The Weather​—Is Something Wrong?

“WHEN two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.” So quipped the famous writer Samuel Johnson. In recent years, though, the weather has become more than a conversation starter. It has become a matter of grave concern to people all over the world. Why? Because the weather​—which was always unpredictable anyway—​seems to be increasingly erratic.

For example, during the summer of 2002, Europe was struck with unusually heavy rainstorms. They led, in fact, to what was described as “the worst central European floods in over a century.” Take note of the following news reports:

AUSTRIA: “The provinces of Salzburg, Carinthia, and Tirol were hit especially hard by severe rainstorms. Many streets were swamped in sludge, with piles of mud and debris up to 15 meters [50 feet] high. At Vienna’s Südbahnhof station, a thunderstorm caused a train accident that injured several people.”

CZECH REPUBLIC: “It has been a harrowing experience for Prague. But in the provinces the tragedy has been much worse. As many as 200,000 people have been moved from their homes. Whole towns have been submerged by the floods.”

FRANCE: “Twenty-three dead, 9 missing, and thousands sorely affected . . . Three people were fatally struck by lightning during Monday’s storms. . . . A fireman died after rescuing a couple in distress; they had been carried away in their car by the waters.”

GERMANY: “Never before in the history of the Federal Republic have towns and villages been evacuated to such an extent as they have been now during this ‘flood of the century.’ Residents have fled their hometowns by the thousands. Most have done so as a precautionary measure. Some were rescued from the floods at the last minute by boat or helicopter.”

ROMANIA: “About a dozen people have lost their lives since mid-July because of the storms.”

RUSSIA: “At least 58 people died on the shores of the Black Sea . . . About 30 cars and buses remain on the seabed, with no search of them possible after new storm warnings were issued.”

 Not Confined to Europe

In August 2002 the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported: “New spells of heavy showers and storms in Asia, Europe, and South America have wreaked havoc. On Wednesday at least 50 died in a landslide in Nepal. A typhoon killed eight people in southern China and brought heavy rainfall to central China. The China floods caused the Mekong River to reach its highest water level in 30 years, submerging upwards of 100 houses in northeast Thailand. . . . In Argentina at least five people drowned after heavy rains. . . . Over a thousand people have perished because of the summer storms in China.”

While water was plaguing many parts of the world, the United States was experiencing a severe drought. It was reported: “Concerns are nationwide regarding low and dry wells, widespread record low stream flows, and a more than double the normal amount of wildfires for the season. With crop and pasture losses, drinking water supply shortages, wildfires and dust storms, experts predict that the adverse economic impact of the drought of 2002 will be in the billions of dollars.”

Parts of northern Africa have been experiencing a devastating drought since the 1960’s. According to reports, “rainfall was twenty to forty-nine per cent lower than in the first half of the 20th century, causing widespread famine and death.”

The El Niño weather pattern​—triggered by a warming of the waters of the eastern Pacific—​periodically causes flooding and other weather disruptions in North and South America. * The CNN news organization reports that the 1983/84 El Niño was “responsible for more than 1,000 deaths, causing weather-related disasters on nearly every continent and totaling $10 billion in damages to property and livestock.” This phenomenon has returned with regularity (about every four years) since it was first identified in the 19th century. But some experts believe that “El Niño has stepped up its schedule” and that it will “appear more often” in the future.

An article published by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration gives this reassurance: “Most of that ‘weird’ weather we’ve been experiencing​—that unusually warm fall or that particularly wet winter—​is due to normal, regional changes in the weather.” Nevertheless, there are signs that a serious problem may exist. The environmental-activist organization Greenpeace predicts: “Dangerous weather patterns including more powerful hurricanes and heavy rains will continue to wreak havoc across the planet. More severe droughts and floods will literally change the face of the Earth, leading to the loss of coastal lands and the destruction of forests.” Is there any substance to such claims? If so, what is the cause of these “dangerous weather patterns”?

[Footnote]

 [Pictures on page 2, 3]

Flooding in Germany (above) and in the Czech Republic (left)