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1998-32 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 25, 1998

Scientists Tackle Climate Variability, Global Warming at Paris Meeting

David Hosansky
UCAR Communications
P.O. Box 3000
Boulder, CO 80307-3000
Telephone: (303) 497-8611
Fax: (303) 497-8610
E-mail: hosansky@ucar.edu

BOULDER -- In a major agenda-setting conference that will guide much of the world's climate research for the next decade, representatives from over 60 countries will gather in Paris December 2-4 to examine questions relating to natural climate variability, the human role in global climate change, and the predictability of global and regional climate.

The Climate Variability and Predictability Study (CLIVAR) of the World Climate Research Programme is "the largest, most comprehensive international climate research program ever undertaken," according to Kevin Trenberth, co-chair of the CLIVAR scientific steering group. Trenberth will deliver a keynote address on CLIVAR's recently published implementation plan and on the evolution of CLIVAR science. He is also head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder. NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation (NSF).

At the meeting, a large U.S. delegation, including representatives from NSF, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will outline the U.S. support and plans. The U.S. group is headed by Michael Hall (NOAA's Office of Global Programs), who will give the closing keynote address.

Attendees will define climate issues relevant to their own regions and map out collaborative efforts to answer the most pressing questions. Among the new research presented at the meeting will be

  • The 1997-98 El Nino/La Nina--Ants Leetmaa, National Centers for Environmental Prediction, United States

  • Long-term climate variability and the detection and attribution of anthropogenic effects--Suki Manabe, Japan

  • Towards the prediction of monsoon variability--Victor Magana Rueda, Mexico

  • Decadal variability in the ocean-atmosphere system--Jurgen Willebrand, Germany.

Created in 1993, the 15-year CLIVAR program focuses on the interaction of the oceans and the atmosphere and their role in the earth's overall climate. CLIVAR's goal is to enhance scientists' ability to predict climate on both global and regional scales from a season to a century. Such predictions might warn Kenyan farmers of heavy El Nino-related rains that could drown crops, alert towns along the western Atlantic coast of the projected intensity of the brewing hurricane season as La Nina builds in the Pacific, or caution Indonesian brush burners of an expected fire-prolonging drought.

The meeting will be held at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) center in Paris. For more, please contact David Hosansky at

303-497-8611; hosansky@ucar.edu.

NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences.


A Perspective on the Weather Events of 1997 and 1998

Following is an excerpt from a paper by Kevin Trenberth, submitted to the journal Consequences--The Nature & Implications of Environmental Change (www.gcrio.org/CONSEQUENCES/introCON.html), describing recent climate extremes and their impacts in the United States and elsewhere. This excerpt may be reproduced with proper credit to the author and the journal, Consequences.

The August 1998 issue of Life magazine featured "WEATHER" as its cover story and claimed 16,367 dead and $45.2 billion in damage since the beginning of 1997. After this story was written, other major weather- related disasters occurred. For instance, major floods devastated parts of Korea in early August and extensive heavy rains in China led to flooding of the Yangtze River where there are preliminary reports of more than 2,000 deaths, over 14 million people homeless, and over $25 billion in damage. Heat waves and air pollution episodes have also plagued many regions, particularly in Egypt, across the Mediterranean, and southern Europe. At least 10,000 Central Americans were killed and many thousands more made homeless in the fall of 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, the deadliest and fourth-strongest Atlantic hurricane of this century.

In the United States, several major weather-related stories with large human impacts and severe damage have occurred in the past year or so, and many stories linked the disasters to El Nino. Tornado outbreaks and floods in Florida ($1 billion damage and at least 132 deaths, according to NOAA) were part of a pattern that led to the wettest winter (December-February) in the Southeast on record. Torrential rains in February in California led to flooding in many locales, mudslides and coastal erosion. Huge damage occurred in the winter ice storm in New England and southeastern Canada, with loss of power to many communities for several weeks. Meanwhile, the northern tier of states experienced one of the mildest winters on record. Lake Erie failed to freeze for only the third time on record.

Spring brought flooding to several areas, such as Iowa, Indiana, and New England, as part of generally wetter than normal conditions from Idaho to New England. Ohio River flooding left 30,000 people without power. Meanwhile drought enveloped the South. Extremely dry conditions from April through June 1998 led to wildfires which destroyed many structures and charred 485,000 acres in Florida alone. In Texas the drought continued into summer, bringing with it sweltering heat waves. These conditions have devastated agriculture throughout the state. For instance, the drought in Texas (the number-one U.S. cotton producer) and the wetness in the winter and spring in California (the number-two U.S. cotton producer) led the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August to project that the U.S. cotton crop would shrink by 24% from 1997. In California the losses come about because the wetness created an environment favorable to a soil fungus. Areas with drier than normal conditions or even droughts during El Nino, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, and parts of Africa and Brazil, are apt to experience heavy rains during La Nina.

Meanwhile, areas that experience floods in El Nino, such as Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay and northern Argentina in South America, parts of Africa and southern parts of the United States in winter are apt to be drier than normal during La Nina events. In 1997, the strongest drought set in over Indonesia and it led to many fires, set as part of activities of farmers and corporations clearing land for agriculture, raging out of control. With the fires came respiratory problems in adjacent areas 1000 kilometers distant and even a plane crash in the area has been linked to the visibility problems. Subsequently, continuing in to 1998, El Nino-related drought and fires evolved in Brazil, Mexico and Florida. Flooding took place in Peru and Ecuador, as usual with El Nino, and also in Chile, and coastal fisheries were disrupted.

-The End-

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