Is the Brazilian flooding catastrophe evidence of another global warming era extreme ?

Guest post by Alexandre Aguiar, METSUL Communications Director, Brazil

(note there’s much more here at METSUL’s blog)

Corpses are still under tons of rocks and mud in the hills of Rio de Janeiro, but some experts are already rushing to the microphones here in Brazil and abroad to declare the worst natural disaster in the Brazilian history as a clear and unequivocal evidence of global warming (a.k.a. global climate disruption).

The Brazilian media is not immune to the frenzy on global warming and extreme weather events. The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, one of the most important media outlets in the country, published a report connecting the Rio de Janeiro disaster to the Queensland flooding in Australia and the recent snowstorms in the United States and Western Europe.

To establish the ongoing catastrophe in Brazil as a global warming product is a bogus claim in the view of the staff of MetSul Meteorologia. The same can be said to the events of cold snaps and snow in the Northern Hemisphere – strong negative Arctic Oscillation related – and the massive flooding in Australia, a direct result of the strong and natural derived La Niña event.

Rio de Janeiro is subject to heavy or extreme rainfall every year, but this time the amount of precipitation was very heavy and in a short period of time, creating an inland tsunami-like torrent. The risk of major extreme rain episodes this summer was widely anticipated by MetSul meteorologists as analog years strongly pointed to a summer similar to the ones with disastrous events in the past. Rain gauges in Nova Friburgo measured 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain in just 24 hours from January 11th to 12th. The tragedy happened in the Sierras of Rio de Janeiro (Região Serrana) where major topographical forcing is usually present in extreme rainfall. Moisture flow from the ocean (SSTs are above average in the South Atlantic) find a natural physical barrier in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, making the region prone to extreme rainfall during summer months and early autumn.

The most affected cities (Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Fribrugo) are located between mountains as high as 5 to 6 thousand feet and besides rivers cross these towns. The only way the water can take are the valleys and the regional rivers. Due to the regional terrain, the major menace to the population is landslide. For many decades Brazilian authorities allowed construction of homes and buildings in the slopes, so every single year landslides with numerous deaths are recorded in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais.

The front page of the Extra newspaper from Rio de Janeiro (click over the picture for a wider view) published on January 13th 2010 showed that every single year in the last decade witnessed tragedies caused by rain in the state of Rio. The newspaper headline is “Até quando?” (When will it end?). The paper argues: “The government excuse is always the same…it rained an equivalent to…”. The dominant opinion in the Brazilian media and public arena is that these repeated tragedies must be above all attributed to poor risk management and ridiculous urban planning instead of only blaming nature. Despite recognizing the ferocity of the rain, many are calling this week tragedy a manmade disaster.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, there is massive occupation of the slopes and the hills, so landslides tend to be much more devastating and tragedies much more frequent. If this week’s rainfall have happened in the same region 35 years ago, the consequences would have been incredibly less dramatic. Satellite pictures released by the Brazilian Global TV Network show clearly some of the risky areas that concentrate most of the victims (Caleme, Posse and Meudon) as heavily populated nowadays in contrast to low or no land occupation 35 years ago.

There are anecdotal and historic accounts of extreme rainfall in the state of Rio de Janeiro since Brazil was a Portuguese colony in the 1600’s and 1700’s, but meteorological records are not available for that period. Great tragedies caused by rain and landslides in Rio de Janeiro began mainly in the second half of the 20th century coinciding with the demographic explosion and the massive and unorganized occupation of the hills. The risky areas of today, where the tragedies of the modern times use to happen almost every year, were not occupied 100 years ago, and for that reason the vast majority of the tragic events concentrate in the last 50 years.

  • April 1756 – Three days of heavy rainfall caused flooding, home collapses and “lots of victims” all over the town – still small – of Rio de Janeiro.
  • February 1811 – Between February 10th and 17th heavy rains caused a “catastrophe” in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Hills collapsed, the city was flooded and landslides were widespread with a torrent of water and mud invading town. Historical accounts tell of many victims, but there is no official number. The regent prince – designated by Portugal – ordered the churches to be open to serve as shelters.

