2010's world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards

Dec 19, 2010 By SETH BORENSTEIN and JULIE REED BELL , Associated Press
In this July 29, 2010 file photo, Moscow's St. Bazil's Cathedral, background, is seen through a smog covering Moscow during a heat wave. The mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin is at right. The excessive amount of extreme weather that dominated 2010 is a classic sign of man-made global warming that climate scientists have long warned about. They calculate that the killer Russian heat wave, setting a national record of 111F (nearly 44 C), would happen once every 100,000 years without global warming. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, File)

(AP) -- This was the year the Earth struck back. Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter million people in 2010 - the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined.

"It just seemed like it was back-to-back and it came in waves," said Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. It handled a record number of disasters in 2010.

"The term '100-year event' really lost its meaning this year."

And we have ourselves to blame most of the time, scientists and disaster experts say.

Even though many catastrophes have the ring of random chance, the hand of man made this a particularly deadly, costly, extreme and weird year for everything from wild weather to earthquakes.

Poor construction and development practices conspire to make earthquakes more deadly than they need be. More people live in poverty in vulnerable buildings in crowded cities. That means that when the ground shakes, the river breaches, or the tropical cyclone hits, more people die.

Disasters from the Earth, such as earthquakes and volcanoes "are pretty much constant," said Andreas Schraft, vice president of catastrophic perils for the Geneva-based insurance giant Swiss Re. "All the change that's made is man-made."

The January earthquake that killed well more than 220,000 people in Haiti is a perfect example. Port-au-Prince has nearly three times as many people - many of them living in poverty - and more poorly built shanties than it did 25 years ago. So had the same quake hit in 1985 instead of 2010, total deaths would have probably been in the 80,000 range, said Richard Olson, director of disaster risk reduction at Florida International University.

In February, an earthquake that was more than 500 times stronger than the one that struck Haiti hit an area of Chile that was less populated, better constructed, and not as poor. Chile's bigger quake caused fewer than 1,000 deaths.

Climate scientists say Earth's climate also is changing thanks to man-made global warming, bringing extreme weather, such as and flooding.

In the summer, one weather system caused oppressive heat in Russia, while farther south it caused flooding in Pakistan that inundated 62,000 square miles, about the size of Wisconsin. That single heat-and-storm system killed almost 17,000 people, more people than all the worldwide airplane crashes in the past 15 years combined.

"It's a form of suicide, isn't it? We build houses that kill ourselves (in earthquakes). We build houses in flood zones that drown ourselves," said Roger Bilham, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado. "It's our fault for not anticipating these things. You know, this is the Earth doing its thing."

No one had to tell a mask-wearing Vera Savinova how bad it could get. She is a 52-year-old administrator in a dental clinic who in August took refuge from Moscow's record heat, smog and wildfires.

"I think it is the end of the world," she said. "Our planet warns us against what would happen if we don't care about nature."
The excessive amount of extreme weather that dominated 2010 is a classic sign of man-made global warming that climate scientists have long warned about. They calculate that the killer Russian heat wave - setting a national record of 111 degrees - would happen once every 100,000 years without global warming.

Preliminary data show that 18 countries broke their records for the hottest day ever.

"These (weather) events would not have happened without global warming," said Kevin Trenberth, chief of climate analysis for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

That's why the people who study disasters for a living say it would be wrong to chalk 2010 up to just another bad year.

"The Earth strikes back in cahoots with bad human decision-making," said a weary Debarati Guha Sapir, director for the World Health Organization's Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. "It's almost as if the policies, the government policies and development policies, are helping the Earth strike back instead of protecting from it. We've created conditions where the slightest thing the Earth does is really going to have a disproportionate impact."

Here's a quick tour of an anything but normal 2010:

HOW DEADLY:

While the Haitian earthquake, Russian heat wave, and Pakistani flooding were the biggest killers, deadly quakes also struck Chile, Turkey, China and Indonesia in one of the most active seismic years in decades. Through mid-December there have been 20 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher, compared to the normal 16. This year is tied for the most big quakes since 1970, but it is not a record. Nor is it a significantly above average year for the number of strong earthquakes, U.S. earthquake officials say.

Flooding alone this year killed more than 6,300 people in 59 nations through September, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, 30 people died in the Nashville, Tenn., region in flooding. Inundated countries include China, Italy, India, Colombia and Chad. Megi with winds of more than 200 mph devastated the Philippines and parts of China.

