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Extreme Weather: Floods, Wildfires, & Heatwaves Underscoring the New Reality

The startling and horrifying images captured in Europe’s ground with streets, houses, and beautiful villages alongside rivers furiously washed away by the lightning-fast floodwater. Scientists fear that the devastating floods in one side of the world, devastating wildfires in one, and extreme heatwaves in the other may be the new norm. Climate change-driven these extreme weather events will soon be more common and widespread.

But, how climate change is fueling such calamitous weather events? And how should the world adapt to the new reality?

Extreme Weather Event: The Unfolding Nightmare

Desolating floods in Europe

For decades scientists have warned about the disastrous impacts of climate change, and in just one week, we have confronted three live examples: Wildfires in Syberia, crushing floods in Europe, and intense heatwaves in the US and Canada.

The once-in-a-century flood in Belgium, Netherland, and Germany has killed more than 150 people while thousands are still being rescued. The streaming floodwater swept away, submerged villages, and triggering copious landslides. Picturesque German towns, nestled into the bends of the Ahr river are now submerged in mud and debris. The flood triggered by extreme rainfall forced more than 10,000 people to leave their houses. Mass evacuation of people stuck amidst the flood is still being carried out.

Flooding was due to a storm that lashed parts of western Europe on Wednesday, dropping up to six inches of rain before finally stopping on Friday. Though the floodwater hit Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, the worst flooding occurred in Germany, where 125 people died and the death toll is expected to rise. In Germany over the weekend, devastation and mud were left behind by the floodwaters, revealing the true extent of the destruction brought by the floods. The event was described as the “worst natural disaster” by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Blazing Wildfire in Syberia & Canada

As a result of raging wildfires, Yakutsk, Russian, and 50 other settlements in Siberia were engulfed in heavy smoke on Sunday, forcing the airport to temporarily close. Russian is sending plain to put out the wildfire. Till now over 800,000 hectares of forest area have turned into ashes in one of the coldest places on earth. Though wildfires are a common occurrence, in the region, experts are concerned about their increasing frequency and intensity.

A dangerous wildfire is also sweeping in the US and Canada. In Klamath country, Oregon, the wildfire, size of New York has been burning for over nine days; putting the countries again in simmering danger of heatwave in the upcoming weeks.

Fighfighters in California struggle to bring a wildfire under control
Source: DW/ Wind and heat combine to create devastating fires

The Human-made Catastrophe

Wildfires, floods, and heatwaves have always been there, but human intervention is making them worse. For example, the six hottest years in the history of humans have all occurred after 2014. Using computed model and statistical analysis, researchers have found the lethal ‘heat dome‘ causing the heatwave in American and Canada and prolonged heatwave in Siberia have become 150 and 600 times more probable respectively.

Many experts suspect the disruption in the jet stream to be behind the previously unimaginable spike in the rainfall. At Cologne’s Stammheim station, the rainfall on Wednesday (155mm) smashed the country’s previous high record of 95mm. The temperatures of Lyton went a staggering 5C higher than the previous Canadian heat record. One of the theories describes these nightmarish worst-case scenario results as a consequence of the melting Arctic ice which is making the Jet stream more and more erratic.

In normal conditions, these frightening events could be the few examples of extreme weather calamities, but in this era of climate change which has gotten out of the grip, such events are likely to become the new norm.

Extreme Weather: How To adapt To The New Reality?

The past year has witnessed a huge shift of global leader outlook towards climate change, where major countries like China, the US, and Canada are committing to deeper emission cuts. Though cutting carbon emissions is the way to a more sustainable planet, the threshold of climate change causing extreme weather has long been passed.

A few decades ago the physical adaptation with the rising sea level and coastal areas were discussed; but seeing today’s scenario, the government should focus on the adaptation of more diversified land use. The opportunities for people living the perilous risk of floods and other calamities must be increased in the areas where such risks are rather low. Governments are working towards integrating disaster management with economic planning at the national and international levels.

The math of climate change is simple, the more we emit, the more the planet is going to warm up, and more people suffer. Though such extreme events don’t often lead to social mobilization, the increasing interest of people, especially youth around the area of sustainability is perhaps impacting the social engagement of people with the topic of climate change.