Measuring the human impact of weather

World Meteorological Organization issues new records of weather impacts in terms of lives lost

May 18, 2017

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has announced today world records for the highest reported historical death tolls from tropical cyclones, tornadoes, lightning and hailstorms. It marks the first time the official WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has broadened its scope from strictly temperature and weather records to address the impacts of specific events.

“In today’s world, it seems like the latest weather disaster is the worst,” said Randy Cerveny, an Arizona State University professor of geographical sciences and urban planning and chief Rapporteur of Climate and Weather Extremes for WMO. Cerveny is the keeper of the world’s weather extremes. ASU Professor Randy Cerveny, the keeper of the world's weather extremes, says that measuring the impacts of specific weather events "provides a very useful set of baseline numbers against which future disasters can be compared." Download Full Image

“Knowing exactly how bad various types of weather have been in the past has been an integral part of preparing for the future,” Cerveny said. “For example, I have often heard since 2005 that Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest tropical cyclone/hurricane to have ever occurred. While Katrina was bad (more than 2,000 died), it pales in comparison to the tropical cyclone that hit the area of present-day Bangladesh in 1970, that killed an estimated 300,000 people.

“This type of extreme (mortality totals) provides a very useful set of baseline numbers against which future disasters can be compared.” 

“Extreme weather causes serious destruction and major loss of life,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “That is one of the reasons behind the WMO’s efforts to improve early warnings of multiple hazards and impact-based forecasting, and to learn lessons gleaned from historical disasters to prevent future ones. The human aspect inherent in extreme events should never be lost.”

Cerveny convened an international WMO committee of 19 experts that conducted an in-depth investigation of documented mortality records for five specific weather-related events. The committee’s findings are:

• Highest mortality associated with a tropical cyclone: An estimated 300,000 people killed directly as result of the passage of a tropical cyclone through Bangladesh (at time of incident, East Pakistan) on Nov. 12-13, 1970.

• Highest mortality associated with a tornado: An estimated 1,300 people killed by the April 26, 1989, tornado that destroyed the Manikganj district, Bangladesh.

• Highest mortality (indirect strike) associated with lightning: 469 people killed in a lightning-caused oil tank fire in Dronka, Egypt, on Nov. 2, 1994.

• Highest mortality directly associated with a single lightning flash: 21 people killed by a single stroke of lightning in a hut in Manyika Tribal Trust Lands in Zimbabwe (at the time of incident, Rhodesia) on Dec. 23, 1975.

• Highest mortality associated with a hailstorm: 246 people were killed near Moradabad, India, on April 30, 1888, with hailstones as large as “goose eggs and oranges and cricket balls.”

“These events highlight the deadly tragedies associated with different types of weather,” Cerveny said. “Detailed knowledge of these historical extremes confirm our continuing responsibilities to not only forecast and monitor weather and climate but to utilize that information to save lives around the world so disasters of these types are lessened or even eliminated in the future.”

Cerveny said more event impacts could be added in the future for such weather-related events as floods and heat waves. 

“I think that many people are unaware of exactly how dangerous certain types of weather can be,” Cerveny said. “The more that we are aware of the dangers, hopefully the less likely we will see repeats of these types of disasters.” 

A full list of weather and climate extremes is available at the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes. 

Associate Director, Media Relations & Strategic Communications


ASU student joins Peace Corps, brings her heritage, ambition to Kosovo

May 18, 2017

A new class of Arizona State University graduates are looking to join the workforce or continue school. Alisa Turkina, however, has two years before that stage. Not for lack of options, but for the opportunity to live and teach in Kosovo as Peace Corps volunteer.

“My interest has always been very cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary, which is part of the reason I double majored [in finance and Russian],” Turkina said. “I really wanted to not just travel abroad, but live abroad and work abroad.” Alisa Turkina appreciates the perspective that comes with being bilingual. Download Full Image

“I always have an interest in places outside of the U.S.,” Turkina continued, “and specifically because of my Russian background, Russian speaking countries.”

Turkina, though already a finance major and Russian heritage speaker, studied at ASU's School of International Letters and Cultures to increase her language skills and cultural awareness.

“I didn’t really feel comfortable speaking outside of simple, conversational Russian,” Turkina explained. “I decided to actually pursue it in college, partially because I was interested and partially because I had always been thinking about pursuing some kind of international business career or going into international law or policy.”

Through the Kosovo Peace Corps program, Turkina saw an opportunity to apply her skills. She will be able to teach, as well as participate in local programs that are more professionally oriented.

The Kosovo Peace Corps program hosts only 60 volunteers who worked on a variety of educational and economic development programs.

According to the Peace Corps program description, as an educator, Turkina will, “become involved in local projects based on the needs of their communities. These projects take many forms depending on the skills and experience of individual volunteers, but the projects are always based on the expressed needs of the schools and the communities.”

Turkina has been preparing for the trip since October. In addition to information she will receive during a brief orientation in Pennsylvania, she has reviewed academic reports from the World Bank, Brookings Institute and other independent organizations.

“I’m preparing myself for what the culture is going to be like the best I can,” Turkina said. “I think the biggest gift my parents gave me was to teach me Russian and to make me bilingual ... I think the most useful thing anyone can have is more than one perspective.”

Turkina departs for Kosovo at the end of May.

Gabriel Sandler