  • April 1883 – Eleven inches of rain (220 mm) in a matter of four hours flood the city of Rio de Janeiro.

  • April 1924 – Heavy flooding and landslides with fatalities.
  • January 1940 – Flooding and landslides in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Santo Cristo district was the most affected.

  • January 1942 – Flooding and landslides in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The Salgueiro Hill was the the main disaster area.

  • January 1962 – Heavy flooding and several landslides in the city of Rio de Janeiro after 242 mm of precipitation during a storm.
  • January 1966 – The storm of January 2nd, 1966, brought record rainfall to the city of Rio de Janeiro. Flooding and massive landslides caused 250 casualties. Other 70 people died after the storm due to diseases.

  • January 1967 – Heavy rain and landslides provoked the collapses of buildings in the city of Rio. 200 people died and 300 were injured. 300 people died in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Guanabara (today Guanabara and Rio form the state of Rio de Janeiro).

  • November 1981 – Landslides in the Sierras of Rio kill 20 people in the city of Teresopolis.
  • February 1987 – Flooding and landslides kill 292 people. The city of Rio de Janeiro and the Sierras of the state concentrate the damages and the victims.
  • February 1988 – 277 people died in flooding and landslides in the Baixada Fluminense region and in the city of Petrópolis in the Sierras. In the rest of the month hundreds more died in new landslides and flooding. A hospital collapsed, killing 18 people. Damages topped 1 billion dollars.

  • Summer of 1996 – Dozens of deaths in flooding and landslides.
  • January 1999 – Dozens of deaths in flooding and landslides.
  • 2010 – Nearly 100 people died in the cities of Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro due to landslides on January 1st. In April, record rainfall caused over 200 deaths in massive landslides in the cities of Rio and the neighboring town of Niteroi.

Tragic events will happen again in the future, but can be less dramatic if some steps are taken urgently and seriously: improvement of risk management, urban reorganizing, investments in weather forecast and monitoring equipments and staff, a new media approach to weather warnings’ importance and a good public governance. History proves these areas will be hit again, but we as society have the power to mitigate the consequences. It is a matter of serious and urgent public priority for our authorities and the population’s will.

Author: Alexandre Amaral de Aguiar

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60 thoughts on “Is the Brazilian flooding catastrophe evidence of another global warming era extreme ?

  1. This is so classic. These floods in the tropical regions of the Southern Hemisphere are symptoms of global COOLING after a decade of warmth. Get used to it. This is how the Amazon came about.

  2. Yes, but do you have any proof this wasn’t because of global warming? Because if you can’t prove it wasn’t the cause, then it must have been the cause. I can give you a small list of other things caused by global warming that have been proved under this rule:

    1) Green Bay Packers 48; Atlanta Falcons 21. I know, you must be wondering how a football score can be caused by global warming. Well, the Packers, a predominantly northern climate mammal, had to travel to play the Falcons in the Falcons natural habitat, which is usually much warmer than Greenbay. Because of global warming, the difference in temperature is now far smaller, resulting in the Packers not suffering from ‘climate shock’ in Atlanta. Go ahead, prove that it wasn’t.

    2) Recently, I watched a pot, and it boiled. We all know that never happened before global warming came about.

    3) Winter changed its seasonal name to ۩, but since no one can pronounce it, we now have to refer to it as ‘The Season Formerly Known as Winter’. Go ahead, ask winter. But to prove it, you’ll have to record the response, and we are the only people with the access to the right technology, but you can’t have it.

    4) Chuck Norris turned on the air conditioner. What more proof do you need?

  3. Thanks for the post. This is all so saddening. The miss-direction of the UN-IPPC, newspapers, and others is delaying action that could be lessening some of this. When the historical record of severe flooding begins in 1756, then 1811, and continues to the current time, it is tragic that the UN and NGOs are so clueless.

