February 2009

In the news


Increased deaths and losses from natural disasters in 2008 / 2008: 10th warmest year, weather extremes and reduced Arctic ice / Europe freezes but global warming is still with us Japan satellite to monitor greenhouse gases / Reference radiosonde for the GCOS Reference Upper-air Network


Increased deaths and losses from natural disasters in 2008

The Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) has announced that, in 2008, 321 disasters killed 235 816 people, affected 211 million others and cost a total of US$ 181 billion. Asia was the most affected continent. The death toll in 2008 was three times more than the annual average of 66812 for 2000-2007. The major causes were Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138 366 people in Myanmar and the Sichuan earthquake in China, which caused the deaths of 87 476 people.

Natural disasters in 2008 cost the global economy US$ 225 billion and left insurers with their second costliest year in history. The two most expensive years on record for insurers, according to Swiss Re, came during the last four.

International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR)

ISDR/CRED press release

ISDR/CRED 2008 disasters in numbers

Lloyd’s News Centre feature

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2008: 10th warmest year, weather extremes and reduced Arctic ice

The year 2008 is likely to rank as the 10th warmest year on record since the beginning of the instrumental climate records in 1850. The global combined sea- and land-surface air temperature is currently estimated at 0.31°C above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C.

The global average temperature in 2008 was slightly lower than that for the previous years of the 21st century due in particular, to the moderate to strong La Niña that developed in the latter half of 2007.


Data collected by the Bureau of Meteorology indicate that, overall, Australia’s annual mean temperature for 2008 was 0.41°C above the standard 1961-1990 average, making it the nation’s 14th warmest year since comparable records began in 1910.

Annual Australian Climate Statement 2008

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Europe freezes but global warming is still with us

At least 12 people died in the cold spell which has enveloped much of Europe. Ten deaths occurred in Poland, when temperatures dropped to –25°C. Freezing temperatures and exceptional snowfall caused delays and cancellations of flights, shutdowns of airports and chaos on roads and railways. Many schools were forced to close. In some countries, electricity and water supplies were disrupted. Marseilles, southern France, had its heaviest snowfall in 20 years. Temperatures in Germany reached a record low of –28°C.

The Secretary-General of WMO, Michel Jarraud, told journalists that, despite the current cold snap in Europe, the major trend remained unmistakably one of warming. "If we look at the trajectory over the last 160 years”, he said “it overlays a large natural variability, and that's what causes confusion”.

The cooler weather that was a hallmark of 2008 could be explained partly by La Niña, a reversal of the phenomenon by which warm waters build up on the surface of the Pacific.

Secretary-General's press briefing

WMO El Niño/La Niña update

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Japan satellite to monitor greenhouse gases

The first satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide emissions as part of global efforts to combat climate change was launched into space on 23 January 2009 from Japan. Ibuki (“breath”) will circle the globe every 100 minutes at an altitude of some 670 km and will monitor the levels of carbon dioxide and methane at 56 000 locations. The data will be shared with other space and scientific organizations.

WMO space programme


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Reference radiosonde for the GCOS Reference Upper-air Network

In response to a call for action to the private sector by scientists working within the framework of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Reference Upper-air Network (GRUAN), Vaisala Inc., manufacturer of meteorological instruments, has announced that it will support the development of a reference quality radiosonde.

Current upper-air measurement networks using radiosondes are of great value for numerical weather prediction, but have limited capability to resolve how climate has is changing above the Earth’s surface. GRUAN will use radiosondes, lidars and other ground-based instrumentation to perform reference observations for climate research.

GCOS is co-sponsored by WMO, IOC of UNESCO, UNEP and ICSU.


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