Through Nov. 30, nearly 260,000 people died in natural disasters in 2010, compared to 15,000 in 2009, according to Swiss Re. The World Health Organization, which hasn't updated its figures past Sept. 30, is just shy of 250,000. By comparison, deaths from terrorism from 1968 to 2009 were less than 115,000, according to reports by the U.S. State Department and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The last year in which natural disasters were this deadly was 1983 because of an Ethiopian drought and famine, according to WHO. Swiss Re calls it the deadliest since 1976.

The charity Oxfam says 21,000 of this year's disaster deaths are weather related.

HOW EXTREME:

After strong early year blizzards - nicknamed Snowmageddon - paralyzed the U.S. mid-Atlantic and record snowfalls hit Russia and China, the temperature turned to broil.

The year may go down as the hottest on record worldwide or at the very least in the top three, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The average global temperature through the end of October was 58.53 degrees, a shade over the previous record of 2005, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Los Angeles had its hottest day in recorded history on Sept. 27: 113 degrees. In May, 129 set a record for Pakistan and may have been the hottest temperature recorded in an inhabited location.

In the U.S. Southeast, the year began with freezes in Florida that had cold-blooded iguanas becoming comatose and falling off trees. Then it became the hottest summer on record for the region. As the year ended, unusually cold weather was back in force.

Northern Australia had the wettest May-October on record, while the southwestern part of that country had its driest spell on record. And parts of the Amazon River basin struck by drought hit their lowest water levels in recorded history.

HOW COSTLY:

Disasters caused $222 billion in economic losses in 2010 - more than Hong Kong's economy - according to Swiss Re. That's more than usual, but not a record, Schraft said. That's because this year's disasters often struck poor areas without heavy insurance, such as Haiti.

Ghulam Ali's three-bedroom, one-story house in northwestern Pakistan collapsed during the floods. To rebuild, he had to borrow 50,000 rupees ($583) from friends and family. It's what many Pakistanis earn in half a year.

HOW WEIRD:

A volcano in Iceland paralyzed air traffic for days in Europe, disrupting travel for more than 7 million people. Other volcanoes in the Congo, Guatemala, Ecuador, the Philippines and Indonesia sent people scurrying for safety. New York City had a rare tornado.

A nearly 2-pound hailstone that was 8 inches in diameter fell in South Dakota in July to set a U.S. record. The storm that produced it was one of seven declared disasters for that state this year.

There was not much snow to start the Winter Olympics in a relatively balmy Vancouver, British Columbia, while the U.S. East Coast was snowbound.

In a 24-hour period in October, Indonesia got the trifecta of terra terror: a deadly magnitude 7.7 , a tsunami that killed more than 500 people and a that caused more than 390,000 people to flee. That's after flooding, landslides and more quakes killed hundreds earlier in the year.

Even the extremes were extreme. This year started with a good sized El Nino weather oscillation that causes all sorts of extremes worldwide. Then later in the year, the world got the mirror image weather system with a strong La Nina, which causes a different set of extremes. Having a year with both a strong El Nino and La Nina is unusual.

And in the United States, FEMA declared a record number of major disasters, 79 as of Dec. 14. The average year has 34.
A list of day-by-day disasters in 2010 compiled by the AP runs 64 printed pages long.

"The extremes are changed in an extreme fashion," said Greg Holland, director of the earth system laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

For example, even though it sounds counterintuitive, global warming likely played a bit of a role in "Snowmageddon" earlier this year, Holland said. That's because with a warmer climate, there's more moisture in the air, which makes storms including blizzards, more intense, he said.

White House science adviser John Holdren said we should get used to climate disasters or do something about global warming: "The science is clear that we can expect more and more of these kinds of damaging events unless and until society's emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles are sharply reduced."

And that's just the "natural disasters." It was also a year of man-made technological catastrophes. BP's busted oil well caused 172 million gallons to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Mining disasters - men trapped deep in the Earth - caused dozens of deaths in tragic collapses in West Virginia, China and New Zealand. The fortunate miners in Chile who survived 69 days underground provided the feel good story of the year.

In both technological and , there's a common theme of "pushing the envelope," Olson said.

Colorado's Bilham said the world's population is moving into riskier megacities on fault zones and flood-prone areas. He figures that 400 million to 500 million people in the world live in large cities prone to major earthquakes.

A Haitian disaster will happen again, Bilham said: "It could be Algiers. it could be Tehran. It could be any one of a dozen cities."

Explore further: Likely near-simultaneous earthquakes complicate seismic hazard planning for Italy

More information:
World Health Organization's Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters: www.cred.be/
World Meteorological Organization: www.wmo.int
Swiss Re report on 2010 natural catastrophes: tinyurl.com/28jrpph
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency disasters: tinyurl.com/c232yp

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User comments : 33

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dogbert
1.6 / 5 (13) Dec 19, 2010
The earth does not "strike back".

