The Weird Wild Weather of 2010

by Bill Chameides | January 7th, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 6 comments

The year 2010 saw its share of weird wild weather. Just one example: Pakistan was hit by its worst natural disaster ever. (August 2010, WikiCommons)

As we grapple with 2011’s weather fare at home (see here and here) and abroad (see here and here), let’s review some of last year’s remarkably severe, record-setting weather events from around the globe.

January and February

Record-breaking snowfall in northern Europe and the United States. Blizzards in Washington, D.C. — dubbed “Snowmageddon” — sparked all sorts of global-cooling speculation.

Record high temperatures in Melbourne, Australia. On January 11th temperatures never fell below 93 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the city’s warmest night since 1902.

Rio de Janeiro’s heat wave. The worst stretch of heat to hit the Brazilian city in 50 years saw temperatures peaking above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

March and April

Deluges in the northeastern United States. March witnessed record-setting rain in New York City, Boston, and Portland, Maine. While 2010 precipitation levels broke records set in 1953 for all three locales, Providence, Rhode Island set a new all-time record for wettest month and, according to news reports, experienced its worst flooding in 200 years.

Heat waves in the northeastern United States. In early April, record high temperatures plagued several cities in the Northeast. April 7, 2010 became a red-letter day for Boston with the setting of a new high temperature and its new claim to fame as the earliest day of the year with a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

A late record-breaking snowstorm in New England. In late April record snowfall blanketed New England’s northern reaches, setting new records for Burlington, Vermont.

June and August

Pakistan hit by its worst natural disaster everMonsoonal rains flooded large swaths of Asia, including North Korea and China. Starting in late July, Pakistan’s flooded Indus River basin put as much as 17 million acres or one-fifth of the nation under water, killing some 2,000 people, displacing tens of millions, and devastating crops and livestock.

Oppressive heat waves across eastern U.S. and Canada. From July 4–7 temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, setting record high temperatures from North Carolina to Quebec, Canada. “On July 5th,“ according to the National Climatic Data Center, “Montfort Hospital in Ottawa, Canada reported the highest number of hospital visits ever recorded in a single day.”

Russia devastated by heat, drought, and fire. Russia’s hottest summer on record spawned record heat waves, massive droughts, and widespread wildfires that caused scores of deaths and led to a state of emergency. All in all, Russia’s deadly heat wave, with its concurrent drought and fire, is estimated to have caused thousands of deaths, damaged 32 percent of the nation’s crops, and caused $15 billion in economic losses.

Record cold freezes parts of South America. Polar air from the Antarctic lingered over the continent causing record-breaking lows in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Lima, Peru. In Bolivia, the record cold snap killed millions of aquatic animals, including fish, alligators, turtles and river dolphins.

Record heat roasts the Middle East and north Africa. Peak temperatures broke records in four countries, most notably in Iraq where the mercury hit 125.6 degrees Fahrenheit in Basra toppling its previous record from 1937.

September and October

Heat broils Los Angelenos. After a relatively cool summer, temperatures in L.A. spiked on September 27, sending the mercury to 113 degrees Fahrenheit and making it the city’s hottest day ever.

First extreme dry, then extreme wet in Bangladesh. After experiencing one of its driest monsoon seasons in years, torrential storms battered Bangladesh from October 7th through October 9th, causing floods that displaced hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis.

Drought hits Brazil. North and west Amazonia experienced one of the region’s worst droughts in the past 40 years in October. The Black River, an important tributary to the Amazon River, dropped to its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1902.

November and December

Australia swamped by heavy rains. Intense rainfall beginning on December 20th has doused Queensland’s new year with the worst flooding to hit Australia in a decade. Covering an area larger than Texas, the floods have affected roughly 200,000 people and caused thousands to be evacuated. Estimated losses expected to top $AU1 billion, including damages to cotton and sunflower crops.

December 2010 Blizzard Timelapse from Michael Black on Vimeo.

