2013 On Track to Be One of the Hottest Years Ever

This year is on track to be one of the hottest since record keeping began, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Meteorological Association (WMO). The report also found that global sea levels reached a record high in March 2013 and extreme weather events continued to devastate communities around the world.

Rising sea levels are already wreaking havoc on coastal communities, making them a target for increased storm surges and coastal flooding. The most recent example of this trend is the tragic toll of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, possibly the most powerful storm ever recorded.

“Although individual tropical cyclones cannot be directly attributed to climate change, higher sea levels are already making coastal populations more vulnerable to storm surges. We saw this with tragic consequences in the Philippines,” Michel Jarraud, head of the WMO, told Agence France-Presse.

Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Jeff Masters with Weather Underground echoed that sentiment in an interviewwith PBS on Wednesday. While the lack of records for typhoons make it difficult to detect patterns in previous storms, future predictions for climate change are clear: “As you warm up the oceans, you will tend to make the strongest storms stronger,” Masters said.

Trenberth noted that in the Philippines, sea levels have risen by nearly four times the global rate and “sea temperatures are higher by over a degree Fahrenheit or so on a global basis because of global warming, because of human influences.” These factors combine with warmer, moister air to fuel major storms like Haiyan. “The environment that all of these storms are occurring in is simply different than it used to be because of human activities,” Trenberth said.

The WMO report found that the first nine months of 2013 tied with 2003 as the seventh warmest such period since modern data collection began in 1850. Other extremes this year have included record heatwaves in Australia, floods from Sudan to Europe, and Japan’s warmest summer on record, the WMO said.

The report, released to coincide with the start of the international climate negotiations in Warsaw, follows another alarming report from the agency last week. WMO said that in 2012, concentrations of greenhouse gases hit a record high of 393.1 parts per million, a rise of 2.2 parts per million over the previous year. The global average atmospheric concentration of CO2 — the most important long-lived greenhouse gas — has increased by 41 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750.

The agency said it anticipates greenhouse gases will reach an unprecedented level in 2013 yet again and as humans continue to pump increasing amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the risk of severe climate-driven impacts will only become more acute. “The risk is getting much, much higher, and vulnerability is getting higher,” said Jarraud.

Along with a greater frequency of destructive weather events, experts predict a host of other impacts that will accompany climate change, including water shortages, decreased food supplies, and disease — impacts that will hit the most vulnerable populations hardest. “Unfortunately, the people who are least to blame for emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere are the ones that are suffering the worst. It’s the people in Africa, in the Philippines,” Trenberth said. “The poorer countries are really feeling the impacts of these sorts of extreme events we have seen lately.”

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