Katrina turned the weather into the year’s biggest news event, as the natural world against which Bush has made war since 2000 decided to send back a return salvo. The storm quickly became a political portent for both ends of the spectrum, with Christian conservatives interpreting the supposed fetal shape of Katrina to be a pro-life meteorological statement sent by a vengeful Lord to ravage the Gulf of Mexico, and the sane world noting apprehensively that hurricane season has been worsening with steadily increasing ocean-surface temperatures. Bad as it was, the scientists added, 2005’s weather is just a taste of what’s to come. Here’s the rest of the year in bad weather.
1. 2005 was the hottest year on record. This year’s global average temperature topped the previous record, set in 1998.
2. The Amazon River basin experienced its worst drought in recorded history.
3. The National Climate Data Center (NCDC) reported that nine of the 10 warmest years in history have occurred in the past decade.
4. Satellite monitoring in September revealed that the summer Arctic sea ice has shrunk as much as 40 percent since monitoring began in the late 1970s. At the current rate of decline, there will be no summer Arctic ice pack within two decades.
5. Multiple studies showed that the higher average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere over the last decade are unprecedented over the past 2,000 years.
6. Swiss and U.S. climatologists working in Antarctica built “EPICA Dome C,” the longest ice-core record to date. Gas bubbles trapped in ice crystals record the atmospheric compositions over time. From this, researchers reported that today’s levels of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, are higher now than at any time in the past 650,000 years.
7. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico this summer were the highest since measurements began in 1890.
8. The warm waters contributed to the year’s record-breaking hurricane season, with 26 named storms forming in the Atlantic. Fourteen became hurricanes, and Katrina, Rita and Wilma created an unprecedented triumvirate of category 5 storms. The NOAA also exhausted its pre-assigned list of storm names, and for the first time had to turn to the Greek alphabet. On the last official day in hurricane season, tropical storm Epsilon strengthened into a hurricane.
9. Wilma played second fiddle to Katrina despite being the stronger storm. In Florida, Wilma was “the Big One” they’ve been expecting for a century. It knocked out the power for weeks, and left a destruction path wider than any previous hurricane in the state. With a central ultralow pressure of 882 millibars, Wilma surpassed 1988’s Gilbert as the strongest hurricane on record.
10. Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology reported in the May issue of Science that the long-term process of global dimming, a diminishing of the sun’s effects caused by an accumulation of particulate matter in the atmosphere, began to turn around in 1990. Since global dimming has a cooling effect, its decline could speed the effects of global warming.
11. Researchers on a scientific expedition in the Atlantic Ocean discovered that the strength of the current that drives the Gulf Stream — and bathes Britain and Northern Europe in warm waters from the tropics each summer — has slowed by 30 percent in just the past decade. Thought to be a consequence of global warming, the weakened current could trigger severe winters and cooler summers on both sides of the North Atlantic.
12. Outlandish weather effects materialized all over the world. On July 26, 37 inches of rain fell in Mumbai, India’s financial center, during one 24-hour period. Four hundred thirty-eight people drowned or were buried in landslides in India’s highest recorded rainfall. A record 22 tornadoes hit Southwest Australia in May, causing the state’s most expensive natural disaster. In October, 78.9 inches of snow fell on Mount Washington in New Hampshire, nearly doubling the previous record of 39.8 inches, set in 2000.