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Fast facts on weather, climate & water

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In chronological order:

  • Records of ancient human civilizations in China, Egypt, India and Mesopotamia contain many references to weather and climate.​ 
  • 360 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote Meteorologica, the first book on meteorology.
  • In 1593, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), of Italy, constructed a simple glass thermometer, which served as a model for the more accurate liquid-in-glass thermometer.
  • In 1643, Evangelista Torricelli (1608–1647), also of Italy and a pupil of Galileo, invented the mercury barometer, which allows some changes in weather to be forecast.
  • In 1724, Daniel Fahrenheit (1686–1736), of Germany, developed the Fahrenheit temperature scale.
  • In 1742, Astronomer Anders Celsius (1701–1744), of Sweden, developed the Celsius temperature scale.
  • In 1783, Horace Benedict de Saussure of Geneva, Switzerland, built the first hygrometer (an instrument used for measuring relative humidity) by using human hair to measure air dampness. 
  • In 1840, the electric telegraph enabled the real time reporting of accurate weather conditions globally. 
  • The hottest surface temperature recorded was 56.7°C (134°F) in Death Valley, California, USA in 1913.
  • In 1957, the first weather forecast was televised from Pennsylvania State University, in the United States of America. The presenter, a professor in the university’s meteorology department, drew pictures on the chalkboard of what the weather would be like in the coming days.
  • In 1959, the first weather satellite was placed into orbit. 
  • In the 1960’s, computers made it possible for meteorologists to calculate weather changes faster, more accurately, and for longer periods.
  • The lowest surface temperature recorded was in Vostok, Antarctica: -89°C (-129°F) on 21 July 1983.
  • 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade recorded since 1850.
  • The hottest years on record have been 1998, 2005 and 2010.
  • As of 2013, there is about 42 per cent more carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere than in 1750.
  • The world’s average temperature has increased over the past 200 years by about 0.76°C compared with 6°C over the past 12,000 years.
  • Your body – including bones, organs, skin, hair and nails – is about three quarters water.
  • At present, there about 7.1 billion people on our planet. Estimates indicate that by 2050, that amount will increase to 9.7 billion. This means that water demand will rise, especially in cities.
  • Today, more than half of the world’s population (51%) lives in cities. Estimates indicate that by 2030, that amount will increase to about 70%. 
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the global average sea level will rise between 0.18 and 0.59 metres by the end of this century. Therefore, flooding will threaten many coastal cities. 
  • If all the ice in the Antarctic would melt, the world’s oceans would rise by nearly 67 metres (220 feet), or the height of a 20-story building. But this would take a very long time!
  • Every minute of the day, the Earth receives about 900 million tonnes of rainfall.
  • A tap that leaks one drop of water per second wastes more than 25 litres of water a day or more than 9 000 litres a year!
  • Réunion, a small island located in the Indian Ocean, holds the record for receiving the most rain in a week’s time. It was set in February 2007 when a powerful storm poured more than 5 metres of rain on the island.
  • Hydrology is the scientific study of the properties, distribution and effects of water on Earth’s surface.
  • The lowest recorded rainfall in the world is in Arica, northern Chile (South America), where the longest dry period was recorded at 14 years 5 months between 1903 and 1914. Arica is one of the driest places on Earth, where on average less than 1 millimetre of rain falls every year. A coffee cup would take about 100 years to fill!
  • The heaviest annual rainfall in the world was recorded at Cherrapunji, India, where 26 470 millimetres (26½ metres!) of rain fell between August 1860 and July 1861.
  • Very heavy rainfall in a 24-hour period was recorded in the Réunion, located in the Indian Ocean, where 1 825 millimetres of rain fell between 7 and 8 January 1966.
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  • There were about 8 400 disasters from 1980 to 2007 caused by natural hazards around the world, affecting over 2 million people. Of this, 90% of the disasters and 70% of casualties were caused by weather-, climate- or water-related hazards.
  • El Niño happens when the temperature of the normally cool surface water of the ocean increases during a few months.
  • More than 900 million people are affected by desertification and drought.
  • With climate change, there could be more droughts in the future, thereby increasing the risk of desertification in some parts of the world.
  • Hurricanes are classified into five categories sustained wind speeds of:
    Category 1 – 119-152 km/h
    Category 2 – 153-177 km/h
    Category 3 – 178-209 km/h
    Category 4 – 210-249 km/h
    Category 5 – over 249 km/h
  • Meteorologists use modern technology such as satellites, weather radars and computers to track tropical cyclones as they develop.
  • The strongest gust of wind ever recorded was measured around the eye of Tropical Cyclone Olivia in 1996 at Barrow Island, Australia, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 408 km/hr!
  • The longest lasting tropical cyclone was Hurrican John, which lasted for 31 days in 1994.
  • The heaviest hailstone measured came down in Bangladesh in 1996 weighing 1.02 kg (2.25 lb).