In global weather news, heat rises to the top

The record-level warmth of 2019 didn’t even have an El Niño to blame

After spending some time looking at the top weather stories of 2019 across our part of the world, it’s time to take a step back and examine the top weather stories from around the globe. But — oh, you knew there was going to be a “but” — I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t have at least a few words about the record-setting blizzard that hit parts of Newfoundland between Jan. 17 and 19.

The storm that struck the east of Newfoundland was what is known as a bomb. This is an area of low pressure that rapidly deepens, by more than 24 millibars in 24 hours. This system “bombed out” with a drop of 40 mb in 24 hours, which helped to create a very strong pressure gradient between itself and an area of arctic high pressure over Quebec. The location of the low, just off the coast, allowed it to become very strong, pulling in moisture from the east which then collided with the cold arctic air being pulled in from the west. The results were extremely heavy rates of snowfall. When all was said and done, a large part of eastern Newfoundland received between 70 and 80 cm of snow.

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This by itself would have created enough problems, especially since the region had already seen a fair bit of snow this winter. What really made things bad were the winds. At one point, winds were blowing at over 150 km/h, with sustained winds in excess of 100 km/h, and lasted for nearly 12 hours, making this system more like a snow hurricane than a blizzard. If you haven’t taken the time to look up some of the pictures of the storm and the aftermath, I recommend you do.

World weather

OK, now on to the top global weather stories of 2019. No. 1 on the list must be the fact that 2019 came in as the second-warmest year on record globally, coming in second to 2016, which was a strong El Niño year. This is what makes 2019 warmth that much more notable; there was no El Niño helping to boost temperatures, and 2019 was one of the weakest years for sunspot activity, which is also linked to warmer global temperatures. July 2019 entered the record books as the warmest month ever recorded globally. The last six years have been the six warmest years on record and the last decade was the warmest decade ever recorded. There were 151 nations or territories that set all-time monthly heat records in 2019 — and only one that set an all-time monthly cold record. Two historical heat waves hit Europe in 2019. The first was in late June when hundreds of stations broke all-time June heat records with many of these stations having weather records that go over 100 years. Two stations broke all-time heat records for the year during this heat wave. A second heat wave hit Europe in late July, with numerous locations breaking all-time national heat records, often by more than 1 C, which is truly remarkable. But some people want us to believe that there is no global warming, it is all fake news, just a big hoax.

Next on the list would have to be the record heat and dryness that plagued Australia for much of 2019. The year came in as the hottest and driest on record, which led to the absolutely insane fire season that has been well documented in the news over the last few months. The blazes saw several Canadian firefighters make the journey Down Under to help out. Australia recorded its hottest day on record on Dec. 18, with an average daily high of 40.9 C, which was a record across the nation. Can you imagine that? Take all the daily high temperatures across Canada and they average out to 40.9 C — it’s almost incomprehensible. To make matters worse, the next day, that value was topped with a national average of 41.9 C. Enough said, I think; a little good news is that some regions have now received some soaking rains.

The next story has some ties with Canada — and I discussed it a little bit in the last issue from the Canadian point of view — and that would be Hurricane Dorian. It became a hurricane on Aug. 28 and rapidly developed into a powerful Category 5 hurricane by Sept. 1. With sustained winds of 295 km/h, Dorian became the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record. While its strength was impressive, its behaviour as it tracked across Great Abaco and the Grand Bahama islands turned it into a disaster. Usually hurricanes cross a region in a four- to 10-hour period, bringing hurricane-force winds for only a couple of hours. Dorian, as it crossed these islands, slowed down to a crawl and ended up bringing Category 4 or 5 winds for a remarkable 22 hours straight. Just like with Australia’s national heat record, it is almost impossible to imagine what it would be like to live through torrential rains and storm surges that are pushed along by winds in excess of 250 km/h for nearly an entire day. It makes a bad Prairie thunderstorm feel like a walk in the rain.

That’s all the room I have for this issue. Next week it’s already time to look back at the first month of 2020 and take another peek ahead at how the spring forecast is shaping up. Spoiler alert: Some of the weather models have been changing their tunes.

About the author

Co-operator contributor

Daniel Bezte

Daniel Bezte is a teacher by profession with a BA (Hon.) in geography, specializing in climatology, from the U of W. He operates a computerized weather station near Birds Hill Park.

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