Aerial view of the area affected by floods caused by heavy rains in Khartoum, Sudan, in August 2013. Massive floods in Sudan, forced more than 250,000 people from their homes. The region around the capital, Khartoum, was particularly badly hit, with at least 15,000 homes destroyed and thousands of others damaged. Photo: Stringer / Reuters

By John Vidal
18 December 2013

( – 2013 was the seventh warmest year on record and saw one of the strongest cyclones, some of the longest heatwaves and the most topsy-turvy weather experienced in decades.

Nowhere is thought to have witnessed faster change than Nikkaluokta, a small Lapland village above the Arctic circle in northern Sweden. On 3 December, it was enjoying an unseasonably warm 4.7C. Within a few days, the temperature had dropped to a bone-chilling -40.8C (-41.4F) but on 10 December it rose again in just a few hours to a balmy 7.7C. The 48.5C rise in under 48 hours is one of the greatest ever recorded and is comparable to the world's fastest-temperature rise: 27C in just two minutes in Spearfish, South Dakota back in 1943. […]

Heat extremes dominated the year. The last four months of 2012 were abnormally hot in Australia but January 2013 was the hottest month ever measured on the continent, with record temperatures being set in every state and territory and the highest recorded maximum of 49.6C at Moomba in South Australia. Temperatures were regularly above 48C, the Bureau of Meteorology added a new temperature colour to its maps and Sydney experienced its hottest night on record when it was still 34C at midnight on 10 January. According to the since axed Australian Climate Commission, Australians should get used to it: not only are heatwaves getting longer, hotter and more frequent, the number of record hot days is expected to quadruple in Sydney by the end of the century.

Portugal, China, Hungary, Finland, and Britain all recorded heatwaves, and the temperature in Death Valley, California hit 129.2F (54.0C), the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth during June. Meanwhile, Shanghai had 24 days with temperatures at or above 35C in July and recorded 40.6C, the highest ever temperature recorded in 140 years of records in the city. Northeast Brazil, which often suffers long droughts, experienced its worst in 50 years followed last week by massive floods.

Europe, overall, was warmer than usual but the heat turned quickly to massive rainstorms. As much rain fell in a few hours in June in central Europe as normally falls in two months. The Czech Republic, Austria, south and east Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, and Serbia all experienced heavy flooding in what were described as one in 100 year rains. In some places in Austria, 150 to 200mm of rain (5.9 to 7.9 inches) fell in a day.

Less high-profile were massive floods in Sudan, where more than 250,000 people were forced from their homes in August. The region around the capital, Khartoum, was particularly badly hit, with at least 15,000 homes destroyed and thousands of others damaged.

The heat was also seen in the oceans. The journal Science reported that since 1950 Pacific Ocean waters had been warming at a rate 15 times faster than the rest of the seafloor. This suggested to some that the ocean depths may store more heat from global warming than suspected. The Pacific Ocean, in particular, seems to be absorbing more heat than at any other time in the past 50 years.

Because the strength of tropical storms is linked to ocean temperature, it came as a surprise that the 2013 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season was one of the weakest recorded in 50 years. There were no major hurricanes in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic basin and only Ingrid and Humberto out of the 13 named storms reached hurricane strength.

It was a very different story in the western-north Pacific however, where 30 major storms had been recorded by early November. Thirteen of them were typhoon-strength, the biggest by some way being typhoon Haiyan, possibly the most powerful tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history. Haiyan smashed into the southern Philippines, killing 6,000 people and wreaking massive damage. [more]

2013 in review: a year of increasing extreme weather events



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