Over the past several months, extreme weather and climate events in the form of heat waves, droughts, fires, and flooding have seemed to become the norm rather than the exception. In the past half-year alone, millions of people have been affected across the globe – from Europe suffering from the worst cold snap in a quarter century; to extreme flooding in Australia, Brazil, China, and the Philippines; to drought in the Sahel. Records have been broken monthly in the continental United States, with the warmest spring and 12-month period experienced this year and severe fires and drought affecting large swaths of the country.
So how bad has it really been? Below we have put together a timeline of extreme climate and weather events in 2012. We have by no means attempted to be comprehensive in listing events, but have aimed to include some of the most significant occurrences this year. Please let us know through the comment section if we are missing some, as we plan to update the timeline periodically.
The Climate Change Connection
Many people are asking whether climate change can explain the recent spate of extreme events. While we have not performed analysis connecting any of these events to climate change, many of these occurrences are in line with what scientists have predicted in a warmer world. Plus, the science of attributing extreme events to human-induced warming has improved significantly. We document this evolving science on the timeline as well.
It’s too early to tell how the rest of the year will take shape, and it’s true that every year is marked by floods, droughts, heat waves, and other extreme events. However, these past months are unusual in that numerous records have been broken around the world.
What we do know is that many extreme events will increase in severity and intensity if we continue on our carbon-intensive pathway. While it’s too late to reverse the course of past extreme events, there is much we can do – and must do – if we are to stop fueling the intensity and severity of our changing climate.
This timeline was created with assistance from Hilary Ross, WRI's Communications Coordinator.