The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently announced world records for the highest death tolls from lightning, tropical cyclones, tornadoes and hailstorms in recorded history.
It is the first time the organization has documented world records for specific weather events. The findings were produced by a WMO committee of experts that covered documented mortality records for five specific weather phenomena.
“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,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a press release.
Here is a look at the records and where they occurred according to the WMO:
The WMO also provided additional context between each historical weather event and why the fatalities were so high.
The December 1975 lightning strike that killed 21 in Zimbabwe occurred in an area where many homes are not constructed to withstand lightning strikes. In fact, the WMO states that 90 percent of sub-Saharan buildings, and particularly homes, are not lightning safe.
The indirect lightning strike in 1994 came as severe storms caused damage and flash flooding around Dronka. The lightning flash ignited three oil storage tanks which each held about 5,000 gallons of aircraft or diesel fuel. The railway line which held the tanks collapsed due to floodwaters and the blazing fuel tanks were swept into the village.
The Moradabad, India, hailstorm produced hailstones as large as oranges. House roofs caved in, and doors and windows broke. People out in the open during the storms were pounded to death by the hail and 1,600 cattle, sheep and goats were killed according to eye-witness reports from meteorologists.
Fatality estimates of the Bangladesh cyclone of Nov. 12-13, 1970, ranged from 300,000 to 500,000, but the WMO committee agreed that the low-end estimate was more accurately documented. Most of the fatalities were the result of a large storm surge, which inundated the islands and tidal flats along the Bay of Bengal.
The April 1989 tornado in Bangladesh left more than 12,000 injured and destroyed two towns leaving over 80,000 homeless. The tornado had a track about one mile wide.
The panel chose these selected events to establish procedures and guidelines for future evaluations. While the committee didn’t address heat waves, cold waves, droughts or floods, they hope to document and add more extreme weather events to the WMO’s archive of weather and climate extremes in the future.
The group considered only mortality events after 1873, when the International Meteorological Organization was formed, in order to ensure the quality of the available meteorological data.
“Validation of these new world mortality extremes provides solid documentation for many of these deadly events that have not been rigorously compiled in the past; reinforcement to the knowledge that certain types of weather can be very deadly, and base values for comparison of potential future weather-related tragedies,” said Thomas Peterson, president of the WMO Commission for Climatology.