WMO 2013 climate summary: laws of physics not negotiable, extremes to be expected on a warming planet

The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) state of the climate report for 2013 was released on Sunday (pdf), and provides a very useful overview of last year’s weather and climate events. It confirms that 2013 was the 6th warmest year in the long term record (tied with 2007), that 13 of the 14 warmest years in that record have occurred this century1, and that the litany of extreme weather events that struck the planet is in line with what would be expected on a warming planet.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said:

There is no standstill in global warming. The warming of our oceans has accelerated, and at lower depths. More than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans. Levels of these greenhouse gases are at record levels, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.

On extremes, Jarraud was equally direct:

…many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise – as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines.

Here’s the full list of the WMO’s key climate events of 2013:

  • Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, devastated parts of the central Philippines.
  • Surface air temperatures over land in the Southern Hemisphere were very warm, with widespread heat waves; Australia saw record warmth for the year, and Argentina its second warmest year and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeast United States.
  • Angola, Botswana and Namibia were gripped by severe drought.
  • Heavy monsoon rains led to severe floods on the India-Nepal border.
  • Heavy rains and floods impacted northeast China and the eastern Russian Federation.
  • Heavy rains and floods affected Sudan and Somalia.
  • Major drought affected southern China.
  • Northeastern Brazil experienced its worst drought in the past 50 years.
  • The widest tornado ever observed struck El Reno, Oklahoma in the United States.
  • Extreme precipitation led to severe floods in Europe’s Alpine region and in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.
  • Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall.
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record highs.
  • The global oceans reached new record high sea levels.
  • The Antarctic sea ice extent reached a record daily maximum.

The WMO has published a very nifty interactive map of the year’s notable events here (requires Flash). Clicking on individual events brings up a pop-up with details of what happened. Well worth exploring.

Meanwhile, the prospects for 2014 and 2015 are becoming more “interesting” with each passing week. The chances of the tropical Pacific slipping into El Niño mode are increasing according the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia and NOAA in the US. El Niño years are generally associated with a spike in global temperature and increased extreme weather events.

See also: The Conversation, The Guardian, Climate Progress.

  1. The 15 warmest years have all happened since 1998. []

39 thoughts on “WMO 2013 climate summary: laws of physics not negotiable, extremes to be expected on a warming planet”

        1. I do usually read ’em before I tweet ’em… 😉 It is a lovely piece.

          If you liked that, then I would warmly recommend Turned Out Nice Again: On Living With The Weather by Richard Mabey. He’s a wonderfully concise and perceptive writer. (Nice Guardian review here).

    1. Let me rephrase this: “And some wonder why nobody is listening anymore.” —> “And most wonder why some are still not listening despite the overwhelming evidence and concern of those who are experts in the field”.

      The later, Bio, is more to the point. Your statement of “fact” that “nobody is listening” is simply wishful thinking of yourself and of those who bury their heads in the sand or in the dungeons of the denier blogosphere…

      The later my friend will die a long slow death. The proverbial “Flat Earth Society” and their history shows you that you will find like minded folks to buddy up with for quite some time to come, who will deny the human cause of climate change until the day they die.

      It would be nice if you could learn to respect that “facts” are quite something else than your personal opinion in your comments. It would make other less likely to take issue with you as you are very much entitled to your views as long as you do not make “factual” statements without evidence as the one you just posted.

      1. Of course the “experts in the field” are very concerned.

        However, the fact of the matter is that the majority of the public have turned off the climate change message.

        [Please provide a cite to support this. Polling evidence from around the world consistently shows a majority favour action to address climate change. GR]

          1. Well, blow me down with a feather. Your reference doesn’t support your claim. Gallup’s first ever climate question showed US people split 50/50 on whether they’re concerned or not…

            1. My claim (which you snipped) was that there were more pressing concerns in the public’s mind, than climate change, according to a recent poll.

              The recent poll, by Gallup, showed that Americans are more concerned about healthcare, homelessness, unemployment, drug use, etc, than climate change. The only thing below climate change in their list is race relations.

              Ian Forrester provides a survey commissioned by the EU, and claims that I am being “dishonest”

              I’m not sure why quoting Gallup makes me “dishonest”. Maybe the EU are a more reliable source of information, or maybe they phrase the questions differently, or maybe climate change really is a more pressing concern that 50% youth unemployment and bankrupt countries.

            2. Your cite still doesn’t support your original claim – not least because the Gallup poll was their first to test US views on climate. You would do better, if really interested in the subject (rather than just trying to score debating points) to look at longer term research. Here’s the latest from Yale, for instance…

            3. The Yale survey says that 1 in 4 Americans think that Global Warming is not happening.

              Mind you, a good percentage of the public (American or otherwise) thinks the Sun goes around the Earth, and that HTML is a sexually transmitted disease

            4. AndyS I wouldn’t worry too much about what the Americans think about climate change. They rate pretty low in terms of general science education, according to a recent international “study”. Since you love quoting “studies”.

              Half of them think the world was created in 6006 BC. Are you one of them?

        1. As usual andyS is either being dishonest, is cherry picking or doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about (or you can choose all three).

