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Top 5 extreme international weather events of 2011

An aerial view of a flooded field and monastery school in Bangkok. Flooding in Thailand was one of the top five international weather events of 2011. (Paula Bronstein, Getty Images)

Related link: NASA scientist warns “climate dice” loaded for more extreme weather

Let’s take a look at the top 5 extreme weather events to occur outside the U.S. in 2011:

1. Drought in East Africa

A pregnant Somali woman at a refugee camp outside Dadaab, Kenya. (Jerome Delay, Associated Press)

Fortunately, recent rains have helped alleviate drought conditions. Yet the situation remains precarious in Somalia, where at least 4 million people were still in need of food aid as of late October.

Consistent with studies on the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the East African drought was likely influenced by La Niña conditions in the Eastern Pacific that began in late 2010 and lasted through much of 2011. Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters takes a more in-depth look at the role of Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures on shifting atmospheric circulations over East Africa. Summarizing scientific research, Masters suggests that a warmer Indian Ocean could bring more sinking air to East Africa, depriving the region of moisture and vital rains in the coming decades

2. Flooding in Thailand

Residents walk through a flooded street in Bangkok adorned with portraits of the Thai king and queen (Saeed Khan, AFP/Getty Images)

Like other extreme weather events this year, the Southeast Asian flooding has been linked to La Niña. Yet it also highlights the risk that rising sea levels pose for the world’s low-lying coastal populations. Jeff Masters provides an excellent summary of the economic impact that more frequent floods could bring the country later this century. On a similar note, CWG’s Andrew Freedman offers a sobering look at the disruption brought to the country’s technology and manufacturing sector.

See a comprehensive photo gallery, video, and aerial satellite images of the flooding

3. Tropical storm Washi in the Philippines

Remains of houses, toppled trucks and uprooted trees lie along a flood-ravaged area in the city of Cagayan de Oro in the southern Philippines. (Froilan Gallardo, Associated Press)

Washi’s catastrophic impact was largely due to heavy rains that caused mudslides and flash floods. Some areas received up to 8” of rain in only 24 hours, inundating low-lying areas on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. From a meteorological perspective, Washi produced somewhat unusual rainfall for the time of year. Jeff Masters notes that sea surface temperatures were about 1ºC above average off the coast of the Philippines, which likely added to the moisture content of the storm.

A common thread in some of the deadliest weather events is a lack of emergency preparedness. However significant the rainfall, Washi’s death toll would likely have been lower if locals had received adequate warning that the storm was coming (see photos of the storm’s destruction).

4. Year of the typhoon, earthquake and tsunami in Japan

Police officers in rain gear regulate vehicles moving across a flooded national route in Toyokawa on Wednesday Sept. 21, 2011 as powerful Typhoon Roke lashes central Japan with heavy rains and sustained winds of up to 100 mph (162 kph). (Associated Press)

Satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Roke as it approaches Japan. (NASA)

Although Typhoon Roke’s damage was minimal compared to the 2011 earthquake, the storm caused over 200,000 power outages and kept an already battered nation on edge. The earthquake/tsunami was not directly weather-related, but it is worth mentioning here due to its status as the worst natural disaster the year.

5. Flash floods in Brazil

While flooding in Queensland, Australia was a significant weather story in early 2011, a flash flood in Brazil will take the fifth spot for being such an intense, small-scale event. On Jan. 11-12, quick-hitting and torrential rains killed 903 people in flash floods and mudslides outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The high death toll made it the deadliest weather event in Brazil’s history. Nearly 12 inches of rain fell in under 24 hours, over twice the average rainfall for the entire month of January.

Video: Torrential rains in a two-day period caused treacherous flooding and killed hundreds of people outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Jeff Masters of Weather Underground reports that near record sea surface temperatures in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean might have played a role in drawing abundant moisture into the atmosphere. In January 2011, sea surface temperatures off the coast of Brazil were over 1ºC above average, the second highest on record


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