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In Depth

Kyoto and beyond

2005's record weather

Last Updated December 6, 2005

Anyone who works in the business of monitoring, forecasting or reporting weather already knows that 2005 was a busy year indeed. But climate change scientists say they've got the stats to show that, when it comes to wild weather, 2005 is now the year to beat.

The World Wildlife Fund has labelled 2005 as a year for the climate-change record books. Scientists are alarmed by the long-term implications of such extremes – for farming, for fishing, for wildlife, and of course, for the six billion humans who live on the planet.

Hurricane forecasters point out that hurricanes tend to run in natural cycles of severity that tend to repeat every few decades or so – and we're in one of those stormy cycles now. But that alone may not explain why 2005 was such a record hurricane season … or why we saw so many other climate records.

Most climatologists are also pointing their fingers at global warming. They say it's no coincidence that such extreme weather is all happening at the same time in such disparate areas of the world. And they say they're all the kinds of conditions that climate change science has been predicting for years.

Among the records broken in 2005:

Hottest year ever: The global average temperature was slightly (0.06 degrees Celsius) warmer than 1998's average, when the warming Pacific currents spawned by El Nino made that year the warmest on record.

Least Arctic ice ever: The area covered by Arctic sea ice (the thick stuff that doesn't melt in the summer) in September 2005 was the least that satellites have ever recorded. The perennial sea ice cover has been shrinking by 9.8 per cent every decade.

Hottest Caribbean waters ever: Measurements taken throughout the Caribbean by regional monitoring systems show that water temperatures were hotter for longer than ever before. The WWF said that resulted in extensive bleaching of coral reefs. "Only this year's record-breaking hurricane activity limited additional bleaching," it said.

Worst Atlantic hurricane season ever: Actually, 2005 saw several records broken during the Atlantic hurricane season:

  • Most named storms ever: There were 26 named storms in Atlantic waters in 2005 – so many that the official name list was exhausted and had to move into the Greek alphabet for the last five storms of the season.
  • Most named hurricanes ever: There were 14 hurricanes in 2005, eclipsing the previous record of 12. The last hurricane of the season, Epsilon, formed up just before the official end of hurricane season on Nov. 30 and was still churning in the Atlantic during the first week of December.
  • Most Category 5 storms ever: No fewer than three hurricanes in 2005 had winds over 249 kilometres an hour, crossing over into the rarely-reached top category.
  • Most intense hurricane ever: Hurricane Wilma's internal pressure reading of 882 millibars was the lowest ever recorded for an Atlantic hurricane. And Wilma was the fastest-strengthening storm on record. In just 24 hours, its highest winds increased by 169 kilometres an hour as it swirled over those warm Caribbean waters.
  • Most hurricane damage ever: The damage estimates are still being compiled. But insurance industry estimates put the total losses from hurricane Katrina alone at more than $100 billion US. The U.S. Congress has estimated the cost of rebuilding the New Orleans and Gulf Coast following Katrina at $200 billion US. And while Katrina wasn't the deadliest hurricane ever, its 1,300-plus fatalities made it the highest toll since 1928.
Record droughts: The WWF says 2005 saw a continuation of drought conditions around the planet. It cited 2005's drought in the Amazon as a "multidecadal if not century record" and noted that the western U.S. continued its multi-year drought.

Forecasters say hurricane severity goes in cycles, suggesting that 2006 could be another bad year. Add in global warming and some climatologists say new weather records are just waiting to be set.

Sources: World Wildlife Fund, U.S. National Hurricane Center, World Meteorological Organization, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NOAA

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