2015: Weather at its weirdest

14 Jan 2016

The number of natural disasters in 2015 spiked above the global average, with storms, flooding, earthquakes and forest fires making for a grim year.

Global events like winter storms, windstorms and flooding culminated for a 2015 chock-full of weather records around the world.

Aon – in its annual climate catastrophe report – notes 300 separate global natural disasters, more than 10pc above the 15-year average, with a triad of flooding, thunderstorms and wildfires representing nearly two-thirds of all weather-related economic losses.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal, which killed thousands, was one of the biggest news events of the year but, elsewhere, 21 tropical cyclones hit land, 40pc above the average. 14 landfalls hit the northern hemisphere alone, with 2015 also the warmest year since records began.

Climate change: Ireland not immune

In Ireland, it was wet, windy and cooler than usual. According to Met Eireann, nearly all mean temperatures across the country were either on or below their long-term average.

Last February, Dublin’s -9.9ºC was the coldest temperature recorded, while June’s 25.6ºC (in the dryest month of the year), was the highest.

The rainfall in December equated to our usual winter total, with double or triple the average rainfall making for the wettest December on record. While Desmond, Eva and Frank were wreaking havoc in the west, Dublin experienced the warmest December on record.

Of course, the crazy winds experienced in Ireland did see some benefits, with the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) reporting a bumper year for wind energy.

According to its figures, 24pc of Ireland’s entire electricity usage was met by indigenous wind energy, with the rough weather in December seeing a record 39pc of Ireland’s demands being met by wind energy for that month.

Climate change: Drought and fire

South Africa reported its driest year on record, with rainfall down a third on its 110-year average. In Indonesia, forest fires accounted for the costliest single economic loss event of the year (hitting $16.1bn).

In insurance terms, the US, while hosting an already significant 32pc of catastrophes, represented 59pc of total financial losses. Aon puts this down to a highly-insured market.

The US was hit incredibly hard, actually, with five severe storm events “with losses exceeding $1bn each,” in the country, according to Adam Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Four of the five of these hit between April and June.

“Looking back over the last five years, 2011, 2012 and 2015 were extreme years climatologically, as we saw an impressive number and variety of all-time records broken,” Smith said.

“During those years, in particular, the US experienced more extreme events, which is compounded by the fact that lots of our built infrastructure exists in hazardous areas.”

Climate change: Global threat

Over in Australia, Canberra suffered its coldest winter in 15 years, while a larger than normal El Nino drove countrywide weather to extremes, with 2015 the country’s fifth warmest ever.

Plenty of this weather shift is being put down to human-made climate change.  As decades of research suggests, a gradually warming climate is creating an environment primed for further weather extremes.

Climate change disaster is the biggest threat to the global economy in 2016, according to many top economists, with The Guardian today highlighting many of their concerns.

And it’s not just direct weather pains, either, with Cecilia Reyes, Zurich’s chief risk officer, saying: “Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion and increased security risks.”

Still, with reports circulating about climate change fighting back against the planet’s next ice age, convoluted topics like human-made global warming will continue to fragment into greater abstract arguments.

Storm image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic