These days the weather reports from around the world read more like disaster movie scripts, with typhoons, tornadoes, heatwaves and other extreme weather systems causing havoc and chaos. Climate change is certainly a major factor in the kinds of natural calamities we are witnessing, but we musn’t forget that natural variability continues to play a key role. Global warming has altered the natural limits through climate change and the extremes we are witnessing are becoming more and more frequent.

Many people think that global warming is simply the world heating up, but thanks to climate change caused by greenhouse gases there are also places that are being subjected to extreme low temperatures.

Take the Midwest of America earlier this year: news reports were urging people stay indoors to avoid dangerous wind chills that were down to -50C.

At those temperatures, animals and livestock that are left unprotected in the winds could be frozen to the ground. Bare human skin could be frozen in less than five minutes and frostbite becomes a very serious risk, warned the US National Weather Service.

Many states recorded air temperatures of between -2ºC and -30C. This cold weather was responsible for stopping car batteries from working and decreasing battery life on electronics such as mobile phones. In addition to this, frozen pipes were also a cause for concern.

HeatWe have seen the damage and devastation that floods can do to areas, but what about the opposite end of the spectrum – the heatwave?

The magazine Nature wrote:

“Extremely hot summers — classified as about 3.5 °C warmer than average — have affected about 10% of the world’s land since 2006, an order of magnitude higher than during the period from 1951 to 1980.”

USA today gave us an insight into how detrimental heat can be, as the citizens of China witnessed the worst heatwave in 140 years in 2013, with temperatures reaching above 104 degrees in at least 40 cities. Things reached such critical levels that the Chinese authorities declared the heat a “level 2” weather emergency – a situation normally reserved for typhoons and flooding.

Students were said to complain that their mobile phones were too hot to handle and one boy was heard saying:

“I’m so worried that the phone will explode while I’m using it.”

Extreme heat began hitting Shanghai and several eastern and southern provinces in early July and swept on through much of China through to mid-August. Shanghai hit its record high temperature of 105 degrees F in July and there were over 28 days when temperatures were over the 100 mark. There were reports of eggs hatching without incubators and a highway billboard mysteriously catching fire due to an unexplained combustion.

Although some people found a novel way to utilise the heat by cooking shrimp on the boiling hot manhole covers, for others the heat wasn’t so advantageous.  At least 10 people died of heat stroke in the city, including a 64-year-old Taiwanese sailor.

In our next post, we will look at some more extreme weather and the effects it has on daily life.

[Photos by npclark2k and butkovicdub]