New list of extreme weather mortality events shows events of the past were worse than today

Measuring the human impact of weather

WMO issues new records of weather impacts in terms of lives lost

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has announced today world records for the highest reported historical death tolls from tropical cyclones, tornadoes, lightning and hailstorms. It marks the first time the official WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has broadened its scope from strictly temperature and weather records to address the impacts of specific events.

“In today’s world, it seems like the latest weather disaster is the worst,” said Randy Cerveny, an Arizona State University professor of geographical science and urban planning and chief Rapporteur of Climate and Weather Extremes for WMO. Cerveny is the keeper of the world’s weather extremes.

“Knowing exactly how bad various types of weather have been in the past has been an integral part of preparing for the future,” Cerveny added. “For example, I have often heard since 2005 that Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest tropical cyclone/hurricane to have ever occurred. While Katrina was bad (more than 2,000 died), it pales in comparison to the tropical cyclone that hit the area of present-day Bangladesh in 1970, that killed an estimated 300,000 people.”

“This type of extreme (mortality totals) provides a very useful set of baseline numbers against which future disasters can be compared,” Cerveny said.

“Extreme weather causes serious destruction and major loss of life,” added WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “That is one of the reasons behind the WMO’s efforts to improve early warnings of multiple hazards and impact-based forecasting, and to learn lessons gleaned from historical disasters to prevent future ones. The human aspect inherent in extreme events should never be lost.”

Cerveny convened an international WMO committee of 19 experts that conducted an in-depth investigation of documented mortality records for five specific weather-related events. The committee’s findings are:

  • Highest mortality associated with a tropical cyclone, an estimated 300,000 people killed directly as result of the passage of a tropical cyclone through Bangladesh (at time of incident, East Pakistan) on Nov. 12-13, 1970.
  • Highest mortality associated with a tornado, an estimated 1,300 people killed by the April 26, 1989 tornado that destroyed the Manikganj district, Bangladesh.
  • Highest mortality (indirect strike) associated with lightning, 469 people killed in a lightning-caused oil tank fire in Dronka, Egypt, on Nov. 2, 1994.
  • Highest mortality directly associated with a single lightning flash, 21 people killed by a single stroke of lightning in a hut in Manyika Tribal Trust Lands in Zimbabwe (at the time of incident, Rhodesia) on Dec. 23, 1975.
  • Highest mortality associated with a hailstorm, 246 people were killed near Moradabad, India, on April 30, 1888, with hailstones as large as “goose eggs and oranges and cricket balls.”

“These events highlight the deadly tragedies associated with different types of weather,” explained Cerveny. “Detailed knowledge of these historical extremes confirm our continuing responsibilities to not only forecast and monitor weather and climate but to utilize that information to save lives around the world so disasters of these types are lessened or even eliminated in the future.”

Cerveny said more event impacts could be added in the future for such weather-related events as floods and heat waves.

“I think that many people are unaware of exactly how dangerous certain types of weather can be,” Cerveny added. “The more that we are aware of the dangers, hopefully the less likely we will see repeats of these types of disasters.”

A full list of weather and climate extremes is available at the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes (wmo.asu.edu).

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48 thoughts on “New list of extreme weather mortality events shows events of the past were worse than today

    • Looks like they found that places where people live nomadically and have flimsy protection from the elements suffer the greatest losses of life. Seems logical, but measuring weather events this way will make later events more destructive than early events when the global population had not yet grown exponentially.

      • And before advances in technology had the power and the engineering to make make valid theoretical solutions reality.
        Nature’s bigger than Man.
        What I said above has to do with defending against Nature, not controlling it. Attempting to control Nature is a fruitless (and expensive) excursion into futility.

  1. “Weather and climate extremes”. What nonsense. Even the idea of “weather extremes” is somewhat silly, inviting breathless hype. But “climate extremes”? Give me a break.

  2. The MSM and the alarmists insist that severe weather is getting worse. The data says otherwise. link

    This is just like renewable energy which does/doesn’t work. It’s like we’re living on a different planet than the natural variability deniers.

