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Top 10 Weather & Environmental Disasters of 2010: Year In Review


10. Fire Tornados—Fire whirls, firenados, fire devils. Whatever you want to call them, fire tornadoes are a combination of brush fires and strong, dry winds. They were captured on video in Brazil and Hawaii in August and, while they look cool, they are a product of severe droughts and can be lethal.

9. Marshall Islands on Verge of Disappearing—Most people have never heard of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a small nation of atolls and islands in the Pacific. It is a nation that is slowly eroding away due to rising seas, which many say is a result of global warming. Graveyards have washed away and high tides cover the isthmus that links the island to the airport. The United Nations recently met in Cancun to figure out what would happen to the 61,000 residents if they lose their land. Citizens are scrambling for ways to make sure their homeland doesn’t become the next Atlantis.

8. Atlantic Hurricane Season—Even though Earl’s bark was worse than his bite the Atlantic had one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record. These storms barely scratched the surface of the United States, but caused problems in countries like Haiti and Costa Rica. During the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, 19 storms formed, which tied with 1887 and 1995 for the third-highest on record. Twelve became hurricanes, and five of those became a Category 3 or higher storm. From Aug. 30 to Sept. 18, there were three instances where three tropical cyclones were simultaneously active. At one point, Igor and Julia were both Category 4, which hasn’t happened since 1926.


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7. Chilean Miners’ Entrapment and Rescue—From Aug. 5 until Oct. 13 the world held its breath after 33 Chilean miners became trapped after a mining accident. The men survived 2,300 feet underground for 69 days, making emergency supplies that were supposed to last two to three days last two weeks. It was assumed they were dead for the first 17 days, until they sent a note up a drill hole. The men finally emerged one by one after riding in a steel capsule that brought them back to their families, as their rescue was televised around the world.

6. Russia’s Wildfires—Russia endured several hundred wildfires over the summer, which was the hottest recorded summer in Russian history (we’ll talk about that more later). Entire villages burned down, and morgues in Moscow were forced to close because they were over capacity. There was a state of emergency in seven regions because of the fires and in 28 regions following the crop failures due to the drought.

5. Record-Breaking Heat—To say that this year was abnormally hot would be an understatement. Up until the end of October, 2010 was the warmest year on record, going back to 1850. In July, Central Park hit a record of 103 degrees, and Los Angeles broke records with 113 degrees in September. The extreme heat was a global problem—the aforementioned heat wave in Russia killed more than 15,000.

4. Mudslides in Brazil, Portugal and China—Within the first days of 2010, the State of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil suffered mudslides that killed at least 85 people and forced more than 4,000 to evacuate their homes. A little over a month later, Portugal’s Madeira suffered floods and mudslides, killing at least 42 people and injuring 100. Bridges were washed away and the airport had to be closed. In Gansu, China, more than 1,471 people were killed after a mudslide hit on Aug. 8.

3. Haiti Earthquake—On Jan. 12, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit approximately 16 miles from Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. At least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or higher on the Richter scale were recorded by Jan. 24. Three million people were affected by the quake, and around 280,000 buildings were collapsed or inhabitable due to severe damage. Many landmark buildings in the capital were damaged or destroyed, including the Presidential Palace, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral and the main jail, which allowed prisoners to escape. Approximately 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and 1 million were left homeless.

2. Pakistani Floods—The Pakistani floods affected 14 million people. At one point almost one-fifth of the land was under water. The floods began in July after heavy monsoon rains affected the Indus River basin. Even though the media coverage for this was not as extensive as other tragedies, about 20 million people were directly affected by the floods and approximately 2,000 people died.

1. BP Oil Spill—The BP oil spill was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. It began with a Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April, and wasn’t capped until July. In that time, 185 million gallons of crude oil were released into the Gulf and 30.25 million gallons of oily water was recovered. On Sept. 19, a relief well was completed and the spill was declared “effectively dead” by the government, but the damage was colossal. The initial explosion killed 11 and injured 17. By November, 814 dead animals had been collected. First responders and residents of the Gulf Coast have gotten sick, fishing and tourism have suffered immensely and 4,200 square miles of the Gulf was re-closed to shrimping in November after tar balls were found in shrimpers’ nets.

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