On Thursday, May 18, 2017, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has announced “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 temperature and weather records to address the impacts of specific events.
The findings were announced just ahead of two major conferences on improving multi-hazard early warning systems and strengthening disaster risk reduction, taking place in Cancun, Mexico from May 22 to 26 and organized by WMO and the UN Office on Disaster Risk Reduction.
“Extreme weather causes serious destruction and major loss of life. 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,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “The human aspect inherent in extreme events should never be lost,” he said.
The in-depth investigation by a WMO committee of experts covered documented mortality records for five specific weather-related events. It did not, in this instance, address heat- or cold-waves, drought and floods. It is hoped in the future to add more event impacts to the Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes. This is maintained by the WMO Commission for Climatology which documents details of records for heat, cold, wind speed, rainfall and other events.
The committee’s findings were as follows:
- 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) of November 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 November 2, 1994;
- Highest mortality directly associated with a single lightning flash: 21 people killed by a single stroke of lightning in a hut in Manica Tribal Trust Lands in Zimbabwe (at the time of incident, Rhodesia) on December 23, 1975;
- Highest mortality associated with a hailstorm: a severe hailstorm occurring near Moradabad, India, on April 30, 1888, which killed 246 people with hailstones as large as “goose eggs and oranges and cricket balls”.