    • Kind of like living in the world of Harry Potter with everything being designed to petrify you with fear ala Petrificus Totalus
      or in the case of WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas
      Pettri(ficus To)Taalas

    • 8-)
      Several years TWC stopped putting up the record highs and lows for the day on their “Local on the 8’s”.
      How often do local station’s weather segment mention them?
      Why not?
      Tough to convince (or just leave the impression upon) the viewers that “today” was unprecedented when it was “worse” in the past?

  3. 4 billion years ago the earth was the temperature of molten rock. 4 billion years from now the earth will be approaching the background level of 3 degrees Kelvin. There. Now that we have definitively set the climate extremes can we please drop any climate claims and just talk about the very important subject of weather extremes.

    • Actually 4 billion years from now we will also have a molten rock climate as the sun enters the red giant phase of development and the Earth is either just inside or just outside the solar envelop. (just inside probably means falling into the core as the drag of moving through the solar atmosphere reels us in; just outside means the 1/R^2 term will be minuscule and even though the solar atmosphere will be much cooler than now, it still will be 5000ish K vs 5700K for sol, but be much closer.)

  4. The last extreme climate ended some 11,700 years ago, with the start of the Holocene, our current interglacial. We can hope the Holocene lasts for a few thousand more years, but when it does end, then we will truly know what “extreme climate” is.

  5. Read an article years ago (by Jonah Goldberg I believe) in which he said that if you want to know how many people a natural disaster will kill, first check if the country has flush toilets. Most of countries mentioned above, STILL don’t have flush toilets

  6. OMG, no wonder climate science falls below the bottom of the list in proficiency in ordinary statistics. Below the bottom is below common sense. The strength of an individual storm need not be the most important variable in mortality from a storm. The Bangladesh examples prove the point. Millions of people living in rickety shacks, no information or evacuation plans or capabilities…. Even morality from Katrina was from the last straw stress on levees that had been identified as being in extremely poor condition.

    Lightning igniting an oil storage tank shows how ridiculous such a list is! The big exciting stuff scientists and professors occupy themselves with in this dismal science was formerly high school student project level. I’m sure they used Wiki as their source.

    Remember Steve McIntyre’s assessment of such climate scientists when he delved into the ‘iconic’ (Michael Mann’s term for his own work at the House of Reps Committee hearing) papers of the science? He remarked that many of today’s scientists and professors in this field would be lucky to have been high school science teachers in an earlier generation.

    • The death toll in Hurricane Katrina was largely caused by flooding, and the flooding occurred because a) most of New Orleans is below sea level, and b) the Mississippi levees were in poor condition, so the tidal surge slopped over the top of them. The reason they were in poor condition was that, although the US Army Corps of Engineers, who has responsibility for them, had attempted to repair them a few years previously, they were stopped by environmentalists who claimed that doing so would harm the local wildlife. You can therefore place most of the Katrina deaths firmly at the door of the environmental movement, although this is most unlikely to be reported or discussed by the MSM.

      • “You can therefore place most of the Katrina deaths firmly at the door of the environmental movement”
        Actually it was the decision of people who lived below sea level that with the approach of a cat 5 hurricane did nothing to help themselves, except to possibly help themselves to somebody else s TV.
        Nobody fixes stupid like Darwin.

    • Gary,
      Old Editions of the Guinness Book of Records – before it became an op. ed. sort of ‘which lead singer was the most tattooed on his/her arms to have a Spanish hit single in 2015’ thing – used to have a decent-ish list of natural disasters, including wild weather [not climate . . . . .].
      And I think – from memory, fallible memory [mine is, even if no-one else’s is imperfect] – the Bay of Bengal cyclone of 1970 had a death toll much higher [800,000??? comparable to Tangshan?? Or more? > 1 million????].
      Remember, much of the then East Pakistan has a height above High Water of about 8 feet. And if a BIG cyclone brings twenty or thirty feet of water rise, plus serious land ingression, tens of miles, lasting for days, it is reasonable to see entire towns swept away, unhappily.
      I haven’t a recent (ish) GBR to hand since it infantilised itself. I may be able to find an earlier copy [1961, the 10th edition, was possibly my favourite]. But don’t hold your breath.

