2015 is a Year for the Record Books, 2016 Starts with Floods
On January 4, Munich RE, a global reinsurance company that does detailed analyses of loss and damage due to natural hazards, released a review of the impacts of disasters in 2015 (Munich RE). For many, accustomed to only negative references to El Niño, even the headline of the release is a surprise: “El Niño curbs losses from natural catastrophes in 2015.” Losses in 2015 were, in fact, “the lowest losses of any year since 2009… also below the long-term inflation-adjusted average for the period 1985–2014.” Nonetheless, the analysts note that disasters “claimed 23,000 lives, substantially more than the previous year’s figure of 7,700. However, the number of victims was still some way below the annual average for the last 30 years (54,000).”
The explanation of how El Niño, not generally considered a welcome climate effect, is said to have “curbed” or reduced losses has largely to do with the global reach of the phenomenon, which includes helping “to curtail the development of heavy storms” in the North Atlantic.
However, both North and South America ended 2015 and entered 2016 coping with damaging floods, widely understood to be El Niño-related. As early as December 15, flooding in Paraguay and its immediate neighbors in South America were negatively impacted. While Flood waters are still high in many areas and disaster response is underway (ECHO), the government of Paraguay is now placing a great deal of attention on the disaster-related threats to public health (GoP). On January 5, the Office of the President released, by way of the Ministry of Public Health, an assurance that “the national government [has]… built up and mobilized in the most flooded areas units dedicated to family health.” President Horacio Cartes, the release explains, is visiting flood-damaged areas and their health facilities.
El Niño is also implicated in the record-breaking Hurricane Season in the Central Pacific. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2015 Summary shows “numerous records for high activity levels shattered along the way.” There were 15 tropical cyclones in around the state of Hawaii during the season (June 1 to November 30), breaking a longstanding record on 11 and surpassing the average of 4 or 5. Then, far outside the season, today, January 7, another Tropical Depression formed in the Central Pacific, called 1C. (NASA)
Current Hazard Warnings
Drought: Africa, Columbia, Puerto Rico, United States (West)
Floods: Argentina, Australia (Queensland, New South Wales), Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Scotland, England, United States (Midwest, Southeast, Texas)
Severe Weather: Poland, United States (NW Alaska, western and southern states)
Wildfire: Australia (Western Australia)
Biomedical: West Africa.
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