EXTREME WEATHER AND CLIMATE CHANGE - PAKISTAN BURNS, US EAST COAST PREPARES, CENTRAL EUROPE FLOODS

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4 june 2013

Pakistan wilts under record heat wave

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio, Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 4 Jun 2013

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Zulekhan Mumtaz has seen her livelihood as a seller of camel milk turn sour because of a brutal heat wave that left Pakistan sweltering for three weeks in May with temperatures up to 51 degrees Celsius.

“My customers say they can no longer buy spoilt milk and squander their money,” the 31-year-old said, looking at the clotted yellow liquid.

“How can I buy fodder for the camel and food for my two children if the heat wave damages my milk?” she asked, resting with her animal in the shade of a tree in an upscale residential neighbourhood of Islamabad.

Pakistan in recent weeks has suffered its most severe heat wave in decades, with temperatures reaching as high as 51 degrees Celsius (124 Farenheit) on May 19 in Larkana, a city of two million people in southern Sindh province. This was the highest temperature for that month recorded there since 1998, when the mercury had peaked at almost 53 Celsius (127 Fahrenheit).

Lahore, Punjab province’s capital of about 15 million population, was the hottest city in the country on May 24 at 47.4 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit), hotter than any May since 1954.

Such extreme temperatures – which are becoming more common as a result of climate change - are an enormous health threat. They also make almost every function of daily life a nearly intolerable struggle – including, for millions, trying to earn a daily living.

The camel milk vendor Mumtaz, who lives in a shanty village on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital, walks about four miles (6.5 km) daily to set up her roadside stall. Most of her customers are diabetes patients, among whom camel milk is very popular because it is a good source of insulin to help deal with the illness.

But “the heat wave has eroded my livelihood and made my camel sick because of frequent dehydration,” Mumtaz said, adding that the animal’s milk capacity had dropped by 70 percent. She sees her only remaining option as leaving the capital to return to her ancestral village.

Other livestock owners in Chak Shahzad, an area on the edge of the city popular with cattle farmers, report similar problems.

FEARS OF HUMAN, LIVESTOCK DEATHS

In the final week of May, Jamal Khan sold all 19 of his buffalos to a slaughterhouse in the city for about 2.1 million Pakistani rupees ($21,000), because his herd’s daily milk production had declined by 60 percent.

“I had no choice but to sell them, for fear of suffering heavy losses if they die of hyperthermia or repeated bouts of dehydration,” Khan said.

Deaths have not been limited to animals. Although officially confirmed figures of heat-related deaths are not available, local newspapers in Pakistan reported over a hundred deaths since early May.

Residents in most cities, towns and villages have been forced to stay indoors, leaving typically bustling shopping areas and business centres closed, and roads and highways deserted between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Left with limited options to cope with the heat, people have increased their consumption of cold beverages and fresh juices to try beat the sizzling heat and avoid dehydration and heat stroke.

Government hospitals across the country remained on emergency alert throughout much of the last month because of the heat wave.

“We have been advising the visiting patients (to increase) consumption of fresh water, juices, fruits and vegetables”, said Altaf Hussain, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital in Islamabad.

On May 27, rainfall finally brought a significant drop in temperatures to below 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) in the Pakistani provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhuwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab and Balochistan.

But the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) predicted dry and very hot weather across the plains of Sindh province, in the south of the country, for the first week of June. Temperatures in Islamabad have rebounded by 10 degrees to 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) since the end of the month.

According to a meteorological department advisory, the heat wave is unlikely to completely loosen its grip until the beginning of the first monsoon rains, expected in the first week of July.

Qamar-uz-Zaman, vice president for the Asia region at the World Meteorological Department, said that extreme summer temperatures, which have become common during the last few years in Pakistan, can largely be attributed to climatic warming.

CROP LOSSES

Data gleaned last year from 56 meteorological stations throughout Pakistan show a marked increase over recent years in the frequency of heat waves and rising temperatures particularly in the southern plains and coastal areas, according to Ghulam Rasul, a senior weather scientist at the meteorological department.

Reports of severe damage to cotton crops and paddy rice nurseries have come from around the country.

Ibrahim Mughal, chair of Agri Forum Pakistan, said in a phone interview that the heat wave had struck when cotton and rice sowing were at their peak.

