa

This year Somalia and Ethiopia suffered what is thought to be the worst drought in 40 years, fuelled by climate change.

It has driven people to hunger and the brink of famine, threatening the lives and livelihoods of 36 million people.

Catastrophic levels of hunger in drought-stricken Madagascar should be a “wake up call” to the current and severe danger of global heating, the World Food Programme warned in August, as the country teetered on the edge of the world’s first climate change-induced famine.

This photo provided Friday July 15, 2022 by the fire brigade of the Gironde region (SDIS 33) shows a wildfire near Landiras, southwestern France, Thursday, July 14, 2022. Several hundred firefighters struggled Friday to contain two wildfires in the Bordeaux region of southwest France that have forced the evacuation of 10,000 people and ravaged more than 7,000 hectares of land. High temperatures and strong winds have complicated firefighting efforts in the region, one of several around Europe scorched by wildfires this season. (SDIS 33 via AP)
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Hundreds of firefighters struggled to contain a blaze in the Gironde region of southwestern France in July

4. Europe wildfires – second highest on record, but pollution broke new boundaries

Fierce, scorching wildfires across Europe were fuelled by longer and hotter heatwaves and drought..

More land was torched than in any other year on record apart from 2017, when the Ophelia cyclone intensified an unseasonal October fire in Portugal.

But the amount of harmful pollution did reach a new record high, with the total emissions from the European Union and the UK from June to August 2022 thought to be the highest for these months since the summer of 2007.

Wildfire emissions are a significant source of atmospheric pollutants, which turn air dirty and harm human health.

“This year’s fire season was very intense in terms of burnt areas, but especially so in terms of [the] number of fires and fire danger levels,” Dr Jesús San-Miguel-Ayanz, from the European Commission’s Disaster Risk Management Unit, told Sky News.

Pic: AP
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Pic: AP

5. India and Pakistan heat ‘a sign of things to come’

As Pakistan and India sweltered in a spring heatwave, scientists warned record-breaking temperatures have been made 100 times more likely by the climate crisis.

It was a “sign of things to come,” they said as they published the study.

India endured its hottest March since records began over 120 years ago, and land surface temperatures in south Ahmedabad soared to 65°C in April.

The crippling heat compounded energy shortages, with a surge in demand leaving many without power. It also wiped out 50% of some crop yields.

When the mercury soared to 50.2°C in Nawabshah, a city in southern Pakistan, it was thought to be the highest temperature ever reliably measured in April for any location on Earth.

An aerial view of damaged and inundated homes after Hurricane Ian tore through the area, in this still image taken from video in Lee County, Florida, U.S., September 29, 2022. WPLG TV via ABC via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY MANDATORY CREDIT
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An aerial view of damaged and inundated homes after Hurricane Ian tore through Lee County in Florida, U.S. Pic: ABC via Reuters

6. Counting the cost of Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian is this year’s most expensive catastrophe, with estimated preliminary insured losses of $50bn (£41.1bn).

The category 4 hurricane made landfall in western Florida in late September with extreme winds, torrential rain and storm surge.

Swiss Re Institute predicts it to be the second-costliest insured loss ever after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than 2012’s Superstorm Sandy that swamped New York and New Jersey.

The aftermath of Hurricane Ian brought an increase in reported infections of a rare flesh-eating bacteria.

Pic: AP
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Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Sohbat Pur city, a district of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, Pic: AP

7. Violent flooding in Pakistan burst river banks and records

From mid-June to late August large areas of Pakistan suffered record-breaking monsoonal rainfall.

It inflicted flash floods and landslides, and saw overflowing rivers and glacial lakes. The flooding uprooted more than 32 million people, destroyed 1.7 million homes, and killed more than 1,700 people.

The south Asian nation received more than three times its usual rainfall in August, making it the wettest August since
1961.

Two southern provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, experienced their wettest August ever recorded, receiving seven and eight times their usual monthly totals respectively.

The multibillion dollar damages inflicted on the middle-income country, that has done relatively little to cause climate change, reignited the debate about who pays for climate disasters.

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