Bob Henson and I put together a compendium of photos highlighting some of the remarkable extreme weather and climate events of another landmark year. See our post, “2023 in photos: A year of pain and progress on climate change” https://t.co/ODUGPJkiar— Jeff Masters (@DrJeffMasters) December 23, 2023
2023 in photos: A year of pain and progress on climate change
The year included both heartbreaking weather disasters and undeniable advances in the fight to address climate change.
Some of the most momentous events in weather and climate during 2023 were on a truly grand scale. Heat materialized in the world’s atmosphere and ocean at a level never before seen in global averages. The 28th major United Nations climate summit drew record attendance, with two weeks of intense, often-fraught negotiations and protests unfolding in conference halls in the sun-scorched desert city of Dubai.
As always, it’s on the human scale where the effects of weather and the often-disproportionate impacts of climate change truly enter our lives. Below are photos of several of the most remarkable events of the year in weather, climate, and related policy.
A searing, deadly summer of record heat in the U.S. Sunbelt
Across the southern tier of the United States, from Arizona to Florida, this summer was among the most brutal in history. Several Gulf Coast cities — including Brownsville, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Tampa, Florida; and Miami — had their hottest month in more than 120 years of record-keeping in July, only to end up even hotter than that in August. Phoenix, Arizona, hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit every day from June 30 to July 30, smashing its prior record streak by 13 days. The World Weather Attribution initiative reported that “maximum heat like in July 2023 would have been virtually impossible to occur in the U.S./Mexico region and Southern Europe if humans had not warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels.”
There were at least 579 heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County, including Phoenix, far above the previous record of 425 from 2022. Almost half the fatalities were among people experiencing homelessness.
A tropical storm that mushroomed to Category 5 strength just before landfall in Acapulco
Hurricanes and tropical storms tend to parallel the coast of Mexico near Acapulco, which means their impact on the city is usually muted. Most storms remain offshore or weaken as they pass over land. But on October 25, Hurricane Otis moved directly over the city after intensifying at an unexpectedly blistering pace. Just 28 hours before it came ashore, it was expected to arrive as a tropical storm. Otis instead made landfall at Category 5 strength, shredding the exteriors of high-rise structures near the coast and causing severe damage to vulnerable neighborhoods farther inland. Otis was the strongest hurricane ever recorded on the Pacific coast of North America, and it led to at least 50 fatalities (perhaps dozens more). Damage from Otis is likely to end up in the range of $15-20 billion.
Climate studies: a new discipline takes flight
A panel of youth leaders in climate activism, including moderator Christopher Welch of the California Institute of the Arts, center, facilitate a group discussion on the first day of a Climate Action Palooza held by the California Center for Climate Change Education at West Los Angeles College on October 24-26, 2023. (Image credit: West Los Angeles College)
U.S. colleges and universities are responding to a growing demand for climate-relevant curricula. Typically called “climate studies” or a variant, these new majors and minors go beyond long-standing programs in atmospheric science and environmental studies. Several are designed to be easily paired as a double major with other specialties, from political science to engineering to education. With both state and federal support, the new California Center for Climate Change Education — based at West Los Angeles College and serving the city’s entire nine-campus community college district — is bringing the trend beyond four-year campuses. The center aims to train future practitioners in clean energy and climate technology while enhancing climate-change awareness through activities such as its first Climate Action Palooza.
A desert city on the Libyan coast ripped in two by a 600-year rainstorm
A man stands near an overturned car and other flood debris on September 15, 2023, in Soussah, Libya. (Photo by Mohamed Shalesh/Getty Images)
The second-deadliest dam failure in world history unfolded in and near Derna, Libya, on September 10-11. A storm named Daniel moved into the region after triggering disastrous rains and floods in southeast Europe and then crossing the Mediterranean Sea as a strong medicane — a tropical-like cyclone over the Mediterranean.
