T he weather seems to get more unpredictable with time. Instances of extreme weather and climate events are now more prevalent than ever, and this appears to be an ascending trend. This happens not only due to natural causes but because of factors like global warming and climate change, which we contributed to throughout our evolution.
In today’s article, I want to take you on a journey of enlightenment regarding extreme weather events. I want to go to the root of the problem to see what causes them, but not before we get familiarized with the various types of severe weather and climate episodes. So if you want to learn more about the weather event of preeminent importance that you must watch out for, stick with me until the end of this piece.
The main types of extreme climate and weather events we can and have encountered are heatwaves, cold waves, tornados, cyclones, hailstorms, storm surges, droughts, and floods. So let’s talk a bit about each category of events so that you better understand them and how they take place.
Historical example: The month of July 1936 in the Plains, Great Lakes, and Upper Midwest regions when the event known as the “Dust Bowl” occurred. The highest temperature that summer (112 degrees Fahrenheit, to be precise) was recorded on the 14th of July.
For a heatwave to be declared, high temperatures must be recorded for several days. So when your outdoor thermometer indicates temperatures that are abnormally high for days on end, know that you are in the middle of a heatwave. During this particular period when temperatures soar, you should avoid sitting outside as much as possible. Make sure you drink plenty of liquids, too, since hydration is imperious for your body during the heat.
Historical example: The event known as ”The Year Without a Summer” that took place in 1816 is an instance of extreme cold. The cause for this particular occurrence was the 1815 eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano.
On the opposite side of the spectrum compared to a heatwave, we have cold waves when temperatures are very low over several days. Nowadays, cold waves are less common than they used to be because of how much weather conditions have changed. Nevertheless, these instances still occur; it’s just rarer compared to the past.
Historical example: One of the worst tornados ever recorded is the Tri-State Tornado on March 23, 1925. It touched down in Ellington, Missouri, and dissipated three and a half hours later in Petersburg, Indiana. The tornado crossed a whopping distance of 219 miles and affected three states: Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.
Tornados from during supercell thunderstorms and these rotating air columns are definitely among the scariest weather phenomena you can ever encounter. When a tornado forms in your area, get to safety ASAP and tune in to your weather radio to learn when it is safe to get out. Until the authorities don’t give you the clear, don’t get out of your safe shelter.
You can use your weather station to monitor favorable conditions for the possible formation of a tornado. You should follow the data it records, including the atmospheric pressure, wind speed, humidity, and temperature. However, simply keeping the weather radio plugged in is enough since the NOAA broadcasts tornado watches and warnings to alert people of this particular type of extreme weather event.
Historical example: A Category 4 cyclone that hit Myanmar in May 2008 (Cyclone Nargis) caused over 10,000 casualties. It formed in the Bay of Bengal and passed over the Burma region, with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.
We have seen a rise in cyclones over the last four decades. Their rate of destructiveness is much higher than in the past since they result from high-category hurricanes. The reason for this increase in cyclonic weather events is the higher surface temperature of the sea that fuels their formation. Other causes for cyclones include low vertical wind shear, atmospheric instability, increased humidity in the lower and middle levels of the troposphere, and impact area of Coriolis force that causes low-pressure areas to appear.
Historical example: The case with the highest mortality rate recorded yet is the hailstorm of April 30, 1888, that hit Moradabad, India.
A hailstorm is a storm that brings hailstones. Hailstones form when raindrops reach extremely cold areas of the atmosphere, which causes them to freeze. As the hailstones collide with water drops that freeze on their surface, they grow larger. When the thunderstorm’s updraft can no longer support the hailstone’s weight, hail falls to the ground. It is a hazardous weather event during which you must take shelter to avoid getting struck by the hailstones.
Historical example: One of the most devastating storm surges that ever took place was during hurricane Katrina. It recorded a peak height of 30 feet along the Mississippi coast.
Storm surges occur during storms when water is pushed toward the shore by the cyclonic movement of the winds. Several factors influence the size of a storm surge, including the width and slope of the continental shelf, storm intensity, storm size, storm forward speed, central pressure, the shape and characteristics of the coast, and the angle of approach to the coast. What makes storm surges all the more dangerous are the battering waves that directly affect structures situated along the coast.
Historical example: Texas has seen its fair share of draughts, but the two recordings from 1950 to 1957 and 2010 to 2014 are some of the worst this state, as well as the U.S., has seen.
For drought to occur, there has to pass a period where the weather is abnormally dry. Extended periods with low precipitation and other factors like local landscape changes, jet stream changes, and climate change contribute to the appearance of droughts. Aside from the negative impact that drought has on agriculture, it causes water supply problems to develop. This means that people in areas affected by drought might not have access to enough water for hydration, household chores, and general necessities that involve water.
Historical example: One of the worst disasters occurred during the 1931 flooding of central and eastern regions in China. The large-scale flood occurred after snow and ice melted, flowing downstream into the Yangtze River.
A flood is a natural disaster occurring when water overflow submerges land. Floods fall into one of three categories:
Historical example: During hurricane Harvey, there was recorded rainfall of 6.58 inches in Nederland, Texas.
Reports from the U.S. Climate Assessment indicate that extreme rainfall is growing in frequency and intensity. Flash floods are more likely to occur since the soil cannot absorb infinite amounts of water. When the rain is too much for the ground to handle, the water runs off into rivers and creeks, overwhelming them.
Historical example: The atmospheric river known as the “Pineapple Express” forms due to moisture buildups in the tropical Pacific around Hawaii, walloping the U.S. and the west coast of Canada with snow and heavy rainfall.
It might sound weird if you are unfamiliar with this particular term, but yes, just like the river moves water over land, an atmospheric river carries water vapor streams through the sky. Atmospheric rivers are usually over 1,000 miles long and 250 to 375 miles wide. They typically start in tropical areas, picking up vapor they later drop as rain or snow over colder regions.
Historical example: The recent 2019/2020 Australian Black Summer bushfires proved among the most disastrous in human history; many human and animal lives were lost during the horrific event.
Wildfires can either happen due to a human-made spark or a natural occurrence. Weather conditions like wind, scarce rainfall, and high temperatures directly impact the size of a wildfire. Another factor that influences how much the wildfire will grow is topography since uphill, the flames will burn much quicker than they do downhill.
Nature is a cruel mistress, but she doesn’t act unprovoked all the time. Some factors cause the appearance of these extreme weather and climate episodes, and this is what I want to go over now. Without further ado, here are the main reasons behind the scary episodes of extreme weather and climate:
Extreme weather conditions have existed since the dawn of time. However, because of climate change, global warming, and other factors, these instances now seem more prevalent than ever. We are left powerless when faced with a severe climate or weather event. We can try to stay safe and minimize destruction as much as possible when feasible. Thankfully, experts are always on the lookout for significant upcoming events to warn people ahead of time.
The last piece of advice I want to leave you with before we end the article is to always take warnings from NWS and NOAA experts seriously and have well-thought-out emergency plans for as many weather events as possible. Only through proper preparation and by acting cautiously can we stand the tests of Mother Nature.