The weather in Portugal and everywhere else in the
world has been bizarre this January and past year. Climate experts warn it is
likely to get worse the rest of this year and much worse in 2024.
Despite bright sunshine and blue skies in keeping
with our reputation for mild winters, the Algarve, along with all 17 other
districts in Portugal, has been under an extended yellow cold weather alert
In contrast, this year started with at least eight
European countries recording their warmest early January ever. Bilbao in
northern Spain saw temperatures jump by 10C from the normal average to 21.9C.
In Belarus, which would now normally average -4.5C, temperatures have hit
16.4C. Southern France basked in beach weather of nearly 30C. In the United
States, New York and other eastern cities have had the least snow in five
decades. But deadly cold is now gripping Japan and other East Asian countries.
Last year was the second warmest ever recorded in
Europe. It was just marginally cooler than 2019-20. Portugal, north to south,
suffered severe or extreme droughts throughout much of 2022 because of heat
waves. July temperatures peaked at 44C in places. Pouring rain later flooded
cities, including Lisbon and Faro. Devastating floods in Germany took the lives
of 184 people and will cost an estimated €30 billion in damage recovery.
Wildfires raged in Turkey, Greece and Italy. In the United Kingdom,
temperatures topped 40C for the first time ever and the British Met Office for
the first time ever issued a red heat warning.
Fierce hurricanes tore across the US causing
massive damage and fuelling chilling floods in some regions, droughts in
others. From wildfires in Algeria to extensive flooding in South Africa, every
country in the African continent was affected by severe weather conditions.
Pakistan was the worst hit in Asia with floods over
an estimated 10%-12% of the country that killed 1,739 people. More than 200
days of heat waves in India started well before the normal monsoon season and
brought the country to a virtual standstill. Scorching heat in drought-stricken
parts of China crippled hydroelectric power and agricultural production, while
other parts of the country shivered in the abnormal cold. Down south wasn’t
spared either. Australia had a lot of flooding and New Zealand issued 182 severe
weather warnings. The Antarctic ice sheet, which contains 90% of the planet’s
surface freshwater, is rapidly melting. This is raising sea levels that could
permanently flood or submerge many cities around the world.
The increasing devastation to societies, economies
and biodiversity is due largely to the continued use of fossil fuels and
emissions of greenhouse gasses. The level of emissions is not yet decreasing.
Another important factor in the expectations that extreme weather will
worsen is a return of El Niño. This natural climate phenomenon is much more
dangerous than its opposite number, La Niña,
which has been in force for the past three years. El Niño
is predicted to take its turn this summer, perhaps as early as June, and
create much hotter temperatures.
El Niño and La Niña work
by using the east to west trade winds that blow over the waters of the
equatorial Pacific Ocean. When the winds are relatively strong, La Niña pushes
warm surface current in a way that allows cold water to come up from the
depths. When the winds become much lighter, El Niño resumes, allowing surface currents to further warm while smothering the
cold water below. Both La Niña and El Niño shift the
normal position of the mid-latitude jet stream. The combined effect is a huge
surge of weather changes across the world.
According to scientific predictions, later this
year or next year El Niño could join with
existing global warming patterns to produce temperatures as high as the
critical 1.5C to 2C limit that would unleash global catastrophe.