Storm Daniel’s death toll of more than 4,300 in Libya surpassed the 1927 floods in Algeria (3,000 killed) as the deadliest storm in Africa since at least 1900. Poor maintenance of two dams upstream from Derna likely contributed to the disaster, and prestorm warnings failed to reach many people at risk in the conflict-torn area. An analysis produced by World Weather Attribution estimated that the peak 24-hour rainfall over and near the Jebel Akhdar region of northern Libya would be expected to occur only about once every 600 years. The report also found that global warming of 1.2 °C had made such an event up to 50 times more likely.
Canadian fires bring a smoky summer to parts of the United States
This year produced the most wildfire activity across North America in 40 years of recordkeeping. However, the vast majority of those blazes were in Canada, which saw about 17 times more burned acreage than the U.S., as opposed to a more typical 50-50 split. Instead of wildfire ripping across the U.S. West, it was smoke from Canada that swept southward in recurrent pulses, especially across the Midwest, Northeast, and mid-Atlantic. Goosed by the driest, hottest spring on record across much of southern Canada, destructive wildfires broke out in provinces from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.
One of the worst periods for U.S. smoke was on June 6-7, when some of the nation’s largest cities confronted surreal, copper-yellow skies and shrouded horizons. New York City, Detroit, and Toronto ranked at one point as three of the 12 most polluted major cities on Earth, experiencing some of their worst air quality since the Clean Air Act was instituted more than a half-century ago.
Yet another record year for solar energy
GRID Alternatives employees Jimmy Chit Ming Cheung (left) and Edward Aguilar carry a solar panel as they install no-cost solar panels on the rooftop of a low-income household on October 19, 2023, in Pomona, California. The nonprofit clean energy firm has installed no-cost solar for over 29,000 low-income households in underserved communities in California, Colorado, and the mid-Atlantic. As a result of the Inflation Reduction Act, nonprofit entities can now receive direct-payment incentives for solar panel installations. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
More than half of all the solar capacity in the United States has been installed in just the last four years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie. This year’s projected U.S. installation of close to 33 gigawatts of solar energy would be a leap of more than 50% beyond the total installed in 2022.
The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in late 2022, is helping fuel solar’s latest boom by extending and expanding tax incentives into the 2030s that would have otherwise been phased out. At the state level, the outlook is more mixed. For example, in April 2013, California slashed what homeowners can earn by selling solar-generated electricity back to the state’s three biggest investor-owned utilities by up to 50%, which triggered a major drop in home installations. High interest rates and permitting battles are also serving as headwinds on many renewable energy projects across the nation — but the economic challenges may prove temporary if interest rates drop in 2024, as is widely expected.
A fierce windstorm that propelled a catastrophic wildfire in Maui, Hawai‘i
The deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century ripped through the historic city of Lahaina, on the west coast of Maui, Hawai‘i, in a matter of hours on August 8. At least 100 people were killed, and damage topped $5 billion, with more than 2,200 buildings destroyed or severely damaged. The tightly packed, largely wooden structures of central Lahaina, some dating back to the 1800s, were no match for the fierce downslope winds gusting from 40 to 80 mph that drove the fire. Although powerful Hurricane Dora passed more than 700 miles south of Hawai‘i as the fire erupted, it appears the Maui winds were driven mainly by exceptionally strong high pressure north of the island. The circulation around the high pushed dry air over the West Maui volcano into Lahaina, in a mountain-wave pattern notorious for causing deadly fires in other parts of the world. Much of Hawai‘i is becoming more vulnerable to wildfire with the spread of nonnative vegetation across unmanaged landscapes, as well as from long-term warming that exacerbates the impact of seasonal and multiyear drought on ecosystems.
Parsing the wording of COP28
Some 80,000 people — far outnumbering the old record of 49,000 from last year — cajoled, pleaded, discussed, and demonstrated at COP28, the 28th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. There was a swarm of diplomatic activity, including advances on a Loss and Damage Fund for countries hard hit by climate change as well as progress on agreements involving food, forests, land, and nature.
The meeting came close to derailing when a near-final draft of the closing document led to widespread outrage at the lack of any mention of a general phaseout of fossil fuels. The final statement did include an unprecedented call for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.”