Gaea is a myth. It is sad that purported scientists attribute normal weather, earthquakes and volcanoes to a bankrupt concept of a sentient "Earth".
ThanderMAX
3.2 / 5 (5) Dec 19, 2010
The earth does not "strike back".


Earth is a closed loop system, any unbalance in feedback system will have far reaching effect...

Thermodynamics and other equilibrium that used to work at certain rate gets changed by Human activity ,and I agree it's not Gaea , but its the balance that we are disturbing.

Hope earth does not suffer from "Run-away Green house effect" as in Venus.
ryggesogn2
2.6 / 5 (11) Dec 19, 2010
Earth is a closed loop system, any unbalance in feedback system will have far reaching effect...

How is earth closed loop when its energy is from the sun and many significant affects are caused by asteroids, gamma ray bursts, .....?
frenchie
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 19, 2010
clearly you have no idea what a closed loop or a feedback system is. Wanna check out maybe some simple control theory before you start spouting nonsense?

here's the noobie version for you:
http://en.wikiped...l_theory
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (12) Dec 19, 2010
"The first two months of 2000 were virtually free of significant snowfall in much of lowland Britain, and December brought only moderate snowfall in the South-east. It is the continuation of a trend that has been increasingly visible in the past 15 years: in the south of England, for instance, from 1970 to 1995 snow and sleet fell for an average of 3.7 days, while from 1988 to 1995 the average was 0.7 days. London's last substantial snowfall was in February 1991."
http://www.indepe...017.html
"And tonight the nation was braced for another 10in of snow and yet more sub-zero temperatures - with no let-up in the bitterly cold weather for at least a month, forecasters have warned.

Read more: http://www.dailym...z"
Now, of course, AGWites will claim they predicted this.
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) Dec 19, 2010
Putting it in perspective, half a million people were killed on the roads worldwide. And the death toll from tobacco is around 5 million.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (7) Dec 19, 2010
Putting it in perspective, half a million people were killed on the roads worldwide. And the death toll from tobacco is around 5 million.


Try domestic murder. The top 10 cities or so in America continue to have more deaths by domestic murder EVERY YEAR than the total number of "coalition" casualties since the "war on terror" started after 9/11.

and that's considering that statics do not count "abortion" and other forms of infanticide as "murder".

the atheists in China and Russia killed nearly 200 million.

The abortionists in the U.S. and Europe are fast closing the gap, having government authorization and even financial support for many ten-millions of murders of innocent humans in the past 3 or 4 decades alone.

The NAZI's would be proud of our efficiency at killing one another.

We conclude that democracy is equally evil to dictatorships and "republics," just as capitalism is equally evil to socialism and feudalism.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (5) Dec 19, 2010
We've had quite a few "above average" size volcanoes this year. NASA has even said that the amount of dust in the atosphere due to this is above normal, and may cause the upcoming Luna Eclipse to appear dark brown or dark red, compared to the orange color. Sounds almost apocalyptic.

Moreover, if there really is enough volcanic debris in the atmosphere to produce such an optical effect, then we should begin to notice a global cooling effect, i.e. a mild volcanic winter, over the next several months to maybe a few years.

Most of the larger volcanic events were in the northern hemisphere or near the equator, so the effects may be larger in the northern hemisphere, particularly since astronomical winter is in just a few days, lasting for 3 months.

There is aso a ticking bomb in iceland, as historically the big volcano is supposed to erupt shortly after the one that erupted already. If the trend continues as in the past, it should happen, making volcanic winter stronger.
Quantum_Conundrum
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 19, 2010
There have been quite a few tropical cyclones in the past several centuries that single-handedly killed more people than all disasters combined this year.

http://www.wunder...orld.asp

Apparantly, the Bay of Bengal is not suitable habitat for humans.
Dan_K
3.7 / 5 (6) Dec 19, 2010
"is a classic sign of man-made global warming"

And how does that differ from the 'classic sign's of non-man-made global warming?
MorganW
3.3 / 5 (6) Dec 19, 2010
Earthquakes and volcanoes are attributed to man's activities now? If they were TRYING to discredit the theory of man's influence on the environment, they could scarcely do more than this article just did. It is possible to write about strange, incongruous events without blaming man for everything.
BillFox
2 / 5 (8) Dec 20, 2010
How can anyone not come to the conclusion that this is completely our fault? I don't need reasons, or to make sense; we just dun it and that's that.

1. Insert random bits of research and data from various sources.
2. Always take an obvious stance on a controversial issue in writing.
3. Make many claims "proving" links without any proofs.
4. Slap a flashy title on the article and hit publish.

