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May-June 2010

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International Weather Highlights for 2009: Fire and Flooding

In contrast to the Atlantic's relatively tranquil tropical cyclone season, cyclones brought devastating flooding to the western Pacific Basin during 2009. In Australia, drought and extreme heat combined to create ideal conditions for wildfires, and the country's deadliest fire outbreak in history took place on “Black Saturday.”

Winter Cold and Summer Sizzle

As in the United States, wintery weather left its mark in Europe early in the year. The United Kingdom experienced an early January cold snap and snowstorm, and the Amsterdam canals in Holland froze over for the first time in 12 years. In early February, the heaviest snowstorm in 18 years left up to 20 centimeters (eight inches) of snow on London, crippling transportation.

On January 24, an intense low pressure system made landfall in France, causing tremendous damage across southwest France and northern Spain. Wind gusts of 172 km/h (107 mph) and higher downed power lines, leaving 1.7 million homes without electricity in southwest France. Named “Klaus” by European meteorologists, the storm was said to be the most damaging since December 1999, as it left a trail of fallen trees, wrecked roofs, and crushed cars in its wake. The storm, blamed for 27 deaths, caused extensive property damage, resulting in insured losses of approximately US $3.3 billion and was the most expensive global weather event of the year, according to the insurance industry. The high winds damaged 715,000 structures.

Weatherwise Contributing Editor DOUGLAS LE COMTE is a meterologist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland.

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