On Substack, Bill McKibben emphasized the importance of those words: “that sentence will hang over every discussion from now on — especially the discussions about any further expansion of the fossil fuel energy.” On X/Twitter, Otomi-Toltec climate justice activist Xiye Bastida stressed: “At the end of the day, the text doesn’t write the future. We do. The real work is outside of negotiations. It’s in community building. It’s in changing systems … let’s choose to be the people who see beyond an industry and beyond profit. Let’s choose life, let’s choose each other, let’s choose a thriving future.”
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Bob Henson is a meteorologist and journalist based in Boulder, Colorado. He has written on weather and climate for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Weather Underground, and many freelance… More by Bob Henson
Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a… More by Jeff Masters
Here are more “ET’s” recorded from around the planet the last couple of days, their consequences, and some extreme temperature outlooks, as well as any extreme precipitation reports:
Powerful fohn in Northern Italy with >24C for the first time in December.— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 23, 2023
Many records were broken,here a preliminary list of the main ones:
23.7 Bologna 23.1 AP
23 Parma AP
19.4 Ferrara and Bergamo
18.0 Bolzano tie pic.twitter.com/DuTAtKbL4r
Update:— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
All provincial capitals of Emilia broke their December records including in their old observatories:
23.4 Parma University
21.8 Modena Geofisico Institute
22.4 Bologna Idrografico Inst.
The new records of the city of Parma are even higher than its records of November. https://t.co/K3YuONMQw1
25.2C yesterday at Cumiana (Turin Province) is the new official highest temperature in December in Northern Italy.— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
4 stations with 25C+ in Piedmont.
In Emilia 24.2C at Vignola.
Table below is courtesy of Arpa Piemonte. https://t.co/K3YuONMiGt pic.twitter.com/PGH4dtZUfH
Among others,the Italian city of Parma (climatic data since 1791) had plenty of extreme weather in the second half of 2023:— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
In August had its highest temperature on record
In October broke the monthly record with a big margin
Yesterday it broke the December record by nearly 3C pic.twitter.com/RQLqbXcpjs
Monthly record of highest temperature yesterday also in SLOVENIA:— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
16.3C at Lesce beat the record set in 1979.
It's the 3rd episode in which Slovenia breaks records this month, with several records beaten in the first two warm spells. https://t.co/6urFeeAgno
The tiny island of Agalega (Mauritius) did it again:— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
On 22 December rose to 35.3C, tying its hottest day in climatic history which was last April. pic.twitter.com/X8ufs47fwa
More record heat in the Gulf of Guinea yesterday.— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
38.5C at Kete Krachi GHANA broke its record of highest temperature in December. https://t.co/zw8aqu8qrL
These days we have an avalanche of records allover the world.— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
It's the turn of SRI LANKA.
Today the southern town of Galle rose to 34.0C,its hottest December day on record, beating the 33.5C set on 21 December 1994 and 29 December 2003. pic.twitter.com/50gwLRn0S9
Hottest December day in MALDIVES history tied today (it was set earlier this month) again at Hanimadhoo with 33.6C.— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) December 24, 2023
The Maldives have also been breaking records of hottest days and hottest nights all past months. pic.twitter.com/AlqR2lCYtd
Early-season frigid air, coupled with an unusually warm ocean, has resulted in unprecedentedly intense snowfall on the Sea of Japan side. Unfortunately, a foreign tourist who was snowboarding in a prohibited area at Kagura Ski Resort has died after getting stuck in fresh #snow. pic.twitter.com/p8OhbCOgpJ— Sayaka Mori (@sayakasofiamori) December 24, 2023
Here is More November 2023 Climatology:
Dec 1-23, 2023, is running 0.3F warmer than the same period in 2021 – which is the warmest December on record for the Contiguous U.S. The final 8 days of 2023 would need to average 4.9F above normal to eclipse the Dec 2021 record. pic.twitter.com/IrSqzGdsTm— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) December 24, 2023
November 2023 data is now available for Antarctic sea-ice thickness/volume (https://t.co/V0Lt0w1sTi) and global sea-ice volume (https://t.co/ecHYax1cql) using GIOMAS. No new monthly records for this update.— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) December 24, 2023
Here is More Climate and News from Sunday:
There is no magic 🪄 no wizard behind the curtain having this situation under control we can not lazy point our fingers to the puppet master. We can organise us and prepare to a certain degree if this is even possible. https://t.co/nmFhhJMC9s pic.twitter.com/znZHei0DVt— Thomas Reis (@peakaustria) December 24, 2023
According to ERA5 data, the global surface temperature averaged more than 1.70°C above the 1850-1900 IPCC baseline over the last 4 months (August 18-December 18, 2023).— Prof. Eliot Jacobson (@EliotJacobson) December 24, 2023
We are transitioning away from a human-habitable planet.
