This summer, climate change got personal

Extreme Weather

This summer, climate change got personal

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Flooding, heat waves, hurricanes and wildfires affect millions around the world, driving home the reality of the climate crisis.

For many, climate change once seemed a distant issue for remote island nations, future planners, or a worry for polar bears. That ended this summer, or as Rolling Stone put it, the Summer From Hell. The crisis got real to millions around the world – in the form of record-setting heatwaves, deadly hurricanes, wildfires run amok, and devastating flooding and drought. The World Meteorological Organization’s latest report says climate-driven natural disasters have increased fivefold over the past five decades. One in three Americans has now been affected by extreme weather. It has cascaded across the globe, from New Jersey to central Africa, Germany to British Columbia, leaving a path of death, destruction and displaced people. Of course, science has been documenting the crisis for decades as glaciers recede, oceans rise and species struggle to survive. But for many people, this was the season climate change got personal. 

Following is a sampling pulled together by Climate & Capital editors. It is by no means a comprehensive of extreme weather events that have directly affected humans around the world since June:

 

California in flames

This wildfire season in California the blazes once again crossed never-before-seen thresholds, with the Caldor fire forcing the evacuation of roughly 22,000 residents living in South Lake Tahoe, and the Dixie fire scorched more than 920,000 acres about 100 miles to the north. Heading into the weekend of Sept. 10-11, forecasters predicted gusting winds and lightning which threatened to worsen the situation, while authorities issued more evacuation orders near the 8-week old Dixie blaze. Image credit: CALFIRE

 

Hurricane Ida hits the U.S. Gulf coast

Hurricane Ida made landfall south of New Orleans with winds of 150 miles per hour, causing severe flooding in large swathes of Louisiana, knocking out power, water and sewer service throughout the parishes along the Gulf Coast. Tens of thousands of evacuees were urged not to return home until services were restored, facing the possibility of weeks or months of waiting. The disaster killed at least 26 in the state, including 11 who died from exposure to extreme heat after the storm passed.

 

Ida’s destructive march to the Atlantic

After moving inland, Ida – downgraded to a tropical storm – carved a path of destruction across the south and up the eastern seaboard as far north as Massachusetts. In New York City and New Jersey dozens died, many when trapped in their basement apartments or cars in fast-rising floodwaters.

 

Kenyans languish amid a prolonged drought

The arid north of Kenya is in its second season of depressed rainfall, which has hit livestock and crops, pushing growing food insecurity. Nearly 2 million people are already in need of assistance, according to ReliefWeb. Continued drought is expected to cause disease outbreaks in addition to malnutrition and exacerbate existing communal tensions.

 

Greece and Turkey battle wildfires

Some of the worst wildfires the region has seen ravaged Mediterranean countries forcing evacuations of residents and tourists in Greece and Turkey. The fires came on the heels of a severe heatwave.

 

Central China deluged by intense rainfall

In central China, a million people were displaced, and dozens died in flooding after a slow-moving storm dumped a year’s worth of rain in three days.

 

Germany and neighbors caught off guard by extreme flooding

Torrential rains in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium caused flooding that killed at least 200, swept away homes and knocked out infrastructure, extreme weather that vastly exceeded scientists’ predictions in scale and severity.

 

Vulnerable communities in central Africa inundated by rising waters 

In central Africa, persistent heavy rains, followed by flooding and landslides have inundated communities along Lake Tanganyika, displaced tens of thousands and wiped out crops. Burundi is the hardest hit, but Tanzania, Zambia and the Congo are also affected. Image credit: IOM 2021/Triffin Ntore

 

Pacific Northwest suffers under a deadly heat dome

Temperatures soared some 30 degrees higher than average in the normally temperate Pacific northwest, scorching communities in parts of Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia, and fueling wildfires. Experts say the heatwave caused hundreds of “excess deaths” above the norm.

Written by

Kari Huus

Kari Huus is a writer and editor based in Seattle. She was a staff reporter for MSNBC.com from 1996-2014, with stints covering international business, foreign policy, and national affairs. Earlier, she reported on China for the Far Eastern Economic Review in Hong Kong, and Newsweek in Beijing. From 2015 to 2020, she was managing editor for the website Money Talks News.