Floods, landslides, fire and drought: Extreme weather the norm in 2011
updated 11:35 AM EST, Wed December 7, 2011
Water swelled over the banks of the Fitzroy RIver in Rockhampton, Queensland inundating the city with muddy brown water as floods engulfed the southeast of the state in January.
The tiny streaks of brown in this NASA image are in many instances giant landslides which resulted from flash floods in mountainous terrain 60 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro in January. They caused at least 900 deaths making it one of the worst natural disasters in Brazil's history, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
"We're actually seeing Texas burn from border to border..." Texas Forest Service spokesperson April Saginor said. More than a million acres were burned in just over two weeks during April, according to the Forest Service. Strong winds, warm temperatures, dry vegetation, and low humidity also contributed to hazardous fire conditions, according to NASA.
The flooded outline of the Mississippi River can be seen meandering into the left edge of this NASA image, with the Ohio River snaking north and east. Parts of the Mississippi experienced its worst floods since 1933 according to the WMO.
The thin horizontal strip of brown snaking across this NASA satellite image is the trail of destruction caused by a tornado on June 1 as it tore across southwest and south-central Massachusetts. It continued for 39 miles (63 kilometers), says NASA, and in some places measured half-a-mile in diameter. The WMO reports that it was one of the most active tornado seasons on record. 157 people lost their lives -- the deadliest in the U.S. since 1947 -- in Joplin, Missouri in May.
Twelve million people were facing starvation in the Horn of Africa in July as devastating droughts hit the region. NASA's image depicts plant activity, with darker brown representing sparser growth. The drought lasted until early October, says the WMO, when a deluge of rain fell providing relief but also damage to crops.
Hurricane Irene gathers speed and strength as it heads towards the East Coast of the U.S. at the end of August. Tropical Storm Lee followed shortly after in early September. Both were responsible for severe flooding in the northeast region of the U.S. says the WMO.
The last five years have included the five lowest extents of sea ice in the Arctic since records began in 1979, according to NASA, with much of that trend being caused by global warming.
The historic city of Ayutthaya was founded in the 14th century on the confluence of three rivers -- the Chao Phraya, the Lopburi and the Pasak. In late October they combined to inundate the city and surrounding farmland. Above average rainfall during June to September's monsoon period was recorded through large parts of southeast Asia, according to the WMO.
Flooding in Australia
Landslides in Brazil
Lone Star State sizzles
Mississippi River floods
Tornado tears across Massachusetts
Drought, then flooding in East Africa
Hurricane Irene barrels in
Summer sea ice second lowest on record
Floods swamp Thailand
London (CNN) -- Global mean temperatures this year might not have scaled the record-equaling heights of 2010, but it's been another tumultuous 12 months.
- 2011 was the 10th warmest on record according to World Meteorological Organization
- Status report says La Nina event "closely associated" with 2011 extreme weather
- Severe regional flooding experienced across Northeast U.S., Southeast Asia and Africa
- Arctic sea ice extent was second lowest on record -- 35% below 1979-2000 average
According to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) provisional status report, issued at the United Nations climate talks in Durban, 2011 was the 10th warmest year on record and warmer than any other year with a La Nina event.
La Nina -- an opposite weather pattern to El Nino which cools surface waters in the eastern and central Pacific -- occurs two to three times a decade on average, says climatologist and scientific coordinator of the WMO statement Blair Trewin.
This most recent one -- which started in the second half of 2010 and continued until May this year -- has been one of the strongest in the past 60 years, says the WMO, and was "closely associated" with many of the regional weather events that have dominated the headlines throughout the year.
January saw floods in northeast Australia -- the worst in Queensland's capital, Brisbane since 1974 -- and deadly landslides caused by a deluge of rain in Brazil.
The appalling disaster in a mountainous region around 60 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro claimed at least 900 lives, according to the WMO, making it the single most deadly weather event of the year.
Heavy rains also caused many regions of the world to flood in 2011 including parts of southern Africa, Central America and southern states of Europe.
But is was major flooding in Southeast Asia that dominated the news as the year came to a close, wiping out more than 650 lives in Thailand, and dozens more in neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia.
Rainfall during June to September's monsoon season in northern and central Thailand was up to 80% higher than the seasonal average, says the WMO.
Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming...
Michel Jarraud, WMO secretary-general
Michel Jarraud, WMO secretary-general
The situation came to a head in October as already inundated natural waterways combined with high tides to swamp the Thai capital Bangkok.
Among the other more notable extremes of weather in 2011, says Trewin, were the huge weather disparities experienced in the U.S.
The WMO reported 14 separate climate events this year in the U.S. which they estimate caused losses upwards of $1 billion.
Heavy snow fell across southern and Midwestern states -- including Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri in February.
April and May played host to one of the most active tornado seasons on record, according to the WMO, and the Mississippi River suffered its worst floods in nearly 80 years.
But 600 miles west in Texas a drought was taking hold and wildfires raged.
Summer temperatures in the Lone Star State averaged 30.4 degrees Celsius (86.7 degrees Fahrenheit) -- 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the long-term average, according to the WMO and the highest-ever recorded in any American state.
All the while, many northeastern states and parts of southern Canada were experiencing their wettest year on record -- the most severe flooding coming in the wake of Hurricane Irene in late August and Tropical Storm Lee which followed quickly on her heels.
Elsewhere, the Horn of Africa endured a terrible drought which put up to 12 million people at risk of starvation until October's rains eased the threat. But such was their intensity -- Wajir, northeast Kenya received more rain in six weeks (402 millimeters) than the annual average -- it led to crop damage, says the WMO.
The general warming trend -- 13 of the warmest years have occurred in the 15 years since 1997 -- was highlighted by summer sea ice melt in the Arctic.
The WMO reported that the seasonal minimum, reached on September 9, was 35% below the 1979-2000 average and the second-lowest on record with both the Northwest and Northeast passages ice free for periods during the summer.
"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming ..." WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said on publication of the provisional report.
Human activities are to blame, Jarraud says, and temperatures are "rapidly approaching" a level which scientists believe could kick-start "far-reaching and irreversible" climate change.
Final figures for 2011's weather will be published by the WMO in March next year.