  4. People no longer read news papers because everything they tell you is your fault. They are mandated to do this for the benefit of their owners. There is a sick twisted reason for doing this.

  5. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/thai-rain-making-comes-to-qld-20100808-11q5f.html

    Story from Ron Corben August 8, 2010

    A rain-making method developed by Thai king Bhumipol Adulyadej is set to aid Queensland in battles with drought after an agreement between the state government and the Thai royal household.

    The Queensland government’s access to the rain-making technology, developed by King Bhumipol over the past 30 years, came a year after the state approached the royal household last year.

    As a result, Queensland is set to be the first major region outside Thailand where the rain-making technology will be put into full effect.
    _____________________________________
    I personally have no understanding of whether or not this can work, however the witchdoctor was called, and they had rain. Lots of it.
    Anyone else find the timing and content highly suspicious?

  6. Here is a very interesting website with lots of information of past weather – mostly from the UK. Most of the stories are from before global warming was ever heard of so who knows what caused all the storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves, coldwaves, etc., etc…

    http://forum.netweather.tv/

  7. What’s all this “Inland Tsunami” bulgacar? It was a flash flood. Let’s leave the imaginary science terms to the Warmistas and Associated Press propagandists.

  8. Here you go, send the clean up bill to the Aussie coal miners !

    Coal miners to blame for Queensland floods, says Australian Greens leader Bob Brown

    GREENS leader Bob Brown says the coal mining industry should foot the bill for the Queensland floods because it helped cause them.

    Don’t believe me, here is the link.

    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/coal-miners-to-blame-for-queensland-floods-says-australian-greens-leader-bob-brown/story-e6frfku0-1225988806619

    Sorry for the short post, I have to clean my keyboard and screen !!

  9. This is more of the same biased reporting that is now the norm for many news outlets.

    http://theinconvenientskeptic.com/2011/01/examples-of-biased-and-unbiased-climate-news/

    SkS is spouting that winter is now caused for global warming. Meanwhile 2010 was a statistically normal year for snow extent in the northern hemisphere.

    http://theinconvenientskeptic.com/2011/01/snow-extent-for-2010/

    The only thing we can do is understand what is going on. There is plenty of craziness out there on both sides of the debate, but getting the science correct is the key.

  10. @Chris in Hervey Bay

    As a Taswegian, I appologies for my state helping to encourage this type of Watermelon through, initially the flooding of Lake Pedder, and then the Gordon-Below-Franklin dam protests.

    Beneficial hydro-electric schemes both, one successful, the other thwarted by the larval-stage of today’s Labor government. Unfortunately I think we brought the Watermelon in Australia into the mainstream, sorry.

  11. I think governments love to attribute tragedies to AGW. That way they can shift the blame for their poor governance and lack of foresight onto the shoulders of capitalism, coal miners and oil companies, all very convenient scapegoats.

  12. This and all similar events appear to be anthropogenic climate catastrophes. But in this case anthropogenic refers to man’s propensity to build in what are frankly, stupid locations and that old enemy, unexpected climate extreme, is going to get them in the end.

  13. With reference to the Queensland floods, which I have followed in detail, this is the first time in my experience, that people may have died as a result of policy makers listening to AGW proponents.

    At the moment it is not possible proving this beyond reasonable doubt but I suspect a lot more people will die in other incidents before policies change.

    In Queensland they were totally unprepared for catastrophic flooding despite knowing that it was normal, periodically, since people had lived there.

  14. In the UK our worst hydrological disaster was back in 1966, and this was definitely the fault of “dirty evil coal.” The Aberfan disaster which killed 116 schoolchildren and 28 others was caused when a coal spoil tip built over natural springs on the side of the valley, became mobilised after days of heavy rain and slid down the side of the valley onto the village and its primary school.

    How would Trenberth, Hansen et al have viewed this disaster had it happened in January 2011?