“Former US vice-president Al Gore insisted: ‘There is only one measure of success for COP28: will it include a commitment to phase out fossil fuels or not.’” https://t.co/gMK72RBINl— Climate Reality (@ClimateReality) December 24, 2023
Guest post: What would an ambitious ‘global goal on adaptation’ look like at COP28? | @adadeposh @christrisos @zvobgoluckson @aditimukherji Dr Nicholas Philip Simpson, Dr Patricia Pinho #COP28— Carbon Brief (@CarbonBrief) December 24, 2023
Read: https://t.co/B6c6p9Mc4S pic.twitter.com/yNrcj6udeI
Just another "5.3 sigma" day for the world's oceans.— Prof. Eliot Jacobson (@EliotJacobson) December 24, 2023
Let's all cut down a bunch of trees and bring them inside our homes and watch them die for a couple of weeks. pic.twitter.com/I6X2ninZUh
Horryfying footage of the scale of the forest fire that hit Alberta, Canada. 10,000 hectares of trees involved. Forest fire season is occurring earlier, and lasting longer. There is nothing normal about what's happening.— Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) December 24, 2023
No time to wait. #ActOnClimate #climate pic.twitter.com/zEeepA32o2
“Twas The Night Before Climate Change"— Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali 🇧🇷 🇪🇹 🇵🇷🇯🇲🤙🏾 (@EJinAction) December 24, 2023
It was the night before #climatechange altered our fate,
Not a GOP rep stirred, they said, “It can wait.”
The reports were hung by the Congress with care,
In hopes that logic soon would be there.
The children nestled, all snug in their… pic.twitter.com/hLUAVyidRZ
Today’s News on Sustainable Energy, Traditional Polluting Energy from Fossil Fuel, and the Green Revolution:
Good climate news this week *special*— Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk) December 24, 2023
The Angry Clean Energy Guy's "Top 10 Good Climate News Stories of 2023" podcast is out now, packed with powerful, consequential climate action from around the worldhttps://t.co/3zYpzI6BE0 https://t.co/7oI5B1KfAH
Fashion is one of world’s most damaging industries.— GO GREEN (@ECOWARRIORSS) December 24, 2023
Behind 2% to 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions, it sucks up scarce water and creates vast amounts of pollution and waste.
A 35-mile car trip creates same environmental damage as making one cotton shirthttps://t.co/PoKbX6EVmJ
Instead put solar panels on roof tops, parking lots, brownfield sites— GO GREEN (@ECOWARRIORSS) December 25, 2023
Solar farms can harm wildlife and landscapes
Oberon solar facility in Southern California, for example, destroyed habitat used by imperiled desert tortoises and plenty of other critters.https://t.co/YJtkac5k2Y
A game changer— GO GREEN (@ECOWARRIORSS) December 24, 2023
This new recyclable wind turbine is world's first to use Elium resin
What sets this second blade apart is its use of recycled Elium resin in the shear web, a vital component of the blade structure, and the first of its kind in the world.https://t.co/75Y9zcHiaF pic.twitter.com/pMlbbSXyQr
Wind turbines generate more than half of UK’s electricity— Prof. Peter Strachan (@ProfStrachan) December 23, 2023
"Wind power is taking centre stage in our modern clean energy mix, strengthening our #energy security and keeping Britain powered up at the coldest, darkest time of the year"#RenewableEnergy https://t.co/vOrR5ITCuP
More from the Weather Department:
It has been a warm #ChristmasEve this year across the Eastern US, which is especially in stark contrast to last year when arctic air dominated the nation.— Philippe Papin (@pppapin) December 24, 2023
Quick RTMA comparison of 2022 vs. 2023 valid at 1200 UTC this morning.
