“Global weirding” seen in extreme weather events

Extreme weather events—such as the heavy rains that have flooded towns along the Mississippi River and the tornadoes that ripped through an unprecendented 300-mile swath in Alabama—are extremely likely to occur more frequently in the future, according to climatologists. Urban planners and the insurance industry are among those that took part in a telephone press conference held May 19 by the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Climate change is about more than warming. What we’re really seeing is global ‘weirding,'” said climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University. “It is altering the character and conditions of the places we know and love. For many places around the world, what we are likely to see could be feast or famine—more frequency of weather at the extremes, from intense storms to prolonged droughts. We can’t attribute any one event to climate change, but we do know that every event that happens is already superimposed on very different background conditions than we had 50 years ago.”

Economic losses from natural disasters have soared from a global average of $25 billion annually during the 1980s to $130 billion a year during the decade ending in 2010, said Nikhil da Victoria Lobo, senior client manager in the Global Partnerships team at Swiss Re, a leading international reinsurance firm. He told reporters there’s little doubt that “climate volatility is a major contributor.” In a recent interview with Wall Street analysts, Allstate Insurance CEO Thomas Wilson said: “There is a lot more severe weather. We are running our homeowners business as if this is a permanent change as opposed to an anomaly.” (Sustainable Business, May 19)

Vicksburg residents breathed a sigh of relief May 20 when the swelling Mississippi failed to flood the city—which is the last major urban center along the river before the water reaches spillways that can divert the flow down the Atchafalaya River and its adjoining swamp. The US Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to divert the water along those spillways will save Baton Rouge and New Orleans—but has meant the destruction of an estimated 100,000 acres of crops in the now-flooded Atchafalaya Basin. (LAT, May 20; AlJazeera, May 19)

See our last post on the global climate crisis.

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