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10 Extreme Weather Facts - WMNews Ep. 15

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Angela Fafard Extreme weather events have been making headlines on a regular basis and a discussion on what is causing them unavoidably brings the thorny issue of climate change back to center stage. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from that breaks down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about extreme weather.

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Script written by Angela Fafard

Top 10 Extreme Weather Facts

#10: What Is Global Warming?
The Changing Climate

Climate Change is a shift in long-term averages for weather patterns in the Earth’s climate system. It also refers to isolated but severe deviations from weather averages, usually called extreme weather events. For example, snowfall in Boston during the winter of 2015 reached 76 inches; compared with their normal winter average of 31 inches, that could be labeled an extreme weather event. A main indicator of climate change is global warming, an increase in average global surface temperatures. One cause of global warming is a change in the Earths’ atmospheric composition to include more greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide. These naturally occurring gases have been pushed to abnormally high levels since the beginning of the industrial revolution. According to a United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, global surface temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in recent times are unprecedented when compared to previous millennia.

#9: Is Global Warming a Real Issue?
The Economy vs. the Environment

The main contention in the debate on climate change is whether it is actually caused by human activity, an assertion which scientists have agreed upon. However, Earth’s climate has changed many times throughout its history, before human activity played a role. Notably there have been numerous glacial periods or “ice ages.” The potential for natural global warming has led to a small minority in the scientific community denying human-caused global warming or disputing its negative consequences. The global economy is dependent on the consumption of fossil fuels such as oil, which is a leading cause of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. Thus, any attempt to mitigate global warming through reducing greenhouse gas emissions would pose a significant threat to economic performance. There is a major global divide over whether the developed or the developing world should shoulder these economic burdens and whether the economic sacrifices are worth any potential benefit to the environment.

#8: How Dangerous Can Extreme Weather Be?
The Death Toll

The future impact of extreme weather stemming from climate change will vary around the world. According the United States Environmental Protection Agency, warmer average global temperatures will likely lead to more intense, longer and more frequent heat waves, causing droughts that will adversely effect agricultural production. Most prominently, extreme precipitation events are projected to increase globally, as are the severity of tropical storms. The impact that Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans in 2005 is an example of the devastation such weather events can cause. The UN’s Meteorological Organization stated that the beginning of 2014 saw an unusual number of extreme weather events, from heat waves in Slovenia and Australia, to temperatures in Russia and the Artic being 10 degrees Celsius above average. Britain experienced its wettest winter in more than a century during this timeframe and the Southern Hemisphere its hottest year ever recorded.

#7: What Is the Current Weather Situation in North America?
The Snow Storm

A series of four severe blizzards inundated the North-eastern United States beginning in November 2014, accompanied by extreme cold. February 2015 saw parts of California and other parts of the West coast hit with heavy rainfall, which caused landslides and flooding. An area that was hit particularly hard by record snowfall was New England, with some cities being slowly strangled by over 10 feet of snow. As the snow moves further south, unprepared states will face freezing rain, snow and sleet, with some declaring states of emergency. Over a month before the official beginning of spring, cities and civilians were bracing for more winter weather.

#6: How Are People Preparing for Extreme Weather?
The Global Response

Throughout the globe, many governments are developing policies in order to adapt to climate change, attempting to diminish a population’s vulnerability to extreme weather events. These measures range from engineering drought tolerant crop varieties to attempting to engineer the climate itself, for example by developing schemes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Countries in the developing world are expected to suffer most from the effects of global warming, and the UN established the Green Climate Fund in 2010 to redistribute money from the developed world to the developing world to finance the construction of infrastructure that will help provide better flood defenses and mitigate the effects rising sea levels and severe tropical storms.

#5: What Are the Costs of Extreme Weather?
The Economic Damage

Failing to prepare for extreme weather can cost a city, an industry and a country a vast amount of lost revenue, budget expenditures and more. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, a lack of preparedness cost the United States $1.15 trillion in economic losses from 1980 to 2010. The travel industry is hit particularly hard as it is increasingly susceptible to extreme weather in the form of ice, volcanic ash, and heavy snowfall. Furthermore, travellers are also affected, as disrupted travel plans lead to billions of dollars of out of work time, and unforeseen out of pocket costs. Cities, too, are particularly affected by extreme weather, as flooding and extreme heat can wreck havoc on the delicate technological systems that allow a city to function, from power grids to sewage systems.

#4: What Is a Polar Vortex?
North American Cold Wave of 2013-14

Beginning in December of 2013, Canada and the Eastern United States were hit by a cold wave that lasted five months. The cold wave was the result of southward shifts of the North Polar vortex and consisted of two separate episodes, the first in December 2013 and the second at the beginning of 2014. As the entire region was blanketed with heavy snowfall and record low temperatures, businesses, schools and flight cancellations became the norm. In total, over 200 million people were affected, with some estimating the damages and loss of revenue in the realm of over $5 billion US.

#3: What Is Being Done to Curb Global Warming?
The Kyoto Protocol

The main international agreement set up to address global warming is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty, established in 1992. Its first major accomplishment was the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, an international agreement that would see countries commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, which only went into effect in 2005. However, the world’s biggest polluter -the United States - did not ratify the agreement, as they would have had to pay for their emissions if they did not cut them down to a certain level. China – the world’s second biggest polluter – also did not ratify the protocol but was not covered under its limits. In 2014 the United States and China signed their own independent joint agreement to curb their carbon emissions and to increase their use of clean energy sources.

#2: How Good Are We at Predicting Weather?
The Weathermen

The science of accurately predicting the weather forecast has improved significantly since the invention of supercomputers and the subsequent collection of thousands of data points from around the world. Forecasting now relies on computer-based models, which are generated from the weather broadcasting stations located on land, water, and air. Altogether, there are over a million weather-related data points that circulate every day, leading to a more accurate daily weather forecast, as well as advanced warnings for those living in regions that are susceptible to flash floods, tsunamis, tornadoes and more.

#1: What Are the Predictions for the Future?
The Future

There have been several predictions for the future, including for the weather and climate change. Researchers are predicting that by the end of the century, the United States will suffer a mega drought far worse than any seen in the past thousand years. If carbon emissions do not start declining by 2050, there is a high risk of a decade-long drought in the Southwest and Central plains. On the other side of the pond, the British Royal Society predicts a significant increase in extreme weather in terms of droughts, floods, and heat waves. It seems that mankind must begin to prepare for the worst as it works for the best.

Did these facts surprise you? To vote for which news story is covered next, head over to WatchMojo.comsuggest, and be sure to hit that subscribe button for more newsworthy top 10s.

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