Holiday blizzard slams U.S. East Coast. The sixth-largest snowfall to hit New York City left thousands stranded, as area travelers saw their holiday plans stymied and snowed-in NYC residents wondered where the plows were. (The missing plows gave birth to a new kind of scandal: plowgate.) Of all the states affected by the two-day storm, the Garden State’s near-record snowfall in several cities saw the biggest accumulations.

2010 in Toto

All these weather extremes and more, combined with the not-so-extreme-and-downright-normal weather, added up to an extreme weather year overall: 2010 is set to be one of the warmest years on record and, when combined with the temperatures from the past nine years, 2001-2010 is likely to be the warmest 10-year period on record.

So … What Does All the Weird Wild Weather Mean?

Was the extreme weather of 2010 part of a trend, driven by warming temperatures, or just part of the normal ups and downs of weather? We can’t say yet, but if our little CO2/climate/weather experiment continues unabated, we may find out.

filed under: Africa, Australia, climate change, drought, Europe, faculty, heat waves, rainfall, rivers, temperatures, weather
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  1. Ken Towe
    Jan 10, 2011

    The weather of 1921 in the US and other parts of the world was similarly weird and wild… Some excerpts: BRITISH ISLES: London, July 10. England is sweltering and suffering the worst drought in a century. Today was the seventy-eighth virtually rainless day. For the third successive day temperatures have exceeded 100. FRANCE: Paris July 12. The Senate yesterday… cancelled the usual July 14 military review in Longchamps owing to the extreme heat. ITALY: July 30. The principal phenomenon…was the intensely hot weather. An unprecedented heat wave continued to develop in its intensity of heat and in its length and duration. RUSSIA: July 17. Twenty million persons are on the verge of starvation in drought-stricken sections of Russia. The parched earth…is opening up great crevices, and wells and rivers are drying up. SWITZERLAND: July 26. On the summit of the Wellenkuppe, above Zermatt, and 12,830 feet high, the temperature at 10 o’clock in the morning has exceeded 100°F. Weird. And… In January of 1922 an iceberg 200 feet in length, rising 10 feet out of the water, was observed off the Hawaiian Islands. Weird. Yet, the northern hemisphere temperature anomaly for the early 1900s? A below-normal MINUS 0.5 – 0.3°C. Also weird.

    • Bill Chameides
      Jan 26, 2011

      Ken, thanks for the info.

  2. Jim
    Jan 10, 2011

    My wife and I are outdoorsy types and with 91 days above 90 this past summer (a record), it was becoming oppressive. And now this winter so far we are below normal, which again makes it tough to spend much time outside. It was also difficult trying to nurse the new shrubbery we planted this past year.

    • Ken Towe
      Jan 10, 2011

      Actually, Jim, the full year 2010 in North Carolina was about average. According to the latest 1895-2010 NCDC-NOAA US 48 state temperature database [drd964x.tmpst] the year 2010 in North Carolina ranks as only the 60th warmest on record. But, you are right about the NC summer (JJA). It was, indeed, the warmest on record. And you’re right also about the winter, so far. December 2010 in North Carolina ranks at the third coldest on record. We’ll have to wait for Jan and Feb. BTW, for the US 48, as a whole, the year 2010 ranks as only the 22nd warmest.

      • Jim
        Jan 21, 2011

        about global averages, either way.

    • Ken Towe
      Jan 14, 2011

      JIM… While I’m waiting for an earlier comment to you (sent last Monday, 10th) to be approved I wondered about my own experiences in NC. I was at Duke from 1952 to 1956. Using the latest NCDC-NOAA database, when I arrived as a freshman in 1952 the average September temperature in NC was 65.9°F. When I graduated in 1956 the average June temperature was 74.4°F. How does that compare with a recent Duke experience? A freshman entering Duke in September of 2006? Average temperature was 58.4°F, 7.5° colder than when I arrived on campus. A senior graduating this past June? The average temperature was 69.7°F, 4.7° colder than when I graduated. Except for the average spring (MAM), the 2010 graduate experienced a colder average winter (DJF), summer (JJA) and fall (SON) while he/she was at Duke than I did over 50 years ago.

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