Wild weather

A message from Life co-author, Helen Stephenson

British people are famous for talking about the weather. There’s a reason for this. Our weather can change many times in just one day! We think this is normal. On the other hand, we have had some strange weather in recent years. Many other places around the world are experiencing the same thing – weather that is hotter, wetter, drier or wilder than normal. An article by Peter Miller, from the September 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine, looked at what is happening to our weather.

What is happening to our weather?

What is ‘extreme’ weather? Why are people talking about it these days? ‘Extreme’ weather is very unusual rain, heat, storms etc. For example, in 2010, 33 centimetres of rain fell in two days on Nashville, USA. According to weather experts, that was a ‘once in 1000 years’ event. But these days, extreme weather events are more frequent. Also in 2010, 28 centimetres of rain fell on Rio de Janeiro in 24 hours, and there was record rainfall in Pakistan.

The effects of this kind of rain are dramatic. In Rio de Janeiro, landslides followed the rain. Hundreds of people died. In Pakistan, it caused floods that affected 20 million people. The opposite situation is drought, when no rain falls. Australia, Russia and East Africa have suffered major droughts in the last ten years. Another example of extreme weather is a heat wave, such as in the summer of 2003. In Europe, 35,000 people died from heat-related problems.

So, what is happening? Are these extreme events part of a natural cycle? Are they happening because human activity affects the Earth’s climate? The answer, Peter Miller says, is: probably a mixture of both of these things. On the one hand, the most important influences on weather events are natural cycles in the climate. Two of the most famous cycles are called El Niño and La Niña. They start in the Pacific Ocean, but they affect weather all around the world. On the other hand, the Earth’s oceans are changing: their temperatures are increasing. And this is a result of human activity. The greenhouse gases we produce mean the atmosphere warms up. Warmer oceans produce more water vapour – think about what happens when you heat a pan of water in your kitchen. Information from satellites tells us that there is four percent more water vapour in the atmosphere than 25 years ago. This warm, wet air turns into rain, storms, hurricanes and typhoons.

Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist, says that we need to accept reality. Our weather is changing and we need to act to save lives and money.


atmosphere (n) the air around the Earth
climate (n) the general weather conditions that are typical of a place
drought (n) a long period of time without rain
event (n) something that happens, especially something important or unusual
flood (n) a large amount of water that covers land that is usually dry
heat wave (n) a period of time when the weather is much hotter than usual
hurricane (n) an extremely violent wind or storm, from the Atlantic Ocean
landslide (n) a large amount of soil or rock that moves down a mountain
major (adj) more important, serious, or significant than other events or situations of the same type
rainfall (n) the amount of rain that falls
typhoon (n) an extremely violent storm of wind or rain, from the South Pacific or Indian Ocean
water vapour (n) water when it is in the form of gas

Listen to a recording of the text: 

Reading comprehension: 

Read the article and choose the correct option.

1 The article says that extreme weather is ...
more common nowadays.
not natural.
more unusual in the USA.

2 Examples of extreme weather include ...
warm, wet air.
El Niño and La Niña.
very hot weather in Europe.

3 One cause of extreme weather is ...
floods across large areas.
very hot summers.
water vapour in the atmosphere.

Read the article again and choose the correct option.

4 Why was the rain in Nashville an extreme event?
It last happened a thousand years ago.
A lot of rain fell over a long time period.
A lot of rain fell in a short time.

5 What happened after the extreme rain in Rio de Janeiro?
There were big floods.
There were many deaths.
Millions of people were affected.

6 What caused many deaths in 2003?
hot weather
a drought

7 The article says that extreme weather events are the result of ...
natural cycles.
human activity.
natural cycles and human activity.

8 What is happening to the oceans?
They are getting bigger.
They are getting hotter.
They are producing greenhouse gases.

9 Satellites can measure ...
the temparature of the Pacific Ocean.
the number of hurricanes.
the amount of water vapour in the air.