  15. BBC News had a local planning officer from Rio discussing the floods as they were happening a couple of days ago, and he was very clear in that this was fully expected, that building on the mud-slopes was not sanctioned but that the authorities did nothing to prevent it, and that he was sure it would all happen again in years to come.

    No mention at all of the rains being particularly heavy.

  16. Puplished in the Italian WPSMeteo website:-

    Abnormal weather conditions in the tropical western Atlantic (weaker trade winds south-east, just outside of Brazil), can cause the displacement of the front of the Angola-Benguela Current further south, causing the intrusion of warm waters. Because of the similarity to the phenomenon of El Niño in the Pacific (ENSO), this hot event in the South Atlantic has been dubbed “Benguela Niños.” These events have abolished the phenomenon of lift (upwelling) and have caused the high rainfall over Namibia, but are less intense and less frequent than the ENSO.

    Benguela Current, an Atlantic Niño?

    See also this article by SAND-RIO in Sol e Mudanças Climáticas , 2011 January 14, 2011
    Catastrophe in Rio de Janeiro

    (Thanks to a previous poster for this information).

  17. This tragedy has no connection with AGW only evidence that serious problems occur if planning regulations are relaxed and building standards fall. The flood area is enstable and has always been prone to land slides after heavy rain. People should not have been allowed to house themselves in that problem area.

  18. Too many fence straddlers are not convinced either way.

    Sometimes it is impolite, or takes too much energy, to argue.

    On this one, I simply say, OK, what causes precipiation (rain)?

    The answer is, of course, cold. Weather is not climate, but rain is, in fact, a sign of local cooling.

  19. For comparison, the short-term rainfall record in the US is 30.5″ (775 mm) in 4.5 hrs. This occurred July, 1942 in Smethport, PA (north-central PA). A town in northern WV near the Ohio River got 19″ in 2 hrs (can’t remember the details).

  20. Now you can see the true Genius of “Talking Heads” singer David Byrne in the song “Once in a Lifetime” (reflection of how people perceive the floods and heat waves at this time being “once in a lifetime” events). In the song the words are repeated “Same as it ever was”.

    In my own research I am finding out that current events are no more dangerous than past, the big difference are people are now living in flood plains that used to be avoided.

  21. Increased population & property = more deaths and destruction.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the worst flood that Brazil has ever experienced. See the Brisbane cafuffle.

  22. These are not memory lapses by journalists – in many cases it may not even be ‘agenda driven’ journalism – it is sheer scientific ignorance and poor reporting. What science these reporters have picked up has been spoon fed them by films like Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” followed by a few disaster movies – that they believe. This worrying lack of scientific understanding is reinforced by a need for a quick headline that will sell more papers, magazines advertising time on TV. This has a self-generating effect in the media as each outlet tries to outdo the other in reporting a particular subject. Stories that blame the victims for being foolish building in landslide prone areas or flood plains do not get anywhere near the traction of parents crying over a child’s death and an editorial blaming greedy bankers, developers and ‘big oil’.

    Unfortunately, this lax reporting and lack of scientific knowledge is also widespread in popular science publications and documentaries.

  23. Obrigado por um artigo muinto interessante!

    “if some steps are taken urgently and seriously: improvement of risk management, urban reorganising, investments in weather forecast and monitoring equipments and staff, a new media approach to weather warnings’ importance and a good public governance.”

    Unfortunately, the vast bulk of funding for these things has been most effectively snatched away by religious zealots, and there simply isn’t any money left for actually dealing with anything real. If you want to save lives and accurately predict the weather, you must do so with private funding or none at all. And be prepared to be ignored and ridiculed for not following the rigid dogma set out by the high priests of the orthodoxy. Names like John Harrison, Alfred Wegener, Edwin Howard Armstrong or Nicola Tesla come to mind as some who persevered at great personal expense.

    Mais uma vez, obrigado. E não deixe os bastardos desgastá-lo para baixo!

  24. Epigenes says:
    January 16, 2011 at 3:01 am
    With reference to the Queensland floods, which I have followed in detail, this is the first time in my experience, that people may have died as a result of policy makers listening to AGW proponents.