Now I'm ready to post an article on physorg maybe.
lengould100
4 / 5 (4) Dec 20, 2010
Lots of whistling in the dark here again I see.
entropyrules
3.3 / 5 (4) Dec 20, 2010
The writers of this nonsense should be prohibited from posting articles here.
I visit here to read about science as this site claims to be about, and not some form of self fulfilling prophecy from Nostradamus
Howhot
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 21, 2010
Global warming causes extreme weather. Duhh. Global warming is caused by junk dumped into the atmosphere. Duhh. 89% of that junk is man made.
Howhot
3 / 5 (2) Dec 21, 2010
There is a scene in "Planet of the Apes" where Charlton Heston looks at the collapsed and nuked Statue of Liberty and says "Damn you all to hell". He was cursing the fact that mankind had destroyed itself.

2lb 8in diameter hail stones falling from the sky is not normal.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (3) Dec 21, 2010
2010's headlines gone wild: Alarmism, exageration, panic

An informed opinion from NASA, written before 2010, but still relevant. Note this line "1976 Tangshan earthquake for much greater damage, with perhaps a quarter of a million people killed":

http://astrobiolo...?id=5452

And an informed opinion from the insurance industry:

http://www.bloomb...ate.html

I'm not quite sure how to take that one though. On one hand, they say the rate of claims has increased, and that values and costs are increasing, then they turn around and say they aren't raising rates. That doesn't really add up to me, but oh well.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (4) Dec 21, 2010
There was a flurry of controversy about the link between climate change and disasters about a year ago. Here's a story about it:

http://www.timeso...p;page=1

There are pleny of quotes in there from some of the top experts. There are also some quotes in there from a few politicians. Notice how opposite they are?
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (11) Dec 21, 2010
"There's a mini ice age coming, says man who beats weather experts "
"He seems to get it right about 85 per cent of the time and serious business people - notably in farming - are starting to invest in his forecasts. In the eyes of many punters, he puts the taxpayer-funded Met Office to shame. How on earth does he do it? He studies the Sun.

He looks at the flow of particles from the Sun, and how they interact with the upper atmosphere, especially air currents such as the jet stream, and he looks at how the Moon and other factors influence those streaming particles."
http://www.smh.co...45a.html
Imagine that. The sun affects earth's climate. Who would have thunk?
GSwift7
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2010
Corbyn is a total nutball. You'll only encourage the alarmists if you reference people like that.

I think NASA is a good source though:

http://science.na...feb_sdo/

In the next few years, expect a few changes to climate model predictions, but that doesn't mean they will get better. Once solar variability is factored in, the predictions could get worse.

This site has an interesting summary of the long term ongoing history of the debate between solar and terrestrial climate:

http://www.agu.or...RTL.html

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2010
Corbyn is a total nutball. You'll only encourage the alarmists if you reference people like that.

Are his predictions accurate?

"Cosmic Rays and Climate"
http://www.scienc...sClimate
GSwift7
2.7 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2010
I looked up about a dozen different sources in an attempt to answer that question. I can't find any solid evidence that Corbyn is accurate. He seems to have had as many successes as failures, but he doesn't publish his success rates. His refusal to discuss his technique is suspicious to me. I don't think he should be part of this discussion.

There are plenty of good scientific references that indicate we do not have a good understanding of how long term trends in solar variability affect our climate. You don't need to call up witch-doctor psudo-science like Corbyn as an example.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2010
He seems to have had as many successes as failures,

That is better than many professionals.
Regardless of his methodology, people are willing to pay for his predictions, which is probably why he does not divulge his methods.
If he is wrong too often, he will no longer be paid for his predictions.
The IPCC continues to be wrong but they still are paid by govts.
panorama
not rated yet Dec 22, 2010
Lots of whistling in the dark here again I see.

There's only one thing that I like.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (6) Dec 22, 2010
If he is wrong too often, he will no longer be paid for his predictions.
The IPCC continues to be wrong but they still are paid by govts


So, the IPCC has to provide source data and methodology, but Corbyn doesn't? Most of what the IPCC says is correct, so they're doing a lot better than Corbyn. I'll repeat myself; Corbyn is a non-issue. There is plenty of open and reputable science data that shows the direct link between the sun and the climate.

On a side note: Speaking of this being a year of disasters, have you seen what's happening in Colombia? US news isn't covering it, but they are having mud slides and rain on a scale never seen before. The extreme El Nino over the summer and now the extreme La Nina are playing havock on weather this year. Such large ENSO patterns are really screwing up normal global climate measurements. This whole year is pretty much an anomoly, unless you want to blame the ENSO cycle on climate change.
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (4) Dec 26, 2010
Hope earth does not suffer from "Run-away Green house effect" as in Venus.


