Once in a 100 years?

I’m British so I love talking about the weather, it’s the ultimate conversation gap filler, benign, comforting and always there for you to fall back on.  Often there is no need for a preamble, a simple “cold today” will illicit 3 to 5 minutes of inane chat whilst waiting for a bus or a pint.  Everyone in the UK is born with this ability as part of their birth right, people who move here gain the skill in a matter of seconds and visitors to our fair isle access this skill shortly after clearing passport control.  However, I also travel a lot, both for work and personally and I have noticed a dark and foreboding trend, this quintessentially Britishism has spread to the four corners of the globe.

Bushfires at Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia - 18 Feb 2013

Australian bush fires 2013

Given what has occurred just in 2013, this is unsurprising, the point about the British weather and what used to make it such a constant topic of conversation, was the fact that it was unpredictable but also essentially unremarkable, even boring.  We had some rain but not as much as really wet areas, we have some snow, granted enough to bring little local airports like Heathrow and Gatwick to a complete standstill and to render the public transport system inoperable, but still only a few inches in reality, winds were unremarkable (we had a hurricane in 1984 but it was a small one), floods were rare, fires even rarer… you get the picture.  Granted, the further you travel from London the greater the chance was of encountering more severe weather, but still cataclysmic extreme weather events were rare, so rare in fact that they have a name… “a one in one hundred year event”.  Insurance companies used to use this term and derivatives of it, to help classify risk for insuring businesses.  However, these events are now occurring at an increasingly frequent rate.

The UK has had some bizarre weather over the past 12 months with severe flooding, heatwaves, snow and month vs month temperature differentials, between 2012 and 2013, which are almost unheard of however, globally it was far from quiet…

Some talking points of 2013:

–        Monsoon rains cause severe flooding in Malaysia, 23,000 people evacuated, Jan ‘13

–        Flooding in Mozambique, 250,000 people have to abandon their homes. Jan ‘13

–        Flooding in Indonesia, 100,000 people left homeless, Jan ‘13

–        Hottest month ever experienced in Australia, Jan ‘13

–        Largest snowfall from a single storm ever recorded, NE USA, Feb ‘13

–        Tropical storm Haruna hits Mozambique & Madagascar, Feb ‘13

–        Sever winter storms hit central USA, highest snowfall ever recorded in Kansas, Feb ‘13

–        Flash floods and crops destroyed in Uganda, Mar ‘13

–        New Zealand, worst drought in 30 years, crops fail, livestock slaughtered, Mar ‘13

–        Second warmest March on record in China (warmest was 2008), Mar ‘13

–        Wettest March on record, Spain, ‘13

–        Brazils worst drought for 50 years, Apr ‘13

–        Driest year to date on record, California, Apr ‘13

–        Shortest period between last ice day and summer ever, Austria, Apr ‘13

–        Record flooding in Central US, Apr ‘13

–        China, wettest May in 40 years, ‘13

–        Smallest snow covering in Eurasia since records began, May ‘13

–        1m+ evacuated in Bangladesh due to Cyclone Mahasen, May ‘13

–        Widest observed tornado ever hit Oklahoma, May ‘13

–        Over a 1000 people killed by flash floods, India, Jun ‘13

–        Hottest June temperature ever, Death Valley, Jun ‘13

–        Massive flooding in Europe, $18 Billion in damages, Jun ‘13

–        California Yosemite forest fires, took 2 months to contain, Aug ‘13

–        Colarado’s one in a thousand years flood, Sept ‘13

–        Cyclone Phailin, potentially strongest storm ever observed, Oct ‘13

–        Typhoon Haiyan, 195mph winds ravage the Philippines, Nov, ‘13

Strangely, 2013 was actually a quiet year when compared with 2012 which was really an  extreme year, in fact the last decade has seen some of the hottest, driest, wettest and coldest years since records began.  A recent report by the World Bank estimates losses to extreme weather to be more than $200 billion a year.

Extreme weather is having a massive detrimental effect on farmers worldwide, the high rainfall in China in May turned the world’s biggest corn producer into a net importer in one swift blow.  Droughts in the US will cut USA beef production to below 1994 levels.  Wheat production in the UK has been severely effected by some of the wettest years on record.

2mar26

Farmers can adapt slowly to changes in climate but dealing with extreme events leaves most farmers at a loss.  It’s unclear if extreme weather will stop being classed as extreme as these events start to occur more and more frequently, will they simply become “weather”.  Farming practices are changing to try to adapt to these events, but also the choice of crops will also have to change.

Although these extreme weather events can be devastating the most difficult to deal with, as a farmer, is drought.  A drought is one of the worst natural disasters because it is able to cover wide areas and continue for extended periods of time. Droughts not only affect the direct area, but also the nearby cities that rely on that food and service income. 14% of the United States is affected, on average, by severe to extreme drought annually and this figure is rising steadily each decade.  Food crops are being adapted by a combination of breeding and years of experience however, some crops are already adapted to these environments.  As land becomes degraded through over farming, mismanagement and continually changing environmental factors, making the wrong choice of crop could have devastating effects on some farmers.Map of extreme weathers event that hit Australia during Summer 2012/2013

 TerViva’s goal is to help farmers do more, with less, by addressing the fundamental issues around the changing environment and enabling farmers to continue to farm land that would otherwise be unproductive.

Matt Willis is TerViva’s Director of international markets.

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