Insight: 2018, a year for climate change

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Early signs of catastrophe are everywhere in 2018, in floods, wildfires, freezing conditions – and the paralysis of human efforts to combat them, writes Ilona Amos.

It’s not every day we hear about the heat of the sun melting buildings and roads in Scotland. But that’s exactly what happened as the nation experienced sweltering temperatures this summer. And it came just a few months after traffic ground to a halt and supermarket shelves were left bare when we were gripped by whiteout conditions brought by the notorious Beast from the East.

Britons, and perhaps Scots especially, are renowned for their obsession with the weather. Apparentlyresearch shows that at least a third of the population is either talking about the weather, has just done so or is about to at almost any time. It’s hardly surprising, really, given our changeable and famously unpredictable climate. But now the weather has got serious.

Recent long-range forecasts have suggested this winter could be one of the coldest in at least ten years. As many of us shiver in sub-zero temperatures during a weekend lashed by icy rain and the first major snowfalls of the season, it certainly seems plausible.

The bookies have already slashed the odds on a white Christmas, despite the fact the UK has experienced the sort of widespread snowscape we romanticise about on 25 December just four times in the past 50-odd years.

But as we know, and are only too keen to discuss, anything could happen.

Looking back at 2018

Looking back at 2018 reveals a year of extreme and dangerous weather, both at home and around the world. Overall it has gone down as the fourth warmest year on record globally, coming directly after the three hottest years since 1850. The 20 warmest years ever measured have been in the past 22 years, with worldwide temperatures in thepast five years averaging more than 1C higher than historical levels.

The UK summer was a scorcher, with the mercury soaring over 30C in several places during June and July. The average summer temperature across the country was 15.8C, narrowly pipping the 15.77C recorded in 1976, when there was a widespread drought. The hottest day of the year saw thermometers reach 35.3C in Faversham in Kent on 26 July.

Even in Scotland, prolonged drought conditions saw reservoirs dry up, with communities in Moray and the Western Isles asked to use water “wisely”, and crops shrivel and die.

The “weatherproof” roof covering on Glasgow Science Centre turned molten as the city baked in 31.9C on 28 June,the hottest day of the year north of the border. Meanwhile the roasting temperatures triggered speed restrictions on railways in central Scotland and melted roads in Aberdeenshire, Moray and Fife. Snow patches in Scotland’s highest mountains that historically persist through summer vanished completely.

With all that sunshine and heat, it was easy to forget that just three months earlier the country was brought to a standstill by the Beast from the East, an arctic blast caused by a polar vortex that ushered in freezing winds, blizzards and massive dumpings of snow to many areas.

Extreme Conditions

Conditions have been even more extreme – and deadly –elsewhere. Frozen iguanas were seen falling from the trees in Florida in January as the east coast of the US endured some of the lowest temperaturesever recorded there. Minnesota plunged to -41C. The same month sand dunes inthe Sahara desert were turned white, blanketed in up to 40cm of snow, a phenomenon seen only twice before in the past four decades.

Fierce and prolonged heatwaves scorched much of the northern hemisphere, triggering devastation and disruption from the Arctic and northern Europe to North America and Africa.

Greece, Sweden and the US state of California were ravaged by deadly wildfires, leaving hundreds dead and many thousands homeless. The Sahara experienced the highest temperature ever recorded in Africa – a blistering 51.3C – while Japan endured heat topping 40C, shortly followed by a deadly typhoon that killed nearly 200 people and forced eight million to flee their homes.

South America was hit by a short-lived but bitterly coldspell, with temperatures plummeting 20C lower than average to -10.6C in Argentina in July. Large parts of China were awash with some of the worst floods seen in years, while the annual monsoon rainfall in India was the most devastating in nearly a century. Much of southern France was also underwater in August due to unprecedented rain.

Man-made climate change, caused by high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere pushing global temperatures up, is being seen as the main factor driving the increasing frequency and intensity of these chaotic weather events.

Read the full article Insight: 2018, a bellwether year for global climate change disaster at The Scotsman.

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