This is why the weather has been so extreme in the world for the past few weeks

This is why the weather has been so extreme in the world for the past few weeks

Have you also noticed that the weather has been very severe in recent weeks? Huge wildfires have been burning in the US for some time, Europe had to deal with severe flooding and now it’s snowing in Brazil. Is the weather really that much right now, or does it seem that way? Should we worry about the future? We answer these and other important questions about severe weather.

How unique is the entire world in dealing with severe weather?

Usually, there is severe weather somewhere on Earth almost every day. Often this relates to a local extreme weather, or a local temperature record. For this particular place, that definitely doesn’t happen every year which is why we call it an extreme. If you look at the whole world, severe weather is not that special.

However, the harsh weather we see is special. This is because these extremes occur in very large areas. For example, during floods in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, almost no valley survived in the affected areas, and wildfires in the United States and Siberia devastated larger areas than people had ever experienced. To top it all off, the temperature was almost 50 degrees in Canada.

Why is the weather so harsh in so many places?

The reason the weather has been so severe in recent weeks is a coincidence. Sometimes there are more extremes than usual, for no reason. It is true that many things are related to each other in the weather. What happens in America has a (indirect) effect on the weather in Europe. You may have heard of the “butterfly effect”. This means that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane to strike on the other side of the world. Of course, this does not happen literally, but there is an iota of truth in it. Cold sea water off the coast of Peru, for example, is causing more precipitation in Asia.

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Weather from the past can also have an effect. You see that in the US now. Precisely because last winter in the western United States was drier than usual and there is hardly a drop of rain in the summer, they are now dealing with massive wildfires. Humans also play a role, for example by consuming a lot of water.

By the way, smartphones and social media nowadays make it seem like there is more extreme weather. As a result, news quickly reaches the other side of the world. In the past, extreme weather events remained more under the radar than they are today.

What is the cause of the severe weather in Europe?

You may have heard of it, but the so-called jet stream is very important for the weather in Europe. It is a kind of meandering river at an altitude of 8 kilometers with a very high wind speed of 300 kilometers per hour! These curves move, but sometimes that curve stays in one place for a long time. If that happens, we’ll be dealing with the same weather for a very long time. As a result, it has been very variable and cold in Holland for some time now, and Greece has to deal with the intense heat.

Will the weather be more severe in the future?

Because of climate change, we will have to deal with severe weather more often in the future. This is because fluctuations in the jet stream stay in a certain place for a longer time. As a result, we get longer periods with the same weather, for example prolonged drought or heat. There will also be heavy rain. Because of this heavy rain, there is a greater risk of flooding or flooding without measures being taken.

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Over the past few years, we’ve already got a taste of what might lie ahead. With 40.7 degrees, our national temperature record, which has held for nearly 75 years, was broken by at least two degrees in July 2019. Meanwhile, the Netherlands has warmed by more than one degree on average. We’ve seen the exact same thing in France, Belgium, Germany and more recently in Canada.

Should we be worried?

Also in the Netherlands there will be more severe weather in the future. This means we have to prepare for drought, more days with extreme heat, more flooding and an increased risk of flooding. Warm periods become warmer and cold periods become less cold. Fortunately, the weather is not harsh all the time, but there are periods when the weather is milder, as we are seeing this year. However, periods with a certain weather type can last longer than is the case currently.

Whether we should be concerned depends on the measures taken. If we stop emitting greenhouse gases now, extreme weather events will continue to increase in the coming decades, but much less than if we continued on the same basis. That’s why it’s important to act now and not wait until it’s too late. Scientists have even estimated that it is cheaper to do something about climate change now than to pay for all the damage it causes in the future.

Read also: Troubled weather: snow and freezing cold in Brazil, sweltering heat in Greece

Main image: Devin Hanegraaf

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