The weather in Portugal and everywhere else in the world has been bizarre this January and past year. Climate experts warn it is likely to get worse the rest of this year and much worse in 2024.
Despite bright sunshine and blue skies in keeping with our reputation for mild winters, the Algarve, along with all 17 other districts in Portugal, has been under an extended yellow cold weather alert lately.
In contrast, this year started with at least eight European countries recording their warmest early January ever. Bilbao in northern Spain saw temperatures jump by 10C from the normal average to 21.9C.
In Belarus, which would now normally average -4.5C, temperatures have hit 16.4C. Southern France basked in beach weather of nearly 30C. In the United States, New York and other eastern cities have had the least snow in five decades. But deadly cold is now gripping Japan and other East Asian countries.
Last year was the second warmest ever recorded in Europe. It was just marginally cooler than 2019-20. Portugal, north to south, suffered severe or extreme droughts throughout much of 2022 because of heat waves. July temperatures peaked at 44C in places. Pouring rain later flooded cities, including Lisbon and Faro.
Devastating floods in Germany took the lives of 184 people and will cost an estimated €30 billion in damage recovery. Wildfires raged in Turkey, Greece and Italy. In the United Kingdom, temperatures topped 40C for the first time ever and the British Met Office for the first time ever issued a red heat warning.
Fierce hurricanes tore across the US causing massive damage and fuelling chilling floods in some regions, droughts in others. From wildfires in Algeria to extensive flooding in South Africa, every country in the African continent was affected by severe weather conditions.
Pakistan was the worst hit in Asia with floods over an estimated 10%-12% of the country that killed 1,739 people. More than 200 days of heat waves in India started well before the normal monsoon season and brought the country to a virtual standstill. Scorching heat in drought-stricken parts of China crippled hydroelectric power and agricultural production, while other parts of the country shivered in the abnormal cold.
Down south wasn’t spared either. Australia had a lot of flooding and New Zealand issued 182 severe weather warnings. The Antarctic ice sheet, which contains 90% of the planet’s surface freshwater, is rapidly melting. This is raising sea levels that could permanently flood or submerge many cities around the world.
The increasing devastation to societies, economies and biodiversity is due largely to the continued use of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gasses. The level of emissions is not yet decreasing.
Another important factor in the expectations that extreme weather will worsen is a return of El Niño. This natural climate phenomenon is much more dangerous than its opposite number, La Niña, which has been in force for the past three years. El Niño is predicted to take its turn this summer, perhaps as early as June, and create much hotter temperatures.
El Niño and La Niña work by using the east to west trade winds that blow over the waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. When the winds are relatively strong, La Niña pushes warm surface current in a way that allows cold water to come up from the depths. When the winds become much lighter, El Niño resumes, allowing surface currents to further warm while smothering the cold water below. Both La Niña and El Niño shift the normal position of the mid-latitude jet stream. The combined effect is a huge surge of weather changes across the world.
According to scientific predictions, later this year or next year El Niño could join with existing global warming patterns to produce temperatures as high as the critical 1.5C to 2C limit that would unleash a global catastrophe.
Len Port is a journalist and author. Born in Ireland, his first written pieces were published while he was working in the Natural History Museum, London. Since then he has worked as a news reporter, mainly in Hong Kong, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Portugal.
In addition to reporting hard news for some of the world’s leading news organizations, he has produced countless feature articles on all sorts of subjects for a range of publications. Now living in southern Portugal, his books include travel guides and children’s stories. His ebooks – People in a Place Apart and The Fátima Phenomenon – Divine Grace, Delusion or Pious Fraud? are available from Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. His blog posts can be viewed at algarvenewswatch.blogspot.com