      Auto

  7. “….but to utilize that information to save lives around the world so disasters of these types are lessened or even eliminated in the future.”

    I get the sense this is AGW propaganda in hiding. Being more ‘prepared’ (i.e. better building codes, early warning, etc) to prevent deaths I understand. “lessened or even eliminate” would take weather control (aka. CO2 causes extreme weather and could be eliminated if reduced).

    • Yes lessened or eliminated… Our country is hit by 20 typhoons (more or less) in a year. We have decreased the death toll from these typhoons by evacuating people from high risk areas before the typhoons hit.

  8. “I think that many people are unaware of exactly how dangerous certain types of weather can be,” Cerveny added. “The more that we are aware of the dangers, hopefully the less likely we will see repeats of these types of disasters.”

    I’m sure that now I’ve read this, I’ll know in future not to sit on a fuel tank during a thunder storm. Meh

  9. Extreme weather events have more to do with larger temperature differentials, such as when the polar regions are a lot colder than today. Heat flows to cold and drives global weather, especially extreme weather events. There will always be extreme weather since that is part of the deal living on a chaotic weather planet, so we had better adapt or get out of the way. Buckle up should be the slogan, because normal benign weather does not, and has never existed.

    The examples given are sort of poor but can be explained rationally. Hurricane Katrina and the death of 2000 people relied more upon a failure of engineering of dykes which were supposed to protect New Orleans neighborhoods from storm surge, some of which are below sea level. Bangladesh is 4-6 feet above sea level in much of the country, and any storm surge is going to heavily impact that especially along the river delta and coast. And it will again, until they engineer a solution to their coastal defences. A hut getting hit with lightening? That can happen anytime, anywhere if there are 24 people hanging out in a flimsy hut. If the hut would have had a lightening rod, we wouldn’t be talking about it. Even Hurricane Sandy, a Cat 1 hurricane, hit at a full moon, King tide which made the storm surge much higher, which is what did the majority of the damage. Had it hit at a quarter moon at low tide, it would not have had the impact it did. So that was partially an astronomical outlier to a bad storm that was made much worse by the luck of the draw.

    The CAGW diatribe relies on scare mongering and using hyper lies and misinformation about extreme weather events being abnormal. They are normal weather events, albeit being the extreme outliers of the weather that are later smoothed over with homogenization of weather data. The IPCC even admits…”The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” And that has to include extreme weather events. Be prepared as the boy scouts say…

      • Sandy was not a hurricane when it hit land, either, and it combined with a second strong low pressure system coming in from the northwest, right over New York, so there were actually two big storms going on at the same place at the same time. If you are going to call it Superstorm Sandy, you should really call it Superstorms Sandy.

  10. “hailstones as large as “goose eggs and oranges and cricket balls.” Those are some mighty big crickets. ;)
    The problem with measuring storms by mortality figures is that as population density grows the higher the number of deaths could be for the same magnitude storm. Conversely, the more recent the disaster the better the warning methods/lead time.

    • The problem with measuring storms by mortality figures is that as population density grows the higher the number of deaths could be for the same magnitude storm.

      YUP, population density is a BIG factor, ….. see below and then compare today with yesteryear.

      Has the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) averted their eyes and their minds to the real events known as the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period, …… to wit:

      During the LIA, there was a high frequency of storms. As the cooler air began to move southward, the polar jet stream strengthened and followed, which directed a higher number of storms into the region. At least four sea floods of the Dutch and German coasts in the thirteenth century were reported to have caused the loss of around 100,000 lives. Sea level was likely increased by the long-term ice melt during the MWP which compounded the flooding. Storms that caused greater than 100,000 deaths were also reported in 1421, 1446, and 1570. Additionally, large hailstorms that wiped out farmland and killed great numbers of livestock occurred over much of Europe due to the very cold air aloft during the warmer months.

      Read more @ http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/lia/little_ice_age.html

      • Population density has risen in Bangladesh since the 1970s, but casualties have gone down in typhoons…

  11. For really extreme weather you have to go further into the past.

    Climate records back to Viking times show the 20th century was unexceptional for rainfall and droughts despite assumptions that global warming would trigger more wet and dry extremes, a study showed on Wednesday.

