Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Floods, landslides, fire and drought: Extreme weather the norm in 2011

By Matthew Knight, CNN
updated 11:35 AM EST, Wed December 7, 2011
Water <a href='http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2011/01/world/gallery.large.australia.flood/page.03.html'>swelled over the banks of the Fitzroy RIver </a>in Rockhampton, Queensland inundating the city with muddy brown water as floods engulfed the southeast of the state in January. Water swelled over the banks of the Fitzroy RIver in Rockhampton, Queensland inundating the city with muddy brown water as floods engulfed the southeast of the state in January.
HIDE CAPTION
Flooding in Australia
Landslides in Brazil
Lone Star State sizzles
Mississippi River floods
Tornado tears across Massachusetts
Drought, then flooding in East Africa
Hurricane Irene barrels in
Summer sea ice second lowest on record
Floods swamp Thailand
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 2011 was the 10th warmest on record according to World Meteorological Organization
  • Status report says La Nina event "closely associated" with 2011 extreme weather
  • Severe regional flooding experienced across Northeast U.S., Southeast Asia and Africa
  • Arctic sea ice extent was second lowest on record -- 35% below 1979-2000 average

London (CNN) -- Global mean temperatures this year might not have scaled the record-equaling heights of 2010, but it's been another tumultuous 12 months.

According to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) provisional status report, issued at the United Nations climate talks in Durban, 2011 was the 10th warmest year on record and warmer than any other year with a La Nina event.

La Nina -- an opposite weather pattern to El Nino which cools surface waters in the eastern and central Pacific -- occurs two to three times a decade on average, says climatologist and scientific coordinator of the WMO statement Blair Trewin.

This most recent one -- which started in the second half of 2010 and continued until May this year -- has been one of the strongest in the past 60 years, says the WMO, and was "closely associated" with many of the regional weather events that have dominated the headlines throughout the year.

January saw floods in northeast Australia -- the worst in Queensland's capital, Brisbane since 1974 -- and deadly landslides caused by a deluge of rain in Brazil.

The appalling disaster in a mountainous region around 60 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro claimed at least 900 lives, according to the WMO, making it the single most deadly weather event of the year.

Heavy rains also caused many regions of the world to flood in 2011 including parts of southern Africa, Central America and southern states of Europe.

But is was major flooding in Southeast Asia that dominated the news as the year came to a close, wiping out more than 650 lives in Thailand, and dozens more in neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia.

Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming...
Michel Jarraud, WMO secretary-general

Rainfall during June to September's monsoon season in northern and central Thailand was up to 80% higher than the seasonal average, says the WMO.

The situation came to a head in October as already inundated natural waterways combined with high tides to swamp the Thai capital Bangkok.

Among the other more notable extremes of weather in 2011, says Trewin, were the huge weather disparities experienced in the U.S.

The WMO reported 14 separate climate events this year in the U.S. which they estimate caused losses upwards of $1 billion.

Heavy snow fell across southern and Midwestern states -- including Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri in February.

April and May played host to one of the most active tornado seasons on record, according to the WMO, and the Mississippi River suffered its worst floods in nearly 80 years.

But 600 miles west in Texas a drought was taking hold and wildfires raged.

Summer temperatures in the Lone Star State averaged 30.4 degrees Celsius (86.7 degrees Fahrenheit) -- 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the long-term average, according to the WMO and the highest-ever recorded in any American state.

All the while, many northeastern states and parts of southern Canada were experiencing their wettest year on record -- the most severe flooding coming in the wake of Hurricane Irene in late August and Tropical Storm Lee which followed quickly on her heels.

Elsewhere, the Horn of Africa endured a terrible drought which put up to 12 million people at risk of starvation until October's rains eased the threat. But such was their intensity -- Wajir, northeast Kenya received more rain in six weeks (402 millimeters) than the annual average -- it led to crop damage, says the WMO.

The general warming trend -- 13 of the warmest years have occurred in the 15 years since 1997 -- was highlighted by summer sea ice melt in the Arctic.

The WMO reported that the seasonal minimum, reached on September 9, was 35% below the 1979-2000 average and the second-lowest on record with both the Northwest and Northeast passages ice free for periods during the summer.

"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming ..." WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said on publication of the provisional report.

Human activities are to blame, Jarraud says, and temperatures are "rapidly approaching" a level which scientists believe could kick-start "far-reaching and irreversible" climate change.

Final figures for 2011's weather will be published by the WMO in March next year.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 2:18 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT