Cyclones, bushfires and heatwaves are typically Australian natural disasters, but in 2017 devastating fires, record heat, hurricanes and typhoons — what we call cyclones — struck around the world.
Here are a few of the events that caught our attention this year.
It was the cyclone that just kept on going.
Debbie made landfall near Airlie Beach as a category 4 system on March 28 with wind gusts of 263 kilometres per hour recorded at Hamilton Island, the highest gust ever recorded in the Queensland digital climate archive, and its initial impact was ferocious.
But what set Debbie apart from the average cyclone was the trail of drenching rain it left as its remnants made their way down the Queensland coast and across the New South Wales border.
In an historic move, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closed all schools south of Agnes Water, north of Bundaberg, and east of Nanango in the South Burnett region, including Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
The flooding did not stop at the border as far south in Lismore, NSW, 324.8 millimetres fell in 18 hours, leading to the highest river levels since 1974 and waist-high flooding in the CBD when the town’s levee breached.
Media reports attributed nine deaths to Tropical Cyclone Debbie in Australia.
Debbie did not just leave it at that, as New Zealand’s North Island was drenched when the tail end of the system made its way across the Tasman a week after it first made landfall in Queensland.
Thousands of homes were evacuated there as well.
Pakistan record heat
In May, there was a major heat event which affected most of the Persian Gulf but seemed to go largely under the radar in western media.
The town of Turbat in south-west Pakistan recorded 54.0 degrees Celsius, equal to the maximum temperature recorded in Mitrabah, Kuwait in July last year.
Neither of the temperatures have been officially confirmed by the World Meteorological Organisation, but if it turns out to be legitimate it will be a new Asian record.
These record high temperatures stir up debate around the global highest recorded temperature.
The current record of 56.7C taken in Death Valley, USA, in 1913 is viewed with scepticism because of dubious equipment.
Likewise the eastern hemisphere record of 55.0 recorded in Kebili, Tunisia, is also questionable due to inconsistencies in previous temperature recording practices.
So it could well be that the hottest temperature directly recorded on Earth happened this year.
Australia’s official hottest temperature was recorded at Oodnadatta in 1960 at 50.7 degrees Celsius.
US hurricane cluster
Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, and Maria — the US was battered by hurricane after hurricane this year.
Of these, Harvey, Irma and Maria did the most damage.
Harvey led the pack as the first major hurricane to hit the mainland US in almost a decade when it stalled over Houston and led to widespread, devastating flooding.
Hurricane Irma, even stronger than Harvey, battered the Caribbean before travelling across Cuba, to make landfall in Florida.
What made Irma special meteorologically was the length of time it maintained extremely high wind speeds, more than 297km/h for 37 hours, far and away the highest ever recorded.
Maria’s biggest impact was on Puerto Rico, where US media reports suggest the death toll was at least 48 people.
As of early December, around one million people on the island were still without power, more than two months after the hurricane ripped through on September 20.
East Africa drought
UN data suggests there are more than 15.2 million people who remain severely food insecure on the horn of Africa as of December 8.
Some parts received decent rain in October and November this year but it will take time for those benefits to trickle through, especially when coupled with other conflicts.
For other areas, this will be the fourth consecutive year the rains have failed.
As with many of the other events on this list, the question of whether climate change is to blame has been raised and, as with many other events, the answers are complicated.
Extreme cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons are expected to be less common because of climate change, but could be worse when they do hit because of their increased capacity to dump more rain and rising oceans.
Likewise, extreme fires are expected to be worsened by higher temperatures and longer fire seasons.
With the East African drought though, the role of climate change is not definitive.
Portugal suffered two major rounds of deadly fires this year, one in June and one in October.
The July fires led to 62 deaths and the October fires killed more than 40 people.
The July fires took place during a heatwave when there were several days in a row above 40C.
The October fires were whipped up by the passing of Hurricane Ophelia.
The unusually placed storm was in the area thanks its formation much further north east than a normal Atlantic hurricane, combined with a run-in with the mid-latitude jet stream. It made a beeline for Ireland rather than taking the typical route and heading for the Americas.
As with the Californian fires later in the year, there has been speculation that introduced eucalypts contributed to the rapid spread of these fires.
South Asia floods
It was reported that more than 1,300 people died in the flooding that hit India, Bangladesh and Nepal in mid-August this year.
UNICEF estimated that 31 million had been affected by the floods associated with a strong monsoon.
At the height of the storms, Bangladesh received as much rain in two hours as it would in a week of a typical monsoon.
These fires were not just significant because Ellen DeGeneres and Paris Hilton’s homes were evacuated, the fires in early October led to tens of thousands of people being forced to flee their homes and more than 40 people lost their lives.
Entire suburbs were reduced to rubble.
Firefighters faced the impossible task of fighting 14 fires at once in gusts of up to 120km/h with low relative humidity.
The fires were fanned by what are known as the ‘Diablo’ winds in Northern California.
Like their more well-known Southern Californian counterpart, the Santa Ana winds, they come from over the continent bringing hot dry conditions.
Diablo winds are traditionally associated with wildfires, especially in autumn.
Although many in Melbourne were underwhelmed by the much-publicised December storms, there was no denying the rainfall totals in north-east Victoria were record-breaking.
Echuca, Euroa and Eildon all recorded their highest daily rainfall totals on record.
|Location||Rainfall (mm)||Duration of Records (years)|
Record breaking rainfall totals recorded in the 24 hours to 9 am December 21 2017
The storm set off debate surrounding natural disaster messaging in Australia and is a timely reminder to be prepared heading into the traditional summer disaster period.
Philippines typhoon and landslides
On December 16, Tropical Storm Kia-tak — known locally as Urduja — made landfall in the Philippines.
Severe flooding and landsides were triggered when two months of rain fell in 48 hours.
Less than two weeks later, Typhoon Tembin — also known as Typhoon Vinta — hit the Philippines.
So far, more than 250 people are confirmed dead as a result of the storm.
Central Australian floods
Technically during the dying days of 2016, but close enough that we thought it warranted a mention, the flooding rains that hit central Australia on Christmas night were described as a once in a half-century storm by the Bureau of Meteorology.
In Kintore 61.4mm fell between 8:00pm and 9:00pm alone, and 232mm fell in the 24 hours after 9:00am on Christmas Day.
The widespread flooding closed the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and several locations were cut off for weeks.