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Extreme weather: The first six weeks of 2014 have been brutal

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Thursday, February 13, 2014, 8:02 AM -

Whether you watched it from a 24-hour traffic jam on an icy highway in Atlanta, GA, or amid the sweltering drought and fires of California and Australia, Earth's climate has been front and centre to start 2014.

And it is only February.

After experiencing its wettest January in almost 250 years, the UK is still gripped by massive floods caused by rain falling on ground so saturated, flood waters have nowhere to go but up.

As of Wednesday, there are more than 300 flood warnings or alerts throughout the country, 16 of them severe or life-threatening, and the UK Met Office is putting the blame squarely, and explicitly, on climate change.

It’s not just the U.K. Africa and Asia are also feeling the sting. 

In Indonesia, 40,000 people have been displaced, and 13 killed, beneath pounding rains. 

In Africa, flooding has ravaged at least half-dozen countries since the middle of January.

Dozens of people have been killed, and tens of thousands of people displaced, in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania, with the summer, usually the rainy season for much of sub-Saharan Africa, still going.

In South America, several people were killed during torrential rain in Uruguay, including at least one Canadian visitor.

Elsewhere in Brazil, there practically no rain at all. The city of Sao Paulo, South America’s largest, has had so little rain, local water sources could run completely dry by the end of March. In the northeast, populous but comparatively impoverished, farmers have waited in vain for rain amid the worst drought in a half-century.

The lack of rain has been made much worse by the heat in that country. Rio de Janeiro matched the hottest temperature of 2013 last week, 40.8C, while in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Wednesday marked the 10th straight day of temperatures above 40C.

Closer to home: California’s incredible drought has only continued: the state is so parched, the extent of the dry winter is visible from space.



That’s going to mean an exceptionally severe wildfire season when summer comes –  Australia, where summer is in full swing, is already in the thick of wildfire season, after parts of the country suffered through their driest and hottest January in years.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, a combination of climate change and local mismanagement has caused Iran’s largest lake to drop to 95 per cent of its water level 20 years ago.

And according to climate scientists, the next few decades don’t look to provide relief, at least in the long-term. A study in the January edition of Nature Climate change said the world became drier between 1923 and 2010, and that trend will continue over the next 30-90 years, leading to more severe droughts.

PAGE TWO: Does that mean climate change isn't happening?

So much for “global warming?”

Despite that incredible heat, you’d be hard-pressed to convince climate change skeptics in North America that world is actually getting warmer.

Parts of the United States are preparing for a major winter storm, just a week after a similar tempest caused a massive ice storm that left people stranded in their cars in the Atlanta area.

Winter weather advisories of some kind stretch from the deep south all the way through to Maine, with Canada’s Atlantic provinces also prepping for a winter storm just in time for Valentine’s Day.

RELATED: From Idaho to the UK: Six devastating winter storms.

And that’s after a January that was particularly brutal for North America.

In the United States alone, the storms of January caused direct economic impact of $3.5 billion, and insured losses of $1.6 billion.

Canada was not hit quite so hard, but winter weather records have fallen like dominos from the east to the west, with Pearson Airport seeing its snowiest Feb 5 ever last week, and the Vancouver airport breaking a one-day cold temperature record reaching all the way back 66 years.

Elsewhere, the worst snowstorm to hit Tokyo in 45 years left 11 dead and more than a thousand injured, while in Europe, France and Germany felt their own winter lash, while a record-setting ice storm in Slovenia which left almost 100,000 people in the dark.

Does this mean the climate isn’t getting warmer? No. One harsh winter does not undo the warming trend of the past few decades, and winters as harsh as this one were once the norm.

In fact, 2013 was the sixth warmest year on record according to a report by the World Meteorological Agency last week – and 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have been in the 21st century, and the rate of severe weather events has been on an upward trend.

Even one drastically colder winter can have an impact – just this week, McDonald’s blamed the unseasonal cold for slumping sales, and the weather can be a severe blow to the economic bottom line.

IN DEPTH: How the weather impacts gas prices, retail stores and work habits

Maybe this year will improve. But the first six weeks alone have been hard to bear for pretty much the entire world.

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