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Unusual number of climate extremes struck in 2021

A new study conducted by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in collaboration with the UK Met Office has reviewed a series of unprecedented climate extremes in China, North America, and Europe in 2021. The experts described the occurrence of an unusually high number of extreme weather events in these regions over the past year, and most were likely caused by a mix of internal, natural variability and anthropogenic climate change.

In 2021 – the sixth warmest year since 1881 – the weather in China was marked by many unusual events, including rapid transitions from cold to warm extremes and sandstorms in the spring, massive droughts in the southern part of the country and severe thunderstorms and floods in the eastern regions in the spring, debilitating heatwaves and persistent heavy rainfall in the Henan and Hubei provinces in the summer, and a widespread cold surge during autumn. 

The United States also witnessed extreme cold conditions early in the year, while western Canada faced record-breaking heatwaves in the summer. Europe was not spared either: the catastrophic floods from July killed at least 243 people in countries including Germany, Belgium, and Austria. 

This short review, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, is expected to serve as a reference for future climate events attribution, process understanding, and high-resolution modelling of extreme events. 

“Our report has highlighted the need to develop an operational real-time system of rapid event attribution in China to facilitate the understanding of climate extremes, and further, to adapt to and mitigate the ongoing climate change,” explained study lead author Tianjun Zhou, an expert in climate modelling at the Institute for Atmospheric Research.

“Although individual events cannot usually be attributed themselves to climate change, the likelihood of some of them has been altered as a part of climate change,” added study co-author Dr. Robin Clark, a researcher studying climate extremes at the UK Met Office.

If measures to mitigate global warming are not urgently taken, the frequency and severity of such extreme weather events will likely increase significantly over the next years and decades, putting at risk a large number of ecosystems, and creating increasingly harsh conditions for all forms of life on our planet, including humans.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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