    Unfortunately, this is not the case. The UK government has been told over the years to prepare for milder winters. It has been caught off guard 3 years in a row and the country has been ill prepared with stranded drivers, lack of salt and subsequent deaths.

    Another example is Queensland itself. The state government was told to prepare for drought as the norm. As a result they diverted resources into desalination plants instead of flood defences. As a result the death toll now stands at 18 when it might have been less.

    References:

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2008/mild-winter

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/8237397/Met-Office-kept-winter-forecast-secret-from-public.html

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5607:severe-weather-stalls-travelers-baffles-environmentalists&catid=32:environment&Itemid=48

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/8262064/What-was-the-role-of-warmists-in-the-Queensland-flood-disaster.html

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/police-release-names-of-people-missing-from-lockyer-valley-and-toowoomba/story-fn7ikbtj-1225988957175

  25. In the midst of debate it’s easy to forget about the victims. All Canadians join me in extending my sincere condolences to all of those tragically lost in Brazil and Australia’s flooding.

  26. First the Brazil drought is due to AGW, now the flooding is. Will you guys make up your mind? Not that you have one apparently. One should change one’s mind and one’s underwear from time to time. But usually due to the accumulation of fecal material in either.

  27. Much of this can be laid at the door of human overpopulation. If you don’t build houses in river valleys and on flood plains, you won’t get flooded.

    We had the same in the UK a few years back, with the brain dead media here debating why new housing estates on flood plains were flooding so regularly nowadays.

    Derr, I’ll give you one guess, Brian….. (must be Global Warming…..)

    .

  28. Someone pointed me to this quote my Mark Twain (in the boom “Life on the Mississippi”) that sums up my thoughts on this article quite nicely:

    Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and ‘let on’ to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! Nor ‘development of species,’ either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague–vague. Please observe:–

    In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period,’ just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

  29. The entire main stream media has turned int a bunch of “Tragedy Vultures”, exploiting every tragic event and taking it out of context.

  30. There are anecdotal and historic accounts of extreme rainfall in the state of Rio de Janeiro since Brazil was a Portuguese colony in the 1600’s and 1700’s, but meteorological records are not available for that period.

    Translation: The same things occured in the Maunder, we know they took place, but the Warmists are not interested in saving lives/property by giving advance warning of when/where. The Warmists want the power and the money. The unfortunate are simply in the way of nature and Agenda.
    We should expect more such events this year and for some time to come.
    Read your literature.
    Nobody will read it for you.

  31. Its like talking to a brick wall. But if folks would visit the Smithsonian weekly activity reports you might be able to grasp the significant ongoing activity now and in the recent years throughout the world. Chaiten and neighborhood were spewing plumes significantly.

    Merapi spewed vast steam, particulate and aerosols. Eyjafjallajokull melted 100 million cubic meters of ice into steam.

  32. A few days ago the BBC had a “media commentator” (whatever that is) reviewing the news on BBC 24 (or whatever it’s called nowadays). One of his first comments was to claim that it is incredible that despite the floods in Australia, etc there are still climate sceptics (or whatever term he used) around. No one, of course, was around to enlighten this dimwit.

  33. Thank you, Alexandre! It’s a real boost to hear that rationality and real science are alive in Brazil! Including the true null hypothesis.

  34. I remember about four years ago, there was a chap called Ken Ring (a self taught weather forecaster from New Zealand, who uses lunar cycles) on Today FM, a radio station here in Ireland.

    His forecast for Australia was that the droughts they had been experiencing at that time would cease around now because the moon would hit its most southerly point vis a vis the Earth. Looks like all he got wrong was the magnitude, probably didn’t foresee such a strong La Nina.

    I wonder if Brazil is experiencing rain that should have been falling in the Amazon, falling instead in Rio because of the pull of the moon.

    For Ireland he forecast colder winters and warmer summers, and he’s right so far :-), or should that be :-(.

