Looking back on the month of May 2015 is like watching one of those end-of-the-world movies in slow motion.
It starts with a storm, described by the Queensland Premier as “off the scale”, which dumped double the average monthly rainfall on Brisbane in just one afternoon.
— CleanOceanEnergy (@CleanOEnergy) May 1, 2015
Meanwhile, Melbourne is shivering as snows came early to Mount Hotham. It’s also snowing in Iceland, despite it being the middle of summer, in what will turn out to be the coldest May recorded in Reykjavík.
In Germany, residents of the town Buetzow are caught unawares by a tornado, which rips the roofs off houses, and Chile’s Calbuco volcano erupts for a third time causing more travel delays and evacuations.
Then Nepal is rocked by its second earthquake in a matter of weeks and the recovery mission starts all over again.
Typhoons rampage across the Western Pacific, and tornadoes hit Mexico and Ohio in the United States causing widespread damage and deaths. Meanwhile, graziers are killing off the last of their stock as the epic droughts in California and Central Queensland continue.
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) May 29, 2015
As the month progresses, flash flooding causes mudslides in Columbia and snow continues to fall in the Colorado Rockies, which has experienced an exceptionally snowy May. Surprisingly, Alaska is the hottest it’s ever been in spring, with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees Celsius. Intense heat is causing problems in Israel, there are bushfires near Beirut, Lebanon, and at Cyprus’s airport, temperatures are more than 10 degrees above the normal highs for this stage of the year. India is also feeling the heat. In the grip of a record-breaking heatwave, roads are melting and there are at least 2000 heat-related deaths.
Drought has broken in Texas, which has been declared a disaster zone after heavy downpours caused flash flooding and killed 25 people. It’s the wettest May on record for Texas and also Oklahoma, which is also flooded.
— CNN (@CNN) May 30, 2015
All this in one month – what’s going on?
While we all know we can’t predict the weather, and that natural disasters happen, but after a month like May, it’s time to really think about the causes behind these extreme weather events.
Speaking to the Republican American newspaper, Jerry Meehl, an extreme-weather expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says May is usually a pretty extreme month around the world, with lots of tornadoes and downpours. Even so, he says, this has been “kind of unusually intense.”
One of the major causes is climate change – but you already knew that. A recent Ipsos report found 60 per cent of Australians believe climate change is behind recent weather events, with people over the age of 55 the most likely to agree.
A recent study has found that one in five extreme rain events experienced globally are a result of the 0.85C global rise in temperature since the Industrial Revolution, and the vast majority of climate scientists (at least 97%) concur that humans activity is the leading cause of climate change.
In Australia, research by scientists at the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and other institutions that has linked fire risk and extreme heat to rising global temperatures. Last year was the hottest year on record, making 2014 the 38th consecutive year of global temperatures above the average range. And while the difference might seem slight on a day-to-day basis, it’s worth remembering that temperatures in the Arctic, the earth’s great cooling system, are increasing two to three times faster than in middle-latitude areas.
Aside from heat itself, a side effect of a climate change is that warmer air absorbs up to seven times more moisture, which is why we’re seeing intense downpours in places beyond the tropics. The “cyclone”-like storm that hit Sydney in April, is an example of how warmer air, and also hotter oceans, contribute to extreme weather events.
On a day to day basis, the changes in climate are more subtle. Birds nesting earlier, the disappearance of autumn, less rain in winter, too much in summer.
On World Environment Day, tell us: how has the weather changed in your neck of the woods? Do you think global warming is the cause?