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Posted at 10:55 AM ET, 01/ 9/2009

Top International Weather Events: 2008

By Steve Tracton

* The Latest on Tomorrow's Wintry Mix: Full Forecast | InaugurationCast *

Guest contributor Robert Henson recently ran down his selection of highest impact U.S. weather events of 2008 (1-5, 6-10), while CWG's Ann Posegate reviewed her choice of last year's top D.C. area weather stories.

Weather, of course, knows no boundaries. Year in and year out, extreme weather from around the world offers a treasure trove of fascinating phenomena, many of which have sobering consequences for those in harm's way. International weather can also have significant impacts in the U.S.

Keep reading for my selection of the top 2008 international weather events...

For example, floods and droughts in agricultural centers around the globe can lead to food shortages and price increases in supermarkets here; tropical storms that devastate foreign lands can mean massive U.S. financial aid, ultimately affecting your taxes; and ocean storms can disrupt shipping of imports and exports (and provide great waves for surfing in California and Hawaii!).

I don't ascribe significance to the ordering, since generally I find it too difficult to judge the importance of any single event -- both weather conditions and impacts on human activities, life and property must go into such judgements. Note, too, that I'm avoiding (for now) the question that some might ask about possible links between extreme weather events and climate change.

Cyclone Nargis, a monstrous Category 4 hurricane that developed over the North Indian Ocean, struck Burma (also known as Myanmar) on May 2. It was not only 2008's most deadly tropical cyclone (estimated 150,000 people killed), but also believed to be second only to Typhoon Nina (1975) as the deadliest named storm on record. See these posts on Nargis from the Capital Weather Gang: Inside the Burma Cyclone and Bangladesh's Example for a Post-Nargis World.

On March 1-2 heavy rains accompanied by hurricane force winds (up to an estimated 125 mph) ripped across central Europe. Thirteen people were killed along the storm's trail of destruction (tens of millions of dollars), which included cars blown off roads, roofs ripped off houses, thousands of felled trees, and bridges collapsed into flooded rivers. It was this storm that led to the near crash (and remarkable, must-see video) of a Lufthansa Airbus A320 as it attempted to land at Hamburg International Airport during high winds.


Flooding of the Kosi River, between Nepal and India, on Sept. 2, 2008 (top), and pre-flood conditions in June (bottom). Courtesy NOAA. Click here to enlarge image.

The 2008 Southeast Asian Monsoon season started earlier than it has in more than a century, and was among the deadliest and most destructive seasons on record. Massive flooding from torrential monsoon rains between June and September resulted in 2,600 deaths and displaced millions of people from inundated villages throughout southern Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Vietnam.

Tropical Cyclone Ivan, a borderline Category 4 hurricane, slammed into Madagascar on Feb. 17. Ivan has been described as one of the strongest ever to hit the island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa. It was blamed for at least 22 deaths.

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 26, a series of winter storms walloped large portions of southern and central China with heavy snow, icing and extreme cold. The winter weather -- China's worst in half a century -- is blamed for 129 deaths and caused massive disruptions in power and transportation, just as millions of Chinese were traveling through the country in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

In South America, a large part of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay experienced a prolonged and intense drought during most of 2008, which caused severe damage to agriculture. Heavy rainfall in November caused severe flooding and deadly mudslides in southern Brazil. In what is considered the country's worst weather disaster ever, dozens were left dead and millions isolated in cities behind overflowing rivers.

Widespread heavy rains with severe thunderstorms, damaging winds, hail, and flash floods occurred across much of Australia in November. These events largely ended a long-term drought characterized by severe water shortages and extensive crop failures.

Though I've not found it on any list of top weather events of 2008, my sentimental favorite goes to the remarkable and unusual hail (or was it snow?) storm in the vicinity of Exeter in southwest England.

By Steve Tracton  | January 9, 2009; 10:55 AM ET
Categories:  International Weather, Tracton  
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