Climate Extremes Amplify “Normal” Disasters: Turkey is Latest Example

March 16, 2023

Regular, run of the mill disasters are not going to stop. Meanwhile, climate enhanced extreme events are becoming more common.


Floods caused by torrential rains have hit two Turkish provinces that were devastated by last month’s earthquakes, killing at least 13 people and increasing the misery of thousands who were left homeless, officials say.

Turkish media said the floods on Wednesday killed 11 people in Sanliurfa, about 50km (30 miles) north of the Syrian border. Two people also died in nearby Adiyaman, including a one-year-old, the reports said.

Washington Post:

Intense drought and heavy rainfall events occurred more often in the last eight years — the hottest years on record — than in the previous decade, according to a new study released in Nature Water on Monday. Warmer global temperatures are increasing the extent, duration, and severity of these extremes, the authors found, and are having more of an effect than natural climate patterns.

“As the world warms, we’re having more intense and more frequent wet and dry events around the world, which gives us a little insight into what’s going to happen in the future,” said Matthew Rodell, a hydrologist at NASA and co-author of the study. “This is an observation. It’s actual data.”

Rodell said researchers have expected to see more droughts and floods in a warmer world based on climate model predictions, but “it’s been really hard to prove.” This new analysis, which uses direct NASA satellite observations, provides “indisputable” evidence that warmer global temperatures are increasing such extreme events, Rodell said.

While natural and recurring climate patterns, such as El Niño or La Niña, may have exacerbated some of these events, the team found that warmer global temperatures had a greater influence than other factors. Rodell said a correlation analysis of the extreme events found that no other factors were as “high as the correlation with the global mean temperature.”

The team found extreme dry and wet events have been increasing since 2002, but the most intense events have been occurring more frequently since 2015 — when Earth began its run of record-breaking warm years. An average of four extreme events occurred each year since 2015, compared to only three annual events over the previous 13 years.

The study adds to existing research, using rain gauge data, climate models and tree rings, on how a warmer atmosphere is affecting extreme wet and dry events, said climate scientist Daniel Swain, who was not involved in the study. Given the accumulation of evidence, he said it’s “probably not coincidental that the most extreme hydrologic events that you could observe in this record occurred during the warmest years of the record.”

“These findings not only verify model predictions, but also the ‘dry gets drier, wet gets wetter,’ hypothesis,” groundwater scientist Melissa Rohde wrote in a separate review article that appeared in Nature on Monday.

Seeing an increase in both dry and wet events may sound counterintuitive, but the physics are two sides of the same coin. During a dry event, the air is warmer and can drive more evaporation from the surface. During a wet event, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture (about 4 percent more for every degree Fahrenheit the atmosphere warms) and transport more moisture into an area.

Swain said that such projected increases in intense dry and wet events was largely a prediction but had not been confirmed in observations. Today, the evidence is strong.

As the world warms, it’s fair to say that we may expect to see more frequent, more intense droughts and wet events,” said Rodell. “Here, we have the evidence that’s already happening.”


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