September began with a typhoon that devastated Hong Kong, uprooting trees and flooding the city. It was the first in a series of extreme weather events affecting ten countries and territories in just 12 days; the most catastrophic was the flood in Libya, which according to the United Nations killed more than 11,000 people and left many thousands missing.
Scientists warn that these types of extreme weather events, affecting countries around the world, could become increasingly common as the climate crisis accelerates, putting pressure on governments to prepare.
“Global warming actually changes the properties of precipitation in terms of frequency, intensity and duration,” said Jung-Eun Chu, an atmospheric and climate scientist at the City University of Hong Kong, although he added that This summer’s devastation is due to a combination of several factors, including natural climate fluctuations.
The enormous cost of flooding also highlights the urgent need for governments to prepare for this new reality and how the poorest and most conflict-ridden countries find themselves on the front lines of climate disasters.
Governments “must be ready,” Chu said. “They need to start thinking about it, because they’ve never experienced these kinds of extreme events before.”
One of the worst storms in Europe
This month, areas of the Mediterranean region were battered by Storm Daniel, the result of a very strong low-pressure system that became a “medicine” – a relatively rare type of storm with characteristics similar to hurricanes and typhoons that can bring rainfall dangerous. and floods.
The storm, which formed on September 5, hit Greece first, dropping more rain than is normally seen in an entire year. Roads turned into deadly rivers, submerging entire villages and forcing emergency workers into inflatable boats to rescue families from their flooded homes.
At least 15 people died, according to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who called it “one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Europe.”
The floods, which followed devastating fires in the country, “bear the imprints of climate change,” Greek Environment Minister Theodoros Skylakakis told CNN on Tuesday.
“We had the hottest summer on record. The sea was very warm, which led to this unique weather event,” she said.
Neighboring Türkiye also felt the impact, recording at least seven deaths. Residents in forested areas had to wade through knee-deep water surrounded by fallen trees, while parts of Istanbul, the country’s largest city, were hit by deadly flash floods that killed at least two people.
Heavy floods also hit Bulgaria, in northern Greece, with at least four confirmed deaths.
Elsewhere in Europe, a separate storm – Storm Dana – caused torrential rain across Spain, damaging homes and killing at least three people.
Devastation in Libya
By far the most devastating impact was felt in Libya, as Storm Daniel moved across the Mediterranean, drawing strength from the sea’s unusually warm waters, before dumping torrential rain on the country’s northeast.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the catastrophic rainfall caused two dams to collapse, unleashing a 7-metre (23-foot) wave. Water rushed towards the coastal city of Derna, washing away entire neighborhoods and dragging homes into the ocean.
According to the United Nations, more than 11,000 people have died and at least 10,000 others are still missing, many believed to have been swept out to sea or buried under rubble.
As the nation reels and search and rescue operations grow desperate, experts say the scale of the disaster has been greatly amplified by a combination of factors including crumbling infrastructure, inadequate warnings and the impact of the accelerating climate crisis.
“This is a tragedy where climate and capacity have collided to cause this terrible, terrible tragedy,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Friday.
Libya has been ravaged by civil war and political stalemate for nearly a decade, with the nation divided between two rival administrations since 2014 – one of which is not recognized by most of the international community, and which controls the region where Derna is located. located.
The North African country’s fragmented state has left it unprepared for floods, experts say, and could hamper the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid.
“The situation in Libya is steadily deteriorating due to years of conflict and instability, exacerbated by the impacts of climate change,” said Ciaran Donnelly, senior vice president for crisis response, recovery and development at the International Rescue Committee .
“Globally, climate change has made these extreme weather events more frequent and intense, making it even more difficult for communities to cope and rebuild, especially in conflict-affected regions,” he added.
The dueling typhoons of Asia
While the extent of devastation and loss of life has been less in Asia, Asia has also had to contend with unprecedented and deadly storms.
Two typhoons – Saola and Haikui – passed through the region within days of each other during the first week of September, causing widespread damage in the autonomous island of Taiwan, the city of Hong Kong and other parts of China southern, including Shenzhen.
Although Typhoon Saola closed Hong Kong’s schools and businesses for two days, the real damage came a week later when the city was hit by a sudden storm, with flash floods submerging subway stations and trapped the ivers on the roads.
According to Hong Kong authorities, the storm brought the highest hourly rainfall since records began in 1884.
In Taiwan, Typhoon Haikui left tens of thousands of homes without electricity and more than 7,000 residents were evacuated.
The two typhoons were an “exceptional case” that created conditions for an unusually violent storm the following week, Chu said. The typhoons brought two slow-moving air masses, both loaded with moisture and traveling in different directions, that collided and dumped that water on Hong Kong.
“If there was just one typhoon, it wouldn’t cause such heavy rainfall,” he said. He added that while the event is not explicitly linked to climate change – the converging typhoons happened “by chance” – human-caused global warming is helping to fuel stronger storms.
“If the climate warms, if the (ocean) surface gets warmer, the atmosphere can hold more moisture,” he said. “If temperatures increase by one degree (Celsius), the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture.”
He pointed to the history of hourly rainfall records in Hong Kong. In the past, decades would pass between record-breaking rainfall events, Chu said, but the gap between records is closing rapidly. As our world warms, extreme weather that used to be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence is becoming more frequent events.
Heavy rains in the Americas
Parts of the Americas were also flooded. Brazil recorded more than 30 deaths last week after heavy rains and flooding in the state of Rio Grande do Sul – the worst natural disaster to hit the state in 40 years, according to regional CNN affiliate CNN Brasil.
Brazilian meteorologist Maria Clara Sassaki told CNN Brasil that in one week the state received the average amount of precipitation expected for the entire month of September.
Meanwhile in the United States, the Burning Man festival made international headlines after a severe storm hit the area, with tens of thousands of attendees told to conserve food and water while stranded in the Nevada desert.
The remote area was hit with up to 0.8 inches – about double the average September rainfall – in just 24 hours.
On the other side of the country, flooding in Massachusetts damaged hundreds of homes, businesses and infrastructure, including bridges, dams and railroads. Rainfall in parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire has been more than 300% above normal volumes over the past two weeks, according to weather service data.
Experts say record ocean temperatures have fueled a hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season that shows no signs of slowing.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 90 percent of global warming over the past 50 years has taken place in the oceans.
That means more storms can form than would otherwise be possible in a typical El Niño year, Phil Klotzbach, a researcher at Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, told CNN. Even storms that weaken due to wind changes can survive and regain strength once they find better conditions.
Taylor Ward, Sana Noor Haq, Celine Alkhaldi, Eyad Kourdi, Hamdi Alkhshali, Mostafa Salem, Kareem El Damanhoury, Nadeen Ebrahim, Laura Paddison, Chris Liakos, Christian Edwards, Louise McLoughlin, Brandon Miller, Elizabeth Wolfe and Mary Gilbert contributed reporting .
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