    Stretching back 1,200 years, written accounts of climate and data from tree rings, ice cores and marine sediments in the northern hemisphere indicated that variations in the extremes in the 20th century were less than in some past centuries.

    “Several other centuries show stronger and more widespread extremes,” lead author Fredrik Ljungqvist of Stockholm University told Reuters of findings published in the journal Nature. “We can’t say it’s more extreme now.”

    Ljungqvist said many existing scientific models of climate change over-estimated assumptions that rising temperatures would make dry areas drier and wet areas wetter, with more extreme heatwaves, droughts, downpours and droughts.

    The 10th century, when the Vikings were carrying out raids across Europe and the Song dynasty took power in China, was the wettest in the records ahead of the 20th, according to the researchers in Sweden, Germany, Greece and Switzerland.

    And the warm 12th century and the cool 15th centuries, for instance, were the driest, according to the report, based on 196 climate records. Variations in the sun’s output were among factors driving natural shifts in the climate in past centuries.

    https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/look-in-the-past-for-extreme-weather/

  12. “Highest mortality associated with a tropical cyclone, an estimated 300,000 people killed directly as result of the passage of a tropical cyclone through Bangladesh”

    You might note that in Bangladesh immense effort has gone into storm warnings, storm reguges and other measures designed to protect the population.

    which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in storm casualties – though the storms are not necessarily any less/less intense.

    http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/90/2/11-088302/en/

    “However, during the past 20 years, Bangladesh has managed to reduce deaths and injuries from cyclones. For example, the most recent severe cyclone of 2007 caused 4234 deaths, a 100-fold reduction compared with the devastating 1970 cyclone.”

    “Cyclone preparedness has improved following the launch of the Cyclone Preparedness Programme by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society in 1970”

    “Apart from early warning systems, other measures such as cyclone shelters and coastal embankments have contributed to reducing death rates in Bangladesh. Prior to 2007, the country had 1500 shelters, each capable of offering refuge to up to 5000 people in coastal districts. After Cyclone Sidr, the Bangladesh government initiated the construction of 2000 new cyclone shelters in 15 low-lying coastal districts, but the number and location of shelters remain inadequate for the population.15 Bangladesh has more than 700 km of coastline. Since 1960 a series of embankments have been constructed to protect coastal regions, including around 4000 km of coastal embankments surrounding the Bay of Bengal and offshore islands”

    I am pretty sure that other countries have adopted similar methods… so events of the past were worse because effective warning and protection measures had not yet been implemented.

    [and yet, tropical storm intensity and frequency isn’t getting worse….

    …despite what you want to think -mod]

    • I did not say that tropical storm frequency or intensity were getting worse, did I?

      I clearly demonstrated however that the reduction in casualties is due to preventative action.

      It is unrelated to number and frequency of storms… what storms do occur, cause less casualties, due to effective protection measures.

      • I clearly demonstrated however that the reduction in casualties is due to preventative action.

        Ms Griff, you clearly demonstrated your ignorance, once again. The word is “preventive”. Learn it, know it, use it.

      • griffyboy, some “modern times” cyclones for your region….

        9. Cyclone 02B, Bangladesh 1991 (May 5) Bay of Bengal 138,866
        10. Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar 2008 (May 3) Bay of Bengal 138,366

        in those regions (low delta’s) a difference of just 20-30 miles or a slight direction change can be the difference between massive loss of life or nothing.

        reason? the biggest weapon of any tropical cyclone is it’s storm surge not it’s wind. Storm surges are very dependant on strength but also path and direction and speed or in short: how the cyclone makes landfall.

        Like this Nargis made a “perfect” landfall in the delta at myanmar Straight in the mouth of it from the open sea. That’s what the great Bhola cyclone did in the Ganges Delta and the less strong Cyclone 2B. Other cyclones of similar strength but with a “cross path” that stands in an angle of 60° or more were ways less severe.

        That doesn’t mean warnings did improve and gives more awareness of the dangers, but there are always and will always be “killers” on the rampage as long as people live in storm surge and flood prone area’s and don’t want to leave…

  13. Interesting they decided to put off floods to the future. Floods, especially in China, have resulted in millions of deaths.

