Floods, avalanches, fires and heatwaves: Worst of climate change in 2021

Rains have been wreaking havoc across Maharashtra and Karnataka, while Goa is witnessing the worst floods in decades. The floods have left death and destruction on its path as thousands of people are being evacuated.

Extreme weather conditions have ravaged several parts of the world over the past couple of months, with at least 40 countries across Europe, North America, Africa and Asia facing floods, heatwaves, storms, droughts or wildfires. Climate scientists and activists have said that such extreme weather incidents will continue to rise unless strict action is taken to mitigate climate change.

Petteri Taalas, chief of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said that climate change is a reason why Europe is seeing one of the deadliest disasters to hit the region since the world wars. "We have to reduce the amount of fossil fuels, especially we have to get rid of coal-fired energy production, we have to convert our transport system to become more based on electric vehicles and biofuels,” he said.

As top scientists from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gather online over the next two weeks to finalise the first instalment of its sixth Assessment Report, let us take a look at some of the worst disasters that have affected the world so far in 2021:

Record-breaking cold, snowfall and avalanches: The year started off with the Storm Filomena bringing in cold waves and snowstorms in Madrid, Spain and paralysing many parts of the country. The last time the capital saw such heavy snowfall was in 1917. The storm also brought on flash floods in some parts of the country, damaging roads and homes and killing two people.

In February, India saw a ferocious flash flood wash away homes and a hydro plant in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district. Around 200 people are believed to have been swept away, though only 60 bodies were found. Experts believe the flash flood was triggered by a massive chunk of a glacier, around five football fields across, that had broken off high in the mountains.

South Africa, which sees winter in the months of June-August, has been witnessing record low temperatures, last experiences around half a century ago. While Johannesburg saw -& degrees Celsius, Kimberly saw the mercury hitting a record low of -9.9 degrees Celsius.

TOPSHOT - Trees burn on the Bootleg Fire north of Bly, Oregon on July 17, 2021. - More than 2,100 firefighters were again struggling to contain the vast Bootleg Fire raging in southern Oregon, near the border with California. Some were forced to retreat as the fire spread amid the fourth intense heatwave of the summer. (Photo by Payton Bruni / AFP) (Photo by PAYTON BRUNI/AFP via Getty Images)

Heatwaves and wildfires: Hundreds of people have died with parts of Western North America reeling under scorching hot temperatures since June, this year. On July 9, Death Valley in California set a record for the hottest temperature measured on Earth after the mercury touched 54.4 degrees Celsius. The town of Lytton, British Columbia saw temperatures touching a record-breaking 49.6 degrees Celsius.

This intense heatwave has led to wildfires across the country, with 35,086 wildfires, burning more than 2.6 million acres as of July 19th. Wildfires have increased by 21 per cent in a single year. Firefighters across the United States and western Canada have been fighting to put out tens of thousands of wildfires erupting under the extreme heat.

The United States is bracing for another intense heatwave as a huge heat dome settles over the heart of the country. The country is also likely to face thunderstorms and lightning in some areas, while nearly two-thirds of the country is facing drought-like conditions.

Parts of northern Europe saw extreme heatwave like conditions as well, this summer. With temperatures crossing 45 degrees celsius in Paris in June and many other parts of Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Poland, etc seeing new highs, June was the hottest month ever. Finland also saw temperatures exceeding 25 degrees – for the country, any temperature above 25.1 degrees is considered to be extreme heat.

Russia and Siberia are battling the driest summer in 150 years as wildfires have swept through huge parts of Siberia, affecting over 1.5 million hectares of land. Russia has been recording high temperatures over the past few years and a corresponding increase in wildfires. This year has been particularly hot with temperatures in the Sakha-Yakutia region of Siberia touching 39 degrees Celsius, setting records.

Floods create massive sinkhole in Cologne district, Germany, July 16, 2021
Floods create massive sinkhole in Cologne district, Germany, July 16, 2021 (Abdul Karim via Getty Images)

Floods: The death toll from monsoon related events across the country has crossed 127, while landslides and floods have left destruction in states such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Goa and Maharashtra have seen the worst floods in four decades as incessant rains have triggered floods in the districts of Raigad, Pune, Kolhapur, Satara and Sangli. As many as 110 people died in Maharashtra alone as rains battered interior parts of the country with the state recording its heaviest rainfall in July, in decades.

The central Chinese province of Henan witnessed its heaviest rains in 1,000 years, leading to floods and causing loss of lives and property, affecting about 3 million people. Harrowing images and videos of commuters stuck in neck-deep waters in a subway and of overturned cars have been flooding social media. More than 56 people have died in China, while the state media has announced losses of more than USD 10 billion.

Parts of Europe, including Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands received two months worth of rainfall on July 14 and 15 on soil that was already near saturation. Large parts were inundated as heavy downpours turned roads into rivers and swept away people and homes. At least 177 people have been confirmed dead, while many more are missing, in the worst flood in Germany, which is witnessing the worst floods in years.