  35. Now I am merely a doctor and not a climate scientist but I do know about floods in Brisbane. I survived the 1974 flood. I have 6 adult children all of whom have bought real estate in the Brisbane area. So we know the flood record.
    Between 1840 (when the first records were taken) and 1900 there was on average one flood as big as 1974 every fifteen years
    In the 20th century the climate changed (as it always does) and we have had two big floods in 111 years.
    Some of the CO2 religionists are blaming the recent flood on global warming ! There wasn’t a lot of global warming or carbon dioxide around in the 19th century.

  36. I feel it is important for me to add that I actually agree that the flooding and snow and nasty weather are all indeed indications of global warming: At least, nasty weather that would be expected from a climate system working to maintain itself during a tens of thousands of years long recovery from an ice age. This is simply the geological/climatological times in which we live, and there is nothing we could ever do to change it.

    I remain unconvinced that human contributions to CO2 have any more than a minuscule and negligible effect on our environment. It is not up to me to explain why CO2 isn’t a problem, but rather up to the so called experts to prove that it is–without resorting to tricks, obfuscation, abuse and tyranny.

  37. It appears to me that all this precipitation makes Henrik Svensmark look more on the money as each day passes.

  38. @David Falkner
    4) Chuck Norris turned on the air conditioner. What more proof do you need?

    That’s it, I’m convinced. ;-)

  39. Can anyone explain what type of organization Metsul Meteorologia is? Government, academic, think tank, etc? I’ve tried googling a bit and most everything’s in Portuguese…

  40. ShrNfr said: (January 16, 2011 at 9:13 am)
    “First the Brazil drought is due to AGW, now the flooding is. Will you guys make up your mind?”

    What is so hard to understand? In a warmer world there is more H2O in the atmosphere and weather patterns shift causing both droughts and extreme rain or snow. This fact has nothing to do with whether the warming is caused by humans or not.

  41. Enginer says:
    January 16, 2011 at 6:24 am

    On this one, I simply say, OK, what causes precipiation (rain)?
    The answer is, of course, cold. Weather is not climate, but rain is, in fact, a sign of local cooling.

    “I usta couldn’t spell Enginer, and now I are one!”
    Sorry. Couldn’t resist! ;)

    But I agree completely. Warm makes the air wetter, and cold makes the water fall out onto the ground, often causing flooding.

  42. Ralph says:
    January 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Much of this can be laid at the door of human overpopulation. If you don’t build houses in river valleys and on flood plains, you won’t get flooded.

    FAIL. People were inhabiting flood plains and volcano ash slopes etc. when they were very few. They’re great farming, and have wonderful sight lines.

    Overpopulation is a crock.

    http://overpopulationisamyth.com/overpopulation-the-making-of-a-myth#FAQ1

    But a very handy meme for exploitation by those who want to institute draconian rule — by themselves, of course.

  43. Moisture flow from the ocean (SSTs are above average in the South Atlantic) find a natural physical barrier in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, making the region prone to extreme rainfall during summer months and early autumn.
    ——
    please show the annual ainfall trend over time so the intensity can be related to trends in SST.

    [mod: we should also remind ourselves that convection/rain doesn’t occur due to the SST anomalies, but the SSTs themselves. anomalous SSTs must also include the where/when to be relevant]

  44. Here is the Met Office’s take on the floods. Not one mention of climate change or global warming.

    Met Office – 14 January 2011
    “In some parts of the world severe flooding is occurring, as very heavy rain and landslides affect regions of Australia, Brazil and much of Sri Lanka.

    Some speculation has surrounded the meteorological reasons for the severe weather, these include a near record La Niña event with colder than normal ocean waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean.”

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2011/La-Nina-impacts

    H/t

    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/shock-news-met-office-doesnt-blame-co2-for-flooding/

  45. C’mon, everybody – you KNOW that the earth has only been in existence for thirty years – all these previous weather-related episodes are just made up by ‘deniers’..!!

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