  14. Measuring weather in terms of mortality is like measuring temperature in units of yards. Basically, it is totally meaningless. Thankfully, technology has given us a lot more advance notice of storm systems and their severity. What might have been a killer storm in 1970 and certainly one in 1900 would be only a severe storm with minor loss of life today. If you want to meaasure in terms of wind speed, precipitation, snow depth, etc. fine. Measuring in terms of mortality is comparing ducks to oranges.

  15. Leftists are great at rewriting history, and lying about current events. When Katrina hit, I watched daily updates of the death toll because I knew they would be exaggerated to make Katrina and Bush look worse than they were (as if they needed to), and they did. A body here, a nursing home there… and this went on for weeks. I kept a mental tally and remember getting up into the four hundreds, then suddenly there was reporting of over 1800 deaths, and I have seen reports of up to 3500. When I started trying to put names and causes of death together with the death toll, the first thing I discovered was that anyone who died during the storm, for any reason at all, was counted as a Katrina victim.

    There were people who fell off ladders, had heart attacks, alcohol poisoning, car crashes, murders, and even a suicide 6 days after the storm. But they still did not surpass a few hundred.

    Then I discovered John Mutter, a professor at Colombia University. Mutter claimed to have ‘interviewed’ families and public health department officials and came up with a number over 1800. A few other folks like me wanted to see the list of names so that we could verify his claim. Mutter removed his death toll web page and refused to tell anyone who those 1800 victims were, and to this day, nobody can confirm his count. But that did not stop the press from touting his sick fairy tale as fact.

    It’s now in the history books, and it is a bald faced lie.

  16. I’m a little curious about the headline. I didn’t see where the article was making any claim about trends, just about records. You cannot really say anything about trends from one off occurrences.

    • The official meme is: IPCC climate models show that extreme weather like this is statistically more likely in our warming world, although we cannot ascribe climate change as the cause of this example.

  17. “For example, I have often heard since 2005 that Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest tropical cyclone/hurricane to have ever occurred”.

    In fact, possibly not even the deadliest hurricane to hit Louisiana – cf Chenière Caminada, in October 1893.

  18. There are strong historical indications that what we now call Bangladesh has suffered much worse storm losses in the past. To keep things interesting and honest losses should be adjusted for population growth. But this would show a huge decline in weather related losses that correlates directly to the increase in human CO2 emissions. And our climate kook dominated public square can’t hurt deal with the fact that things are getting better not worse.

  19. Thank God the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia doesn’t have trailer parks. Can you conceive the death and destruction that would result if they had those weather magnets too?

      • That’s an unworthy comment about a struggling nation which does not have the advantages of your homeland…

    • Trailer parks provide more security than huts and even buildings in much of Bangladesh which can collapse on a quiet sunny day.

  20. 1) I believe I read the same information in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1971, except for the 1975 killing of 21 people by a single lightning strike. That’s weird.
    2) These extreme weather events are obviously closely correlated to the extreme population density and poverty of their location; not absolute weather extremes.
    3) The comments here are hilarious. ;-)

  21. Death tolls from extreme weather come down with development – in exactly the same way that financial costs from extreme weather go up with development. Roger Pielke Jr has been describing this for many many years and was (effectively) hounded out of the field for saying this.

    As Griff has pointed out above, equivalent storms in Bangladesh kill orders of magnitude fewer people with the advent of warnings and cyclone shelters. The storm which caused massive loss of life in Myanmar a couple of years ago cause almost negligible damage in Bangladesh (I visited a couple of months later and it wasn’t even being mentioned).

    There is no evidence that incidences of extreme weather are occurring more often or getting worse, but EVEN IF THERE WERE SUCH EVIDENCE the answer would not be to reduce development by hamstringing countries’ use of energy. The current Prime Minister of Bangladesh put Al Gore in his place by pointing this out on live TV recently. [And this from the same Prime Minister who decreed that jackets and ties should not be worn in all levels of government so they could reduce energy use on AC in government buildings.]

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