UN: December blizzard example of human-induced extreme weather

UN: December blizzard example of human-induced extreme weather

Severe storm that blanketed Israel cited as part of alarming weather patterns blamed on climate change

Snow storm in Jerusalem, Friday, December 13, 2013. (photo credit: Israel Hatzolah)
Snow storm in Jerusalem, Friday, December 13, 2013. (photo credit: Israel Hatzolah)

A severe storm that blanketed Israel with snow and brought flurries to parts of the Middle East for the first time in over 100 years was an example of extreme weather caused by man-made climate change, a report by a United Nations agency charged Monday.

Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said his agency’s annual assessment showed climate change as behind the severe droughts, heat waves, floods and tropical cyclones that wreaked havoc with the planet last year.

“Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change,” he said on Monday. “There is no standstill in global warming.”

While the UN agency called 2013 the sixth-warmest year on record it also noted the how some countries suffered unusual cold snaps.

“Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall,” the WMO noted in its report.

Early December saw the country beset by a heavy storm, with torrential rain and high winds, followed a week later by the most snow the country has seen since 1992.

The elements wrought widespread flooding and damage with closed roads and downed power lines, and left some communities, including the capital Jerusalem, cut off from electricity for extended periods.

The damage caused by the storm was assessed at over NIS 120 million ($34 million), according to Israel Radio and agricultural damage was put at NIS 100 million.

Despite the stormy December, the rest of Israel’s winter remained mostly dry with rainfall well below annual averages.

Elsewhere, a rise in sea levels is leading to increasing damage from storm surges and coastal flooding, as demonstrated by Typhoon Haiyan, Jarraud said. The typhoon in November killed at least 6,100 people and caused $13 billion in damage to the Philippines and Vietnam.

Australia, meanwhile, had its hottest year on record and parts of central Asia and central Africa also notched record highs.

According to the WMO, 13 of the 14 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century.

Jarraud drew special attention to studies and climate modeling examining Australia’s recent heat waves, saying the high temperatures there would have been virtually impossible without the emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

He cited other costly weather disasters such as $22 billion damage from central European flooding in June, $10 billion in damage from Typhoon Fitow in China and Japan, and a $10 billion drought in much of China.

Only a few places were cooler than normal. Among them was the central US.

Jarraud also cited frigid polar air in parts of Europe and the southeast US., and the widest tornado ever observed over rural areas of central Oklahoma, as being among extreme weather events.

There were 41 billion-dollar weather disasters in the world last year, the second highest number behind only 2010, according to insurance firm Aon Benfield, which tracks global disasters.

Jarraud spoke as top climate scientists and representatives from about 100 governments with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met in Japan to complete their latest report on global warming’s impact.

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