🥶 vs 🥵#wxtwitter pic.twitter.com/a1aeLUrIUk
With the El Nino and climate change, my discussion at https://t.co/Hva6GW9Os7 of why you should probably be dreaming of a brown Christmas in 2023 and possibly into the future too. Mentions @McWeather1989 @ericfisher @TonyNargiWx https://t.co/JEemJ1uHf3— Dr. Marshall Shepherd (my record is my blue check) (@DrShepherd2013) December 24, 2023
NWS #Blizzard Warnings are out for a 54-hour period in parts of #Nebraska. When 500mb Lows close off like this one, it ensures an extended period of hi-impact weather. Don't get caught outside in this storm, stay safe… #foxweather pic.twitter.com/FJE2BjViZz— Tom Niziol (@TomNiziol) December 24, 2023
The GEFS took a while to get there — perhaps not completely surprising given their strong vortex bias at extended lead times — but are now finally on board with a sudden stratospheric warning (SSW) in early January, with numerous members showing a split vortex at 10 hPa: https://t.co/vhJAf1PXze pic.twitter.com/1ce5IhKCku— Tomer Burg (@burgwx) December 24, 2023
Growing consensus among long range model guidance for high latitude blocking to redevelop (Greenland High regime) by the second week of January. This is occurring in tandem with building support for a SSW (sudden stratospheric warming) event by 1/10. pic.twitter.com/xVuA88OLtc— John Homenuk (@jhomenuk) December 24, 2023
Anyone remember this? 34 years ago yesterday, the coastal Carolinas were gearing up for a white Christmas!— Matthew Cappucci (@MatthewCappucci) December 24, 2023
Wilmington got 15.3 inches, Cape Hatteras got 13.3 inches, Charleston had 8 inches and even Savannah, Ga. got 3.6 inches — all-time records for each city! ❄️ pic.twitter.com/tweqO0KG5k
Good morning everyone— Met Office (@metoffice) December 24, 2023
We will be helping Father Christmas navigate the global weather as he makes his way around the World…
…Look! He is currently leaving the North Pole 🎅 pic.twitter.com/PgW5fdG7X8
More on the Environment and Nature:
Monotreme dreams: the plan to reintroduce platypuses into Adelaide’s once ‘noxious’ river https://t.co/1aGbTZ9to9— Guardian Environment (@guardianeco) December 24, 2023
Did you know that promoting agroforestry practices, such as incorporating trees into farming systems, can help to reduce pressure on forests for agricultural land, ensuring a more sustainable and resilient food production system and climate action. pic.twitter.com/7e0y8cqCWL— Tangwa Abilu.🌿🌏🌾🍀🍃.SDG's. (@AbiluTangwa) December 24, 2023
Wolverines received the best gift this year in the form of a chance. After six rounds of successful litigation by Earthjustice, imperiled wolverines have been given much-needed endangered species protections. pic.twitter.com/fgI3VVMu2s— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) December 24, 2023
Friendly reminder— Green is a mission (@Greenisamissio1) December 24, 2023
I am a tree
– I cool the earth
– I store CO2
– I protect the soil
– I take care of the water table
– I am the home of many animals
– I produce oxygen
– I clean the air and water
Please make sure that my friends become more, not less.💚🌱☘️🌿🌳🌲🍀💚 pic.twitter.com/434pzH7H8o
More on Other Science and the Beauty of Earth and this Universe:
The day is drawing to a close and I wish my beloved and much appreciated fellow inhabitants of planet Earth a peaceful Christmas Eve and later a blessed night. Enjoy the time with family, loved ones and friends. May God bless you.❤️💙💚🌿🌱☘️🌳🌲🍀💚 pic.twitter.com/4dtncrc9RL— Green is a mission (@Greenisamissio1) December 24, 2023