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Top global weather stories for 2011

Ask and you shall receive. I asked you, the readers, to send in any questions you would like me to answer and over the last couple of weeks I have received a record number of questions. For those of you who sent in a question I will either email you back an answer right away, or I will use the question as the basis of an article sometime over the next couple of months. Keep the questions coming!

Last week we looked at some of the biggest weather stories from across Canada during 2011. This week we are going global and will look at the biggest weather stories that occurred in 2011 around the world.

Looking at some of the lists of top global weather stories, the one word that I think best summarizes 2011 globally was “flooding.” Of the 10 top stories, seven had to do with flooding. Of the remaining three, two were about droughts and the last was about tornadoes.

The biggest global weather story is probably the drought that occurred in east Africa. This drought, which occurred in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, was brought on by a failed rainy season in late 2010 and then a second failure of the rainy season in the spring of 2011. By July, the United Nations had declared a famine in this region, which was the first time in nearly 30 years this has happened. The total number of people died as a result of the drought and the accompanying famine is reported to be in excess of 30,000, but most observers believe the final numbers will be much, much higher.

Hard rain falling

The next five weather stories all have to do with flooding. The first major flood occurred in Thailand between July and October. Monsoon rains enhanced by La Niña led to flooding that affected upwards of 80 per cent of this country. This flood is now the most expensive natural disaster in the history of Thailand, with an estimated cost at a staggering $45 billion, or about 18 per cent of that country’s GDP.

Australia also saw unprecedented flooding in 2011. Rains in the Queensland region began in December 2010 and continued into January 2011. By the time it was over it was the wettest December and January on record and with those rains came record flooding. When this natural disaster was all added up it ended up costing around $30 billion, which is about 3.2 per cent of Australia’s GDP, and just like Thailand, it was Australia’s most costly natural disaster ever.

This story repeated itself in Colombia. Heavy spring rains triggered flooding that killed 116 people and created $5.85 billion in damage, which is about two per cent of this nation’s GDP and was also that country’s most expensive natural disaster. Making matters even worse was the fact that the previously most expensive natural disaster in this country had occurred only a year earlier and was also the result of record rains and flooding.

The next flooding story was not the most costly natural disaster for this country, but it was the second most deadly. Tropical storm Washi hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Dec. 16. Heavy rains fell on regions where forests had been cleared due to illegal logging and where pineapple plantations had been created. This means most of the rain was able to quickly run off, creating huge flash floods. By the time it was over 1,249 people had died and another 79 were reported missing.

Flooding also hit Brazil during 2011. On Jan. 11, rainfall amounts of nearly 300 millimetres fell in a couple of hours just north of Rio de Janeiro. Due to the steep terrain the rains caused flash flooding and mud slides that ended up killing 902 people and causing about $1.2 billion in damage. This was the third most costly natural disaster and the deadliest one in the history of Brazil.

Twisters

The last two weather stories from 2011 occurred a little closer to home. The first was the super tornado outbreak the United States saw late last April. During the four-day period from April 25-28, 343 tornadoes were reported, which is the largest outbreak of tornadoes in U.S. history. In total 321 people were killed in this outbreak and more than $10.2 billion in damage was reported.

The final story takes us full circle back to drought. This is the drought that has been and is still affecting the south-central U.S. and northern Mexico. Texas has just recorded its driest year on record and much of northern Mexico also has seen the lowest amounts of rain since record-keeping began. Add to this the fact that Texas recorded the hottest summer ever recorded by any U.S. state, and that Oklahoma had the hottest July ever recorded by a U.S. state, and you get record drought. Total losses to date are pegged at about $10 billion, but with no signs of the drought ending anytime soon, this value will continue to increase.

Let’s hope that 2012 will bring quieter weather across the globe!

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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