In pictures

World’s most extreme weather events in 2021

Experts believe climate change is increasing frequency of floods, storms, heatwaves and other catastrophic weather phenomena

Extreme weather events have hit almost every corner of the globe this year, with often deadly consequences.

Scientists have long warned that climate change would contribute to an increase in both the frequency and severity of freak weather. But while the threat posed by phenomena such as sea-level rises and extreme drought have been regarded until recently as “a problem for the developing world”, says CNN, “in the past month it’s been the developed world on the frontline”. 

Angela Merkel has warned that “we have to get faster in the fight against climate change”, as the death toll from catastrophic flooding in Germany and neighbouring Belgium climbs to more than 200.

Echoing that warning, Merritt Turetsky, director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, told CNN: “We’re at a point where everyone on the planet now has felt the impacts of climate change itself, or at least someone they love or know has.

“It’s circling in closer and closer,” she added.


Skiiers in Madrid street

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Record-breaking snowfall, Madrid

In the first weeks of 2021, Storm Filomena brought record-breaking levels of snow for Madrid and elderly Spanish citizens were warned to stay at home as temperatures plummeted. The heaviest snow for 50 years brought transport in and out of the city to a “standstill”, Euronews reports. The snowstorm caused around €1.4bn (£1.2bn) of damage, The New York Times says.


Flooded pub

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Storm Christoph, UK

The period from 18 to 20 January 2021 was “one of the wettest three-day periods on record” for North Wales and North-West England, according to the Met Office. Homes in Cheshire were flooded, and residents were evacuated from homes in Manchester and Merseyside. Once Storm Christoph cleared, significant snowfall also led to travel disruption with icy conditions and road closures. Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Kilpatrick told the Manchester Evening News the atmosphere was one of “anxiety and disbelief”.


Cyclone damage in Fiji

Leon Lord/AFP via Getty Images

Cyclone Ana, Fiji

Cyclone Ana “pummelled” Fiji towards the end of January, “just a month after category 5 Cyclone Yasa tore through the country’s northern islands”, The Guardian says. Satyendra Prasad, Fiji’s ambassador to the United Nations, said the cyclone – which caused more than 10,000 people to take refuge in 318 evacuation centres across the country – had left behind “a difficult recovery”.


Snow-covered cars

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Winter storms, Texas

The Week US reported that 3.5 million businesses and homes were left without power in February as temperatures dropped to -13℃ in some areas of Texas. Power went out across the state, leaving many vulnerable people in extremely cold conditions. The total death toll rose from 151 to 210 in July, after a decision was made to include deaths caused by the collapse of the state electric power grid in the final count, The Guardian reports.


Orange skies in Beijing

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Dust storm, China

Flights were grounded and schools shut in what the South China Morning Post described as the worst sandstorm in a decade. But what was widely referred to as a sandstorm in China was, in fact, a dust storm – “and that’s much worse”, says The Conversation. In Beijing, the sky became orange as dust and pollution caused hazardous air quality. 


Flooded roads and homes

Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Flooding, New South Wales

In March, Sydney and New South Wales (NSW) residents felt the effects of extreme flooding. The NSW State Emergency Service urged residents to take care of both their physical and mental health as heavy downpours led to rivers and dams overflowing, with thousands evacuated from their homes. 


Cyclone damage

Alfred Ike Wurin/AFP via Getty Images

Cyclone Seroja

In April 160 people died in Indonesia after a tropical cyclone “hit a remote cluster of islands”, Climate Home News reports. Landslides and flash floods displaced at least 22,000 people, the news site adds. Reaching Western Australia days after it made landfall in Indonesia, residents in the town of Kalbarri, north of Perth, said the storm was “absolutely terrifying”, the BBC says. Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said Cyclone Seroja was "like nothing we have seen before in decades”.


Wildfire in Greece

Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

Wildfire, Greece

Around 20 square kilometres of land were engulfed in flames in May when a fire spread through the Attica region of Greece. Strong winds put pressure on firefighters battling the blaze, as villages in the Geraneia mountains were evacuated. “In parts of Athens, the smell of fire was suffocating and the sky had turned grey from the smoke,” Reuters said.


People swimming in Moscow

Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

Record temperatures, Moscow

As temperatures reached 34.8℃ in Moscow, “the absolute record for any day in June was hit”, The Moscow Times reports. The “abnormal temperatures” of the “record-breaking heatwave” weren’t just recorded in the capital; Penza, Vologda and Petrozavodsk also broke heat records during the month.


Evacuated residents in shelter

Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Heat dome, Pacific Northwest

Soaring temperatures across the Northwest United States “rewrote the record books” this year, National Geographic reports. The “heat dome” was the “most dramatic example” of an extreme weather event, said The Guardian’s global environment editor Jonathan Watts, and the meteorological phenomenon led to evacuations across states that weren’t “remotely prepared for the heat”. Lytton, a village in Canada’s British Columbia, was “engulfed and largely destroyed by a wildfire” as a result of the temperatures, National Geographic continues.


Car in flood

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Floods, New York

After making its way up the East Coast of America, Storm Elsa caused “relentless storms and mass flooding” in New York, The New York Times reports. Though subway service was “largely uninterrupted”, videos of flooded stations circulated on social media. Floods also hit New Jersey and Connecticut, and bathers were warned off Long Island beaches due to “elevated bacteria levels during heavy rainfall”, the paper adds.


Red smoky skies

Payton Bruni/AFP via Getty Images

Bootleg fire, Oregon

A “heavier-than-normal start to the US wildfire season” has seen “one of the largest blazes in Oregon’s history” consume more than 364,000 acres of land, the BBC reports. More than 2,000 firefighters are tackling the wildfire, which began on 6 July. At least 160 homes have already been consumed by the flames, and evacuation centres have been set up as thousands more homes remain under threat.


Flood damage

Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images

Flooding, west Germany

Floods destroyed homes and bridges along the River Ahr in July, while in the German village of Schuld, water “engulfed streets and swallowed homes” CNN reports. Victims will be supported by a government-approved €400 million recovery package, as ministers have promised to move quickly on rebuilding affected areas, Euronews reports.


Flooded road and floating cars

STR/AFP via Getty Images

Floods, China

More than 30 people have died and 200,000 evacuations have been made as China’s Henan province experiences severe rainfall and flooding, the BBC reports. Twelve people lost their lives in a Zhengzhou metro train, with survivors describing how water leaked through the carriage’s doors until it became difficult to breathe. The extreme conditions being seen in both Germany and China provide a “stark reminder” that climate change is increasing extreme weather events, Reuters reports.

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