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Summary of 100 Year Time Scale
Table Summarizing Climate & Human Events During the 20th Century
Image of man and approaching storm Longer than most human life-spans, the period of a century offers a wider perspective of oceanic and atmospheric patterns that influence climatic variability than the scope of a decade allows. Patterns that occur between the decadal and centennial (10-100 year) scales include Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which we explore in Climate Sciences.

As we see in Climate History, the past 100 years have experienced dramatic climate events. An impressive factor during the 20th Century has been the enormous growth in human population which has increased from approximately 1.6 billion to over 6 billion. When observing climate of the 20th Century, it is important to realize that while naturally occurring climate phenomenas such as NAO and ENSO continue to impact the dynamics of the system, human activities have become an increasingly important factor to consider. During the past century, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has risen from 290 parts per million (ppm) to nearly 370 ppm. The combustion of fossil fuels has been identified as a major factor in the increase of this important greenhouse gas linked to global warming. (See A Paleo Perspective on Global Warming for more).

In Resources, links and inquiry ideas are presented to further explore what can (and has) happened in the course of the past 100 revolutions of Earth around the sun.

Table Summarizing Climate & Human Events During the 20th Century
20th Century &
Human Population (estimated in billions)
Centennial Timeline
Major Climate Events & Human Impacts
2000
6.1
For more see NCDC's
Billion Dollar Disasters
1990s
5.3

Image of plywood through palm tree during Hurricane AndrewGlobally averaged as the warmest decade in the past 140 years, with 1998 being the warmest year on record.
1992- Hurricane Andrew causes $25 billion in damages.
1993- Great Midwest Flood along the Mississippi and its tributaries caused $18B in damages. Considered to be greater than a 500 year flood event.
1997-98- El Niño causes $25-33 billion in damages
Image from FEMA

1980s
4.5
Globally averaged second warmest decade in the past 140 years.
1982-1983 El Niño severely impacts fishing industry in Ecuador and Peru, disrupting weather throughout the Pacific Basin. Estimated $21 billion in damages in 1997.
1970s
3.7
Beginning ~30 year positivie trend in the NAO/AO (North Atlantic Oscillation/Arctic Oscillation) that strongly contributed to winter/spring warming over northwestern Europe.
1971- Flooding in Vietnam kills 100,000.
1972- Blizzard in Iran leaves 4000 dead.
1977- The "North Pacific" climatic regime shift making the end of a ~30 year cool phase of the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and the beginning of ~21 year warm phase of the PDO; extensive drought conditions in the western U.S.
1978- New England Blizzard dumps up to 38 inches of snow in Boston area.
1960s
3.0
1969- Hurricane Camille slams into Mississippi at nearly 200 mph with storm tides of 25 feet. Heavy rains and flooding followed, with 28 inches of rain in central Virginia.
1950s
2.5
Image of blizzard in midwest from NOAANov. 1950- Severe storm event produces blizzard and severe winds in 22 states.
Dec. 1952- Great Smog of London directly kills 4000, with 4000 additional deaths from related causes. Also see NPR story on the Killer Fog of '52.
Jan.-Feb. 1953- Storm surges in Europe cause nearly 2000 deaths.
Sept. 1958- Typhoon Vera hits Japan, killing nearly 5,000, leaving 1.5 million homeless.
Droughts in mid-1950s in western US motivate intense period of dam-building for water storage and delivery. Image from NOAA Photo Library.
1940s
2.3
Global cooling occurs between mid-1940s and early 1970s.
1941-1942- Chinese Drought causes 3 million to perish due to starvation.

1930s
2.1

Image of Dust Bowl dust storm from NOAA1930s- Dust Bowl drought impacts 100 million acres of Great Plains.
1931- Flooding along Yangtze River, impacting millions of Chinese.
1935- Florida Keys Hurricane first of two Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. during 20th Century.
1938- New England Hurricane rips through southern New England. Image from NOAA Photo Library
1920s
1.9
1922- Colorado River Compact signed allocating water of the Colorado River Basin to states in the basin and Mexico; estimates of flows based on data from the wet period prior to the signing of the compact.
1925- Tri-State Tornado claims 695 lives during 3.5 hours, leaving 219-long track through Ohio Valley.
1928- Great Okeechobee Flood and Hurricane kills up to 3,500.
1910s
1.8
1917-1920- First case of Spanish Influenza pandemic occurs during winter flu season in March of 1918 when the first case was reported at Fort Riley, Kansas. By October, 195,000 dead in U.S. and by 1920, some 20 million dead worldwide. (Gross-Schulman, 1998 )
1900s
1.6
Image of aftermath of Galveston HurricaneSept. 1900- Hurricane hits Galveston, Texas with surge wave and resulting floods killing over 8000. (see "Special Report on the Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900" by Isaac M. Cline from NOAA).
1907- Famine in China caused 24 million to die of starvation.
Image of aftermath of Galveston, TX from NOAA.
Also see: What is Variability? and Overview of Climate Processes.
All images from NOAA and FEMA.
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