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When the weather went wild (and global warming never got a mention)


WE are told that the weather is worse than it’s ever been, and it’s because we’re doing nothing about the earth’s dangerously rising temperatures.

If that’s right, then the weather 30 years ago, for instance, would have been less dramatic, calmer, with a minimum of record-breaking. Was it like that? Here is a look at 12 months of weather, November 1992 to October 1993.

(Any of the following quotes not linked are extracts from articles in Weather, the monthly journal published by the Royal Meteorological Society vols. 48 & 49.)

10 November 1992: Cautious hopes of an end to South Africa’s crippling drought came when storms fell over much of the country causing flooding in Johannesburg and surrounding suburbs.

1-3 December: Flood alerts for Wales and SW England as hours of torrential rain and gales brought chaos to the region.

13 December: States of emergency declared in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut after 2.4 inches of rain fell in the worst storm of the century.

10 January 1993: The Braer storm off NW Scotland. The lowest central pressure was estimated as 914 mb (Ciarán made it to only 953), making it the lowest pressure recorded in the North Atlantic. High tides and gales caused serious flooding. The weather ship Cumulus logged gusts of 105 knots (121 mph).

21 February: A North Sea storm surge caused many people to leave their homes in East Anglia and Kent. The surge backed by strong winds was so powerful that the tide did not go out at Southend for 24 hours.

12-14 March: The Superstorm of 1993 (also called the Storm of the Century) was one of the most intense mid-latitude cyclones ever observed over the Eastern United States. This storm was more significant than most landfalling hurricanes or tornado outbreaks and ranks among the deadliest and most costly weather events of the 20th century.

27 April: Floods and landslides after a year of drought caused deaths and chaos across Colombia.

11 May: For weeks torrential rains caused havoc in Pacific South America from Colombia to Chile.

15 May: Snow returned to northern Britain, striking the Scottish borders with a vengeance.

May-September: In the US the Great Flood occurred along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries. Major flooding across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois (roughly the same area as France, Spain, Germany and Italy). It caused over 50 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

June-August: During the summer the upper Midwest of the US was devastated by severe flooding, while much of the south-east suffered from a heatwave and drought.

10 June: 5 inches of rain in Cornwall.

11 June: Floods in Essex.

27 July: Floods which ravaged India, Nepal and Bangladesh over the past few weeks claimed more than 4,200 lives and left millions homeless.

6 August: In Japan, a typhoon caused the banks of three rivers flowing through Kagoshima city to burst. The daily rainfall was 259mm (10.2in). More than 5,000 people were reported dead or missing, approximately 149,000 homes were destroyed, 158,000 homes flooded, and 5,760 levees breached, making it Japan’s largest flood disaster of the 20th century.

26 September: Heavy rain in the Alps cut off tunnels and roads and flooded villages, forcing hundreds from their homes and killing at least 12 people. Officials called it the worst flooding in the Savoie region of France in 35 years, with damage to transport routes alone in the tens of millions of dollars.

26 September: In the US Midwesterners continued to clean up from a summer of flooding while torrential rain in parts of Missouri and Kansas again caused rivers to burst their banks.

October was very wet in much of eastern and southern Britain, with the wettest weather in the first half of the month – particularly in the south-east of England. The wet spell culminated in three days of heavy rain between the 11th and the 13th with serious flooding in south-east England, East Anglia, Lincolnshire and parts of the east Midlands.

After that resume of a year of weather from November 1992, we get to the interesting bit. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change had been formed at the Rio Summit the previous June and there was agreement that ‘The ultimate objective of this Convention is to achieve stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.’

Emissions were already seen as a possible problem. The greenhouse effect was well known and much discussed. Yet in all the weather reports quoted above, I cannot find one instance of either global warming or climate change being mentioned as a possible cause. The dreadful summer of 1993 in large parts of the US generated nine pages of details in the November 1994 issue of Weather, written by someone from the US National Climatic Data Centre. There was no mention of climate change.

In those days it was just weather behaving badly. Why, therefore, has the same kind of weather in the last twelve months been blamed on global warming?

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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