          Here is a poll of what Europeans think about Climate change:

          The latest survey, published in March 2014, found that four out of five people in the EU recognise that fighting climate change and using energy more efficiently can boost the economy and employment.
          Nine in ten Europeans consider climate change a serious problem. A large majority – 69% – believe it a ‘very serious’ problem and 21% a ‘fairly serious’


          1. So they are going to recycle their rubbish more carefully in the future. As long as it doesn’t cost them.
            Yep , that’ll do the trick!
            Did you even read it?

            1. BF you know all about recycling rubbish since you do it all the time on this blog. Are you inferring that Europeans should not recycle their rubbish?

            2. No, I’m saying that their intended action will have a minimal effect ,if any, on climate.

            3. From the EU link:

              The survey also found that seven in ten citizens agree that reducing fossil fuel imports from outside the EU could bring economic benefits.

              They’ll be finding all about these “economic benefits” if and when Putin decides to turn off the Ukrainian gas pipelines that link the Siberian gas fields to Europe.

              Maybe they’ll be wishing they had started fracking for natural gas and gained some energy independence, just like the (apparently stupid) Americans did

          2. A poll run by the EU that finds results that the EU want to find.

            Sir Humphrey would be impressed I am sure

            There was an episode of “Yes Prime Minister” that made fun of government funded surveys. You can google it for yourself.

        2. The “We won” mantra of the denier circus is really a comedy you know. Its similar to the last “hurray we are winning” chorus of the falling 3rd Reichs propaganda ministry when the country was in ruin already…. It also reminds me once again off the Monty Python Dark Night scene….

          Ridiculous stuff really… but then a straw stuffed Golliwog, what do you expect.

          1. Interesting projection there Thomas. I have never made any claims that “we won”.

            There are a group of people, maybe crazy, who think that the world is doing fine, and a bunch of activists are running around trying to convince the rest of us that civilisation is doomed.

            Comparing the “yet too be convinced” crowd with the fall of the Third Reich is somewhat amusing.

      1. I do hope you’re not going to complain that because CO2 levels were higher in the (pick a geological period), that today’s levels are somehow not unusual.

        The fact is that current CO2 is well above anything seen over the last three to five million years – since modern humans evolved, in other words. It’s also the highest since we began to accurately measure it.

        But I suspect that will not be enough for you.

      2. Biofarmer, your rhetorical questions about CO2 levels are just sophistry. You know the answers perfectly well. CO2 levels are well documented and easily googled.

        You don’t need a science degree to see the levels are higher than in the past and the rate of increase is also quite significant. Bury your head if you must.

        If global temperatures increase at the higher end of the scale, there will be plenty of sand around to bury your head in!

        1. If I “google” CO2 levels in the past I can see that CO2 levels are about the lowest they have been over geological timescales.

          So I don’t see how you can say that they are higher than in the past. In the immediate past, and within human timeframes, yes.

          1. Google ≠ wisdom. And you’re still wrong. Over the last few million years, we’ve been in an ice age broken by relatively short-lived interglacials. CO2 during the cold phases was around 180-200 ppm – half of current levels.

            1. ….and in the previous 4.3 billion years, the levels of Co2 were somewhat higher.

              and yes I know the standard response is that solar output was lower then

          2. AndyS, now you are just exaggerating. You are also looking at too wide a time scale, too far back. What matters is levels have increased quickly and significantly compared to any time in the last 10,000 years. The evidence suggests this is not a good thing.

  1. Gareth. Your website has been overcome with trolls. They are paid to destroy any climate change comment and are not interested in any facts. Get rid of them before they destroy you. Reddit did it

  2. Gareth, it’s not obvious to me that there is a yawning chasm between us.
    I wonder how much of the following you would say is not sensible (these are paraphrased words of a well known commentator) :-

    “. . . it is high time that we break the “hegemony” of carbon-based fossil fuel producers not because it is immoral to produce energy and make money at it, not because CO-2 is an enormous risk, but because it is dirty, expensive, a waste of precious pre-synthesized organic molecules of enormous value UNBURNED, and not a suitable basis for a steady-state world civilization with a high global standard of living, the only kind of world that might one day transcend war, poverty, and widespread preventable human misery.

    It is also good to prevent any single corporate interest group from amassing enough wealth and structural dominance that they become a political factor at the expense of the people they serve, a tail wagging the dog, and this has long since been passed with e.g. oil companies

    So I’m all for solar (sustainable forever, basically); thorium (sustainable for at least 1000 years, long enough maybe to solve the fusion problem); fusion ; biodiesel IF it is sustainably profitable without subsidy and ecologically no worse than oil wells; conservation measures based on clever technology that are themselves life improvements (faucets that go on only while you use them, toilets that flush themselves, lights that only go on when there is somebody there to see the light, heat that goes on only when somebody is there that needs to keep warm).

    A lot of this stuff has positive ROI just because the resources saved cost more money than the device with any reasonable amortization.”

  3. The current article by Stefan Rahmsdorf on Real Climate titled “The most common fallacy in discussing extreme weather events” ought to be a standard reference in discussions on the incidence of extreme events.

    Unless there is a huge mass of data, as in temperatures, statistics may tell you nothing conclusive even if strong bias is actually present. On the other hand there is physics …

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