Extreme Weather: 2021 Fires and Floods So Far

by Akshay Jamdade

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines an extreme event as one that is rare at a particular place and time of year. Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of such extreme events, manifesting as drier droughts, heavier rainfall, extreme floods, and more frequent heat waves [1, 2].

2021 has been marked as one of the predominant years for such events, most notably with wildfires and heat waves in America and floods in Europe [3]. As of October 2021, the National Interagency Fire Centre (NIFC) reported a total of 46,279 wildfires across the United States, burning 5.9 million acres; the average to date has been 46,819 wildfires each year [4]. 17 out of the top 20 fires in California have happened since 2000, the majority of them in the last two years, with three occurring in 2021 [4]. Bootleg Fire in Oregon, consuming more than 413,000 acres of land burning for 39 days, is a prime example of extreme wildfires [6].  One of the causes of such wildfires is natural dance partners: heat and drought. The likelihood of drought conditions is increased with rocketing temperature; in the same way, hot temperatures soar with geography that favors drought-afflicted landscapes [5]. 

Europe is not immune to extreme weather events either. Heavy rainfall in July led to severe flooding, particularly in Germany, Luxembourg, and along the river Meuse in the Netherlands, which resulted in lives being lost and considerable damage to infrastructure. A scientific report on western Europe floods stated that the likelihood of having such events (1-day rainfall) in western Europe has increased by a factor between 1.2 to 9 compared to a 1.2 degrees Celsius cooler world [7]. In China, in the provincial capital Zhengzhou, the equivalent of a year’s average rainfall fell in just three days, creating havoc [8]. Apart from flooding and wildfires, a plethora of extreme events shook the world in 2021, causing $1.4 billion of damage from record-breaking snowfall in Madrid and winter storms in Texas [9]. 

These events are alarming, causing damage to all fronts: social, environmental and economic. For building back better, reflection on these events is crucial.


[1] Carbon Brief, https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-what-the-new-ipcc-report-says-about-extreme-weather-and-climate-change (last accessed on 3/10/21)
[2] IPCC, Climate Change 2021- The Physical Science Basis, Summary of Policymakers.
[3] Carbon Brief, https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-reviewing-the-summer-of-extreme-weather-in-2021  (last accessed on 4/10/21)
[4] North America Wildfires 2021, https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/2021-north-american-wildfire-season/  (Last Accessed on 3/10/21)
[5] Climate Gov, https://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/record-breaking-june-2021-heatwave-impacts-us-west  (last accessed on 4/10/21)
[6] Oregon Live, https://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/2021/08/bootleg-fire-once-the-largest-in-the-nation-is-now-fully-contained.html  (last accessed on 3/10/21)
[7] World Weather Attribution, https://www.worldweatherattribution.org/heavy-rainfall-which-led-to-severe-flooding-in-western-europe-made-more-likely-by-climate-change/  last accessed on 4/10/21)
[8] BBC News,  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-57861067  (last accessed on 3/10/21)
[9] The Week UK, https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/environment/953574/worlds-most-extreme-weather-events-2021  (last accessed on 3/10/21)
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