Seriously? People still are hyping about something that which we could never do even if we burned everything organic on the planet at the same time? There isn't enough carbon locked up in organic materials on the surface of the earth and in the coal and oil fields that could raise CO2 levels to as high as they are on Venus.

We would have to have some rather serious volcanism all over the planet for millions of years to even remotely approach something like that. Mankind could never make earth another Venus no matter how hard we tried by burning organic fuels.

We could pollute the atmosphere to the point of wiping out populations with the toxins but we could never create a "runaway greenhouse" like that found on Venus.
DamienS
5 / 5 (2) Dec 26, 2010
We could pollute the atmosphere to the point of wiping out populations with the toxins but we could never create a "runaway greenhouse" like that found on Venus.

Unless a tipping point is reached, where warming leads to changes which leads to more warming. That would be the runaway bit.
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (4) Dec 27, 2010
We could pollute the atmosphere to the point of wiping out populations with the toxins but we could never create a "runaway greenhouse" like that found on Venus.

Unless a tipping point is reached, where warming leads to changes which leads to more warming. That would be the runaway bit.


Even if we reached a tipping point we could never get this planet to have runaway greenhouse conditions. The atmospheric density is too low and there is not enough organic material on the earth or in the ground where we can get at it to get CO2 levels as high as on Venus.

There is also the fact that we have a lot more liquid water on the planet than on Venus. We also are too far from the Sun.

The truth is, we could never turn this planet into another Venus by burning fossil fuels, tipping point or not. Any claim otherwise is just pseudo-scientific hype of the worst kind.
DamienS
5 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2010
Even if we reached a tipping point we could never get this planet to have runaway greenhouse conditions.

That's illogical. If you concede a tipping point towards a runaway greenhouse, then it follows that a runaway greenhouse will result.
The atmospheric density is too low and there is not enough organic material on the earth or in the ground where we can get at it to get CO2 levels as high as on Venus.

Except for all that surface water sloshing around which, when evaporated, forms water vapour - a powerful and dense greenhouse gas. This gets the ball tipping as it starts a positive feedback loop in the atmosphere, increasing temperature changes further.
DamienS
5 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2010
(cont)
we could never turn this planet into another Venus by burning fossil fuels

In truth, I don't know whether it's possible for Earth to do a Venus or not, but I am aware that tipping points can and do occur and that it would not be a good thing if it happened, even if not to the same extent as Venus.
Any claim otherwise is just pseudo-scientific hype of the worst kind.

Counterpoint, what specific references do you have to the contrary? Can you post them or are you just hand-waving?
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Dec 27, 2010
Venus gets twice as much solar energy as the earth.
That couldn't have anything to do with it?
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (5) Dec 27, 2010
DamienS and others:

Start here for the stats on Venus:
http://nssdc.gsfc...act.html

Next, you can read the following link to get an idea of what is behind a runaway greenhouse and whether it is possible in the first place.
http://www.buzzle...nus.html

Now, here is part of the reason why earth will never reach the conditions of Venus even if we burnt every single ounce of fossil and other organic fuels on the planet.

Venus' atmosphere is over 90 times denser than Earth's.

Venus' atmosphere contains 96.5% Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and 3.5% Nitrogen (N2), with various trace gases.

The earth is the opposite with 78.08% Nitrogen (N2), 20.95% Oxygen (O2), and various trace gases, one of which is 380 ppm Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Solar irradiance (W/m2) received by Venus is: 2613.9

Solar irradiance (W/m2) received by Earth is: 1367.6

The above is the science. Only pseudoscience postulates that we can make a 2d Venus.
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (4) Dec 27, 2010
(Cont.)

There have been times on earth where CO2 has been in the 1000s ppmv of CO2. There never was a runaway greenhouse condition or we would not be having this discussion right now.

So, given that there was not one in the past it is very highly unlikely that we could create one by returning to the atmosphere the CO2 which was there in the first place long before we walked the earth.

All we could do is return what was already there. There are a whole lot of factors that have not been considered as well in making hyped up claims of a runaway greenhouse and so forth.

Could things get uncomfortable for us in the future? Sure, it is possible but not yet proven. As it is the IPCC have been wrong in their calculations repeatedly. Sure, the models will improve and may give better results over time. But, the fact is, we still have time.

For example, so far as Himalayan glaciers are concerned we have over 300 years instead of the IPCC's predicted 25 or so years.