“Farmers will have to quickly re-sow their cotton and paddy crops to avoid further harvest losses,” Mughal said.

Pervaiz Amir, an agro-economist and member of the government’s Task Force on Climate Change, said that the heat wave increased the evaporation rate by 20 to 25 percent compared to normal summers. He advised farmers to irrigate their crops more frequently, at least once or twice a week, and to adjust the timing of irrigation to early mornings and late evenings.

He also urged planting of shade and fruit trees along water channels, to cut evaporation of water.

Pakistan’s Environment Protection Agency warned that people in urban areas are at greater health risk from heat waves than those in rural parts of the country, in part because urban areas often absorb more heat.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development correspondents based in Islamabad.
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Intense T-storms more likely to batter a warming world

The Daily Climate June 4, 2013

Forecasting is still difficult but it looks like the world will become a stormier place in the years ahead

By Paul Brown
Climate News Network

LONDON – More intense thunderstorms combined with damaging winds are expected to occur because of climate change, according to speakers at the seventh European Conference on Severe Storms being held in Helsinki, Finland.

But because thunderstorms are small in size on the scale of existing climate models it is not possible to tell whether they will also lead to more tornadoes and larger size hail – two of the most damaging problems associated with severe storms.

In a warmer world, increases in surface temperature and moisture create conditions for more frequent – and intense – thunderstorms, researchers say.

Climate change also decreases the temperature difference between the poles and the equator. It is this temperature difference – when cold and warm air masses collide – that causes dangerous wind sheer, in turn producing the devastating tornadoes such as occurred recently in Oklahoma.

Limits of global models

Due to the limitations of global models, scientists have so far been unable to say whether the risk of tornadoes increases as a result of these twin effects. Harold Brooks, a researcher into severe thunderstorms at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in the Norman, Okla., is optimistic.

"However, most of the research on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in climate change has focused on the United States and it is unclear how well the lessons learned there apply to the rest of the world."

While tornadoes are less of a problem outside the United States, heavy hail frequently causes severe crop losses and property damage in Central and Eastern Europe, across Bangladesh, India and other large land masses. Lightning and large hail also kills people caught out in storms.

In some countries in Eastern Europe special planes are on standby each summer to seed the larger thunderclouds with chemicals to stop the build up of damaging hailstones which can severely damage crops and cause considerable economic loss. Early warnings like air raid sirens are sounded so people can take shelter to avoid injury from hailstones.

Even in Finland, where the severe storms conference is taking place, lightning, strong wind gusts and hail from thunderstorms are the most damaging severe weather incidents.

Paul Brown is an editor of Climate News Network and a former environment correspondent of The Guardian. Climate News Network is a journalism news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and delivering news and commentary about climate change for free to media outlets worldwide.


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Central Europe floods portend a wet future

by Michael Marshall The New Scientist, 04 June 2013

The floods causing havoc across much of central Europe are a portent of things to come as the continent's climate gets stormier.

In the German town of Passau, the waters rose to their highest level since 1501 on 3 June. The floods in Czech capital Prague have since begun to recede but Dresden, Germany, is bracing itself for the river Elbe to rise 5 metres higher than normal.

The risk of floods had been growing for weeks, as a rainy spring left the ground sodden. In Austria, it was the seventh wettest spring since records began in 1858, according to Austria's Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics. So when two months of rain fell in two days, the water had nowhere to go.

While it is premature to pin the heavy rainfall on climate change, it could be partly to blame, says Stéphane Isoard of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. But he says bad land management is just as important. "We build over the land and there is urban sprawl, so there is less opportunity for water to infiltrate the soil." With more floods inevitable because of the wetter weather predicted by climate change, Isoard says Europe needs to adapt to a new world of frequent inundation.

Some work is already underway. Wetlands are being restored around stretches of the Danube in Hungary and Romania away from the current devastation. Green spaces like this can absorb extra water, making floods less severe. Isoard says it is better to use to use such "soft" defences to smooth out the effects of the rising waters since "hard" defences like dykes just lead to violent floods when they break.

"Over the last 20 years, events like this have become more common," says Iain White of the University of Manchester in the UK. Central Europe has improved its flood responses since severe floods struck in 2002, he adds, "but there comes a point where you can't defend" when there's simply too much water.



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