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2023 extreme weather events: What is causing a year of disasters, from Hurricane Idalia to Greek wildfires?

Flames burning vegetation during a wildfire near Prodromos, Greece  (Spyros Bakalis / AFP via Getty Images)
Flames burning vegetation during a wildfire near Prodromos, Greece (Spyros Bakalis / AFP via Getty Images)

In extreme weather headlines this week, Florida is picking up the pieces after an “extremely dangerous” hurricane, and Greece became home to the “largest wildfire ever recorded in EU”.

Believed to be fuelled by drastically evolving climate conditions, this summer’s severe weather has felt more intense and deadly than in previous years.

Experts predict that nations will continue to bear the brunt of increasingly severe weather conditions unless we dramatically curb emissions and tackle climate change.

Let’s look at the extreme weather events that are happening now and what has caused them.

A resident in Tarpon Spring, Florida, wades through floods as Hurricane Idalia hits (Joe Raedle / Getty Images))
A resident in Tarpon Spring, Florida, wades through floods as Hurricane Idalia hits (Joe Raedle / Getty Images))

Hurricane Idalia, United States

Earlier this week, Category 3 storm Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida before carving a path of destruction up the coast. Alongside gusts of wind that ramped up to 125mph, residents witnessed terrifying surges that destroyed neighbourhoods, tore up trees, and devastated properties.

Although scientists haven’t directly attributed Hurricane Idalia to climate change, it’s been recognised in past hurricane seasons that warmer water temperatures can make storms more severe. A study also found that human-caused climate change contributed to more rain during extreme storms.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, these extreme storms are also proving more costly than ever. The outlet explains that before Hurricane Idalia, there were 15 confirmed climate-related natural disasters in the US, each of which cost more than $1 billion.

Wildfires, Greece

A Skycrane flies over a wildfire spreading near Archanes, north of Athens (Spyros Bakalis / AFP via Getty Images)
A Skycrane flies over a wildfire spreading near Archanes, north of Athens (Spyros Bakalis / AFP via Getty Images)

EU officials have described a wildfire that broke out in Greece as the largest single blaze recorded in the bloc since the European Forest Fire Information System began recording data in 2000.

Burning through the Alexandroupolis and Evros region, firefighters have now been battling the blaze for 13 days. The fire has destroyed homes and forests, and is to blame for 20 of last week’s fire-related deaths.

Authorities are yet to identify the cause of the most recent wildfires.

During previous wildfires that happened in Greece this summer, authorities suggested that the blazes were likely caused by arsonists. However, climate scientists earlier this year concluded that European heatwaves have been made much more likely because of climate change.

Flash floods, Italy

Flooded area caused by heavy rains across Italy’s Emilia Romagna region (Antonio Masiello / Getty Images)
Flooded area caused by heavy rains across Italy’s Emilia Romagna region (Antonio Masiello / Getty Images)

Heavy rain has triggered landslides in Northern Italy this week, with rescue teams and firefighters responding to more than 100 incidents linked to the flash flooding.

According to Euronews, authorities raised the Mosé barrier to stop high water levels from flooding the city of Venice. There’s also been unprecedented flooding across other parts of Europe throughout the summer months.

Euronews claims that the weather phenomenon El Niño, and climate change, may be to blame for the season of extreme weather.

Super Typhoon, China

Today (Thursday, August 31), Chinese authorities issued its highest typhoon warning as Super Typhoon Saola neared the shoreline. The typhoon has picked up speeds of more than 200 kph and is heading in the direction of Hong Kong and Guangdong province.

The incoming typhoon is understood to have grown in intensity as a result of warm waters in the Pacific.

What is causing extreme weather in 2023?

Many studies suggest that human activity has indirectly contributed to more extreme weather. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), extreme weather is “the new norm”.

Alvaro Silva, a climate expert from the WMO, said: “This is the new normal and does not come as a surprise.”

He added: “The frequency and intensity of many extremes, such as heatwaves and heavy precipitation, have increased in recent decades. There is high confidence that human-induced climate change from greenhouse emissions is the main driver. This gives us the long-term context for the increasing occurrence